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Featured ONSA Members

Chris Gerard

Chris Girard

Chris Girard’s faith in ONSA membership is unequivocal.

The man behind the voice of support for Oregon Neighborhood Store Association and its members, is ONSA Association founder and current chairman Chris Girard. Girard is also chairman, president and CEO of Plaid Pantries, Inc., a regional convenience store company headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon. His company owns and operates more than 100 stores in Oregon and Washington with annual sales of more than $150 million and has more than 700 employees. Drawing on his own experience, Girard’s faith and enthusiasm for ONSA membership is unequivocal.

“There is no one else that gives legislative and regulatory help to small stores but ONSA,” Girard said. “They help us where we need it – with what we do day in and day out - dealing with key product categories such as cigarettes, beer, soft drinks and candy, that simply are not a priority for other retailers.”

Girard, who was born in Waco Texas, began his career in private business in convenience stores and gas stations throughout high school and college. From 1969 through 1976, he served as an Officer and Naval Aviator in the U.S. Navy. His military service included tours of duty in Vietnam and Southeast Asia with Attack Squadron 113, operating from the aircraft carrier USS Ranger.

“My goal to fly Navy jets was behind my getting a degree in Aerospace Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,” Girard said. “I followed that up with post-graduate studies in business administration at Louisiana State and Auburn Universities, which set the stage for what I do now for Plaid.”

“I joined Plaid in early 1989, when the company was experiencing financial difficulties. My management team and I successfully reorganized the company and returned it to profitability. I stayed with the company as CEO to continue Plaid on our solid growth path.”

In addition to having been a contributor to business workshops, educational programs and national legislative efforts, Girard has authored articles in industry trade publications. He served on the Editorial Advisory Board of Convenience Store News, a key industry publication, and was honored as the 1998 retail inductee into the Convenience Store News Industry Hall of Fame. He also served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

In addition to serving as the Chairman of ONSA, Girard is very involved in state and local regulatory, legislative and land-use issues including serving on several committees with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC). He was also appointed and served on the Oregon governor’s Task Force on the Alcohol Beverage Industry.

Plaid Pantries, Inc is ranked #48 in the Oregon Business Magazine list of 100 largest private companies in Oregon, and Girard is proud to note that Plaid’s success also extends to key relationships with more than 300 companies that supply and provide services to the company. When asked the secret of his success, Girard’s answer came easy.

“The secret is great people,” Girard said. “I do everything I can to attract them and everything I can to keep them. The answer is great, smart, hardworking people.”

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Lila Leathers-Fitz

Lila Leathers-Fitz

Hard work, good employees and a love for what you do brings Lila Leathers-Fitz success.

A long way from her small home-town of Raymondville, Texas, Leathers Enterprises, Inc. President and CEO, Lila Leathers-Fitz, oversees the company she built with hard work.

Leathers-Fitz, who credits her late mother for her work ethic, further credits the company’s success to the 90 to 100 employees working a combination of service stations, convenience stores and card lock operations in 27 locations throughout the state of Oregon.

“My maternal grandparents were the first members of our family to come to Oregon and they encouraged my mother to follow them,” Leathers-Fitz said. “She raised the four of us by working in the fields and my three brothers and I learned to work along with her. She also taught us how to set goals for everything and how to achieve them. We worked first for a down payment on a house and then moved on to the things we needed to go in it.

“When we got old enough to go to school, she gave us the option of continuing to work with her or going to school and it wasn’t a hard decision for us to choose school. I lived in Boring but went to high school in Sandy and Sandy was where we started our first service station.”

Leathers-Fitz, who started by pumping gas in her first service station, has long since removed herself from that end of the business. Though currently President and CEO of Leathers Enterprises, Inc. and on the board of directors for Oregon Neighborhood Store Association, she has also served as Western Regional Vice President for Petroleum Marketers of America, past President of Pacific Oil Conference, past President of Oregon Petroleum Marketers Association, past Oil Heat Commissioner for the State of Oregon, past President of Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce and has served on the Transportation Committee System Citizens Advisory Council for Gresham. Her involvement in ONSA is dear to her heart.

“Because everything is evolving, there is always so much to learn,” Leathers-Fitz said about today’s business climate. “Just having ONSA as a place to discuss and face some of the issues before us is vitally important. There isn’t any way that a one store operation can make an impact on the legislature, but ONSA with its united front can.”

Today, with son Brent as General Manager and daughter Kathryn as the company’s CFO, Leathers-Fitz knows she can retire when she is ready.

“As long as I still love doing what I do, I’m going to continue,” Leathers-Fitz said. “I love the traveling, the meeting people all across the country, and I even love the challenges. For pleasure, I read books or listen to books-on-tape on anything and everything, I garden, I ride horseback and I trap shoot, like I did yesterday. We just won our second cruise to the Greek Islands for outstanding sales and performance and I’m looking forward to going on that.

“Am I ready to retire? Well, as long as I keep getting to work with wonderful people and I continue to like what I do, probably not.”

For more information about Leather’s Enterprises, Inc. call 503-661-1244, e-mail leathers@teleport.com or visit http://www.leathersfuels.com/aboutUS.html

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Gary Straube

Gary Straube

Gary Straube Credits People for Darimart’s Success

“People are the key to the whole story,” Gary Straube said of his success in the convenience store retail business. “You treat your people right and they will turn around and treat the customer right. A customer that is treated right keeps coming back.”

Straube, who spoke from his Darimart corporate office in Junction City, is the family driving force for the corporation’s Darimart stores. When he joined the company in 1972, there were eight stores. Today, there are 42 Darimarts located from Albany north to Cottage Grove and Springfield west to Veneta.

“It was meeting and marrying my college sweetheart Pat Gibson, that connected me with the Gibson’s family-owned Lochmead Dairy and Darimarts,” Straube said. “They are a true independent Oregon-grown family who with ingenuity and hard work had the courage to do something everyone said was crazy. In 1965, with no retail or milk processing experience, the Gibson family opened the first five Darimart stores so they could sell their own bottled milk. By the time they asked me to come aboard, Mrs. Gibson, who was still raising her family, was managing eight stores.

“I had no retail experience, but I learned a lot in a short period of time. In those early days I helped wherever they needed help. I learned the milk process by running the machines and loading trucks and then worked driving the bean trucks to the cannery in the middle of the night. Today, each family member is responsible for managing the different areas of the company.”

Straube, an Oregonian who spent most of his pre-college life on the eastern side of the state, graduated from Ontario High School in 1955 and from Oregon State College in 1959. Armed with a new BA in Business, his first job out of college was with Tidewater Oil Company where he learned that he didn’t like the oil business. He then went to work for Crown Zellerbach and remained there until 1972 when he started his career with Darimart.

The original Gibson family farm, located four miles outside Junction City still exists though it has grown from 300 to 4,000 acres. The dairy milks 550 Holsteins and is home to 500 more.
Straube, who believes that the future is bright for the box stores and the convenience stores, also believes their bane is regulation.

“The hardest thing about the business is finding good people, but we also have to stay on top of encroaching regulations,” Straube said. “Howard Gibson worked hard and had to personally make many trips to Washington, DC to fight for the right to sell milk from the family dairy in his store. We hire, we train and we provide full benefits for our employees, but we will always have an uphill battle against regulations. It was toward that end in 1996, that I, Chris Girard (Plaid Pantries), Terry McEvilly (Capital City Companies), along with several other independent retailers, put together the board of directors and started ONSA.
“Convenience stores are doing well because they provide a service and it’s taking care of the people – our employees and our customers – that will keep that success coming.”

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