Leslie Gordon loves that the convenience industry is constantly innovating to meet consumer needs. “We’re changing as the consumer changes,” says Gordon, who manages 17 categories and is directly responsible for half of Petro-Canada’s $1.4B in convenience store revenue. In her nine years with the company, Gordon has steered long term strategic development and annual category marketing plans for the c-store business at Petro-Canada’s 1,500 locations. She leads three category teams and mentors interns and new hires. As marketing lead for food safety, Gordon was instrumental in developing the company’s food recall response—the process was adapted for an equipment recall and her team won the Suncor President's Operational Excellence Award. “One thing I’m most proud of is my work as communications director with the Fort York Food Bank,” says Gordon, who joined the Board of Directors last year. “It’s been such a great experience, and I’m so happy to give back, especially during COVID-19. The need for food banks has increased; we’ve seen new clients and families with children who had never come before, and the community has really stepped up.”
Convenience stores have been part of Melani Melnyk’s life since she was a young girl. Her grandfather owned an independent grocery store in a small town in Cape Breton and two uncles also owned a convenience store. “Every summer my sister and I made it our business to visit our favourite convenience store on a daily basis,” says Melnyk. “It was a treat and something we always looked forward to.” Now as shopper marketing manager for Mondelēz Canada, Melnyk gets to help develop those special somethings for a whole new cadre of customers. Recently, for example, she helped create customized programs for clients that offer up unique beverage flavours that leverage the Sour Patch Kids brand. “I love working with the customers in the convenience and gas channel,” says Melnyk. “I really enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit, the flexibility to test and learn new concepts and technologies, and the willingness to partner to develop programs that are win/win.”
Marie-Hélène Senécal is a trailblazer at the forefront of a sector that didn’t exist 15 years ago and is now a top revenue generator for convenience retailers. She recognized prepaid’s potential early, and helped develop it from paper gift certificates to prepaid card malls in c-stores across Canada and online. A valued leader at InComm, Senécal implements growth and long-term partnership strategy in retail, telecom, prepaid and fintech. She has signed and renewed billion-dollar agreements with national merchants in various channels, growing business tenfold during her tenure. “Prepaid convenience is a business of ascension and constant development,” says Senécal. “I thrive on orchestrating a collaborative approach to launch new programs to market, and to develop personalized initiatives to national retailers that make convenience stores a true prepaid destination.”She manages a team of account managers that handle merchant relationships and business development. “You’re only as good as the talent that surrounds you, and I’m proud to have hand-picked the best candidates and leveraged their talents to create a strategic, proactive, productive, client-focused, results-oriented team,” explains Senécal. “Together, we’ve achieved consistent growth with our national retailers, who are now premier Canadian destinations for prepaid product, churning compounded growth and results year over year.”
Laurie Smith did not anticipate a career in the convenience sector when she was recruited as a management trainee. “It was not a path I had considered, yet it turned out to be a life changing opportunity,” she says. “I had not realized the dynamic nature of the industry. Results are seen immediately—close to real time.” During the next three decades, Smith served in numerous roles with 7-Eleven Canada, training as a store leader, area manager, and HR coordinator. She was the company’s first female market district manager at age 30. Today, Smith, who is based in Surrey, B.C., leads the chain’s national communications and marketing. This includes in-store communications, traditional and digital advertising, and digital platforms for the 7Rewards loyalty app and home delivery, as well as proprietary foods and beverages brand management, community relations and internal communications. The fundamentals of the sector have remained constant, Smith notes, but the business is much more complex. “We’re still here to know and serve customers in our neighbourhoods. We’re still here to be a great employer. What has changed is how we deliver that service.”
Hayley-Ann Swartz has spent most of her 30-year career in the convenience sector. The Winnipeg native began working as a sales representative for Imperial Tobacco after graduating from university and spent a great many days calling directly on all types of convenience stores. “It was at that time that I first gained my appreciation for the channel,” she says. Today, Calgary-based Swartz manages the non-fuels marketing business for Husky Energy. “I have been managing the team that delivers Husky’s retail ancillary sales in convenience, car wash and restaurant for six years.” What stands out most for Swartz over the last three decades is the people who have helped her develop, both professionally and personally. She is paying that forward. “One of my biggest achievements is seeing the growth, development, and success of my team of eight people. It is very satisfying to play a role in helping build their skills and assist in their career development.”
Straight out of university 11 years ago, Audrey Sylvain was hired as a category assistant at Ultramar. “It was my first real job and I had minimal knowledge about the convenience and gas industry,” recalls Sylvain, who is now responsible for the sweets and snacks portfolio in more than 800 locations across Canada. “I’m proud that I was the first woman hired in this role by my previous manager, who had more than 25 years of experience under his belt. Organizations evolving in the oil and energy industry used to be more male-dominated; this certainly has changed in the past few years, and it’s refreshing to see more women in top management positions, like Donna Sanker, who was appointed president of Parkland Canada in November 2019.” Sylvain appreciates the fast pace of the convenience industry, and finds this an exciting time to be part of her company’s team. “Things are always moving, and you need to be able to turn on a dime,” she explains. “And you definitely cannot be afraid of changes. It’s a challenging job, which certainly keeps the daily work interesting.”
Tiffany Taylor worked in health and beauty before joining Suncor Energy in 2015, and she brought her consumer-centric skills with her to the job. Known as a collaborative, energetic and results-oriented manager, Taylor is responsible and instrumental in leading the category management for the company’s retail store business to strategically deliver objectives and sales results. Her experience in retail pharmacy, marketing, operations and logistics has helped her become an effective problem-solver, strong negotiator and generous mentor. Working collaboratively with key vendors, Taylor is known in the c-store industry for the creativity and energy she brings to the business every day. She focuses on streamlined processes that increase efficiency and minimize downtime. As a category portfolio manager, Taylor has successfully driven the performance of several store categories to new heights. Along the way, she has also built strong relationships with key stakeholders, enabling her to expand her influence on other key areas of Suncor Energy’s retail business.