Case Studies

Mark Salma – Rotten Robbie

He keeps Rotten Robbie rockin’ for smart growth

It’s a good-natured and playful name that has customers remembering this independent chain of West Coast discount fueling stations and convenience stores. Rotten Robbie it’s called, which might have one humming Bobby Day’s timeless and catchy “Rockin’ Robin.” Then there’s the formal name of the owning entity: Robinson Oil Corporation Commercial Fueling.

Whatever the moniker, Mark Salma is there to further the footprint of this Santa Clara, California-based operation that, at last count, owned and operated 37 stations, primarily in the Bay Area. Director of real estate development since January 2021, he’s made a major impact in a relatively short time.

“He’s a real estate professional and broker who really understands leasing, property management, engineering, construction and even some of the legalities,” says Steven Hermiller, vice president and principal of Mannik & Smith Group Inc., a Columbus, Ohio, engineering company that’s partnered with Salma on various projects, including a challenging one in Manteca, California.

That’s a Central Valley city around 75 miles east of San Francisco, and where Rotten Robbie’s initial expansion plan was rejected by the planning commission over possible traffic impact and other issues. It took some doing and much give-and-take, but in October 2021 the Rotten Robbie/Mannik & Smith Group combo finally got the city’s OK to construct a standard-sized 4,800-square-foot convenience store with 16 fuel pumps.

“Mark really showed his skillset, coordinating with adjacent property owners, negotiating easements and satisfying local concerns,” Hermiller recalls. “Hands-down, he’s better than anyone when it comes to the ability to be persuasive, communicate effectively and get a positive outcome.”

Seeking common ground

Salma still had to compromise. Whereas the initial plans called for a diesel fueling island that could service large trucks and a driveway that the city deemed too close to the busy Airport Way/Wawona intersection, he took both off the table and agreed to new traffic signals. All systems now go, he expects the project to be completed later this year.

He’s got others in the works, including in Brentwood and Dixon. It’s a modest but prudent strategy, Salma targeting locales that make sense from existing trade areas, handling the sourcing and screening, collaborating with vendors and making the pitch to senior executives.

It’s also a dynamic time for this industry. Sustainability seems to be on everyone’s mind, especially in California with its clean-car regulations that call for zero-emissions for model years 2026-2035.

That, among other factors, has had Rotten Robbie partnering with FreeWire Technologies, a bellwether in ultrafast electrical vehicle charging stations. The Bay Area having a high concentration of EV drivers, a Rotten Robbie station in San Jose has been outfitted with FreeWire’s Boost Charger.

There’ll be more such progressive innovations at Rotten Robbie stations, Salma emphasizing how this modest chain stays abreast with consumer trends and aims to be a good corporate citizen. With him overseeing real estate and aided by partners, the chain will continue growing in the scalable fashion that’s always been its modus operandi.

Landed interest

So, it’s been a rewarding two-plus years on the job for Salma, who brought to Rotten Robbie decades of experience overseeing commercial and residential properties for other companies.

Previously he had been executive vice president of Tallen Capital Partners, a Del Mar-based developer of retail and mixed-use properties. There he managed the acquisition, development and redevelopment of retail and residential real estate, as he has for other employers.

In many ways, this was a new challenge, the very nature of fuel stations arousing safety and environmental concerns. Salma striving to have positive relationships with those at the other end of the table, he finds common ground.

A California State University, Northridge graduate with a degree in business administration and management, Salma enhanced his credentials with a certificate in investment real estate from UCLA. His resume includes roles at Brixmor Property Group in New York, Ralph’s Grocery Co. in California and 21 years with The Vons Companies Inc., a stretch that coincided with the food and drug retailer doubling in size.

Rotten Robbie, with fourth-generation ownership and nothing franchised, marked a transition of sorts, the position enabling Salma to resume concentrating on just one company. It’s been to his liking and he’s expanding his skillset with a certificate program in construction management and leadership at University of California, Berkeley.

And there’ll always be much for Salma to do at Rotten Robbie with its “3 C’s” of convenience, control and customer service. He’s quick to add that there’s a fourth C of competitive pricing.

Competitive pricing, however, is a consequence of a business plan that includes getting new stations operating and existing ones running efficiently, and Salma has a firm hand on that process. His being a licensed real estate broker also helps the cause.

All and all, he says his professional and personal life is fulfilling, Northern California being such an agreeable place to live and work.

Salma’s certain to have much to keep busy with the new builds as well as renovations and upkeep of existing facilities. While he’s essentially a one-man real estate department, he’s not really in it alone with trusted partners like Mannik & Smith Group Inc.

“With Mark as a corporate real estate guy and me being a civil engineer, we make quite a team,” Hermiller says. “There aren’t that many real estate people who are so well-rounded in all facets of the architectural, engineering and construction industries.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VIII 2023 Edition here.

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