When most people hear the word Sigma, it usually conjures images of a Greek letter, constellation, or large, likely old house on fraternity row in Anytown, U.S.A. However, for convenience retailers and petroleum marketers, it means something else entirely.

The Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America (SIGMA) has a long, proud history as a leading advocacy organization in our industry. In 2015, convenience store veteran Ryan McNutt took over as CEO of the organization, determined to help continue its legacy as an ardent advocate for the fuel marketing community.

We recently spoke with Ryan about SIGMA’s evolution as an organization, regulatory challenges facing the industry and the necessity for advocacy now and in the future.

PDI: SIGMA has been in existence for nearly 60 years. Tell our readers a little about your organization and its mission.

RYAN: Founded in 1958 as the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America (SIGMA), SIGMA has become a fixture in the motor fuel marketing industry. After almost sixty years of leadership, SIGMA is the national trade association representing the most successful, progressive, and innovative fuel marketers and chain retailers in the United States. From the outset, the association has served to further the interests of both the branded and unbranded segment of the industry while providing information and services to members.

SIGMA’s approximately 260 corporate members command more than 50 percent of the petroleum retail market, selling approximately 80 billion gallons of motor fuel each year. These member companies operate throughout the United States and Canada.

Regular membership in SIGMA is available to companies involved in motor fuel retailing or wholesaling that are not owned by a refiner. In addition, Associate membership is available to fuel supplier companies and to companies that offer financial services, fuel transport services, and fleet card services. SIGMA member companies have long been recognized, both within and outside the industry, as the most aggressive, innovative, and price competitive segment of petroleum marketers.

SIGMA’s mission is to benefit our members by helping them improve their ability to succeed in a free and fully competitive market for transportation fuels.

PDI: Since taking over as CEO of SIGMA in 2015, what have been your goals for the organization, and how have you seen the organization evolve?

RYAN: When I became SIGMA’s CEO three years ago, one of my goals was to create long-term value for the association and its members in the years to come, and that remains a driving force today. My job is to ensure the association continues its role as a leading voice for the fuel marketing community and that its events, programs, and services remain relevant and further advance the interests of the industry for the future.

SIGMA is continually evolving as an organization to meet the needs of our members. We are always on the lookout for new ideas, new education topics, and new ways to foster the peer-to-peer networking that makes SIGMA conferences unique within our industry. One thing that has not changed in SIGMA’s now almost 60 years is that we remain a member-driven organization. SIGMA listens to its members and it is the members that set the course for the association.

PDI: A big part of SIGMA’S purpose is to advocate on behalf of its members. What are some of the biggest regulatory challenges petroleum wholesalers and convenience retailers are facing?

RYAN: The largest challenge facing SIGMA members is the future of the liquid fuels market. Many federal regulatory changes will be coming with the sunset of the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard program in 2020. Will the program continue? What will the new fuel market look like? Will renewable fuels continue to grow? Is higher octane a possible solution? How are electric vehicle subsidies going to impact the fuels market – can they penetrate the consumer consciousness sufficiently to have an effect? These are the questions our members face.

PDI: What can and should businesses do to influence the process?

RYAN: The single most important thing businesses should do is to become involved in the process – at all levels: local, state, and federal. Becoming an active advocate for the industry as a whole, and your business in particular, is just a smart business practice. It is a hedge against political risk. Successful businesses know that you need to create relationships before you need them. I encourage all SIGMA members to position themselves to be THE source of information for their elected officials, so when a fuel issue arises, their opinion is heard and their views are included in the debate. One thing that has stuck with me that I learned from SIGMA’s long-term counsel Tim Columbus is that you can’t out manage a bad day of government.

PDI: For years, the oil and gas industry has had an anti-environment public perception. What can petroleum marketers do to combat the perception, and are there environmentally friendly policies that have support among your members?

RYAN: SIGMA members are responsible stewards of the environment. Fuel marketers face more regulation to protect the environment than almost any other industry and they comply with those regulations to protect the resources on which the industry depends. Petroleum marketers are not oblivious. From a moral perspective, SIGMA members wish what all citizens wish—that future generations not face environmental hazards. This concern forms the basis for their responsible business operations and planning. SIGMA members do not object to “environmentally friendly policies”—but they believe, however, that burden of such policies should be evenly distributed across industries rather than being targeted towards the fuels industry. For example, in the movement to promote the use of electric vehicles as a “cleaner” transportation alternative there should be a full and transparent discussion of the environmental effects of battery manufacture and disposal, as well as the impact increased use of EVs would have on transportation infrastructure.

PDI: Switching gears, what are some of the main business challenges petroleum wholesalers are facing, and how can technology help?

RYAN: For fuel wholesalers, the single largest challenge they face is the viability of their dealers. To survive, wholesalers need a market to buy their fuel. In that regard, the challenges their dealers face are of concern to wholesalers because their future business success depends on the dealer market’s survival. Technology can help provide solutions, but it can also create new and unseen problems. The challenge for all businesses, not just SIGMA’s wholesale members, will be to navigate the world of mobile payments and other need-for-speed options as consumers continue to expect instant gratification and convenience.

PDI: Why are organizations like SIGMA so important to our industry?

RYAN: Well, first I would like to say that I don’t believe there is another organization “like SIGMA.” We are unique in the industry in that we provide a way for our members to meet with each other and their suppliers and customers under one roof and in a friendly and relaxed environment. That interaction is what sets SIGMA apart and what makes us relevant. Our members leave our conferences with ideas from peer-to-peer conversations that they can take home and put to immediate use. Whether you have been in the fuels industry for years or you are new to it, you will walk away with new ideas, new contacts, and new friends. That is the SIGMA hallmark. That is our brand. That is the value we create. SIGMA’s vision is to be a forum of such value that the best, brightest and most dedicated people in the transportation fuels industry will be drawn to assemble here. So far, I think we’re doing pretty well.

For more information about SIGMA, visit their website at www.sigma.org.