Adam Lazenga first joined Coen Markets Inc. in 2018 as a financial analyst. Today, as the convenience chain’s director of real estate and construction, he continues to draw on his understanding of finance to make key decisions for the business.
“I got to start behind the scenes in the office and slowly evolve to being out in the field,” Lazenga explains. “Having that extra knowledge allows me take a step back and evaluate our projects to make sure we’re embarking on ones that will be successful, versus ones that may not offer as high of a return or that may have greater risk associated with them.”
In recent months, Lazenga has turned his analytical mindset toward an unprecedented challenge: Coen’s inaugural ground-up construction projects. While navigating the complexities of the new-build process with the support of his dedicated team, he also strategizes around the organization’s long-term growth in the Pittsburgh region and surrounding areas.
Prior to coming on board at Coen, Lazenga studied finance at the University of Pittsburgh, where he played college football in addition to earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He went on to gain experience in the valuation practice at accounting firm BDO USA before deciding to venture out into the industry—at which point he connected with Coen.
In his early days at the company, Lazenga’s work centered around financial reporting and analysis, budgeting, and corporate development. “My initial responsibility was to evaluate what was in place and come up with new tools and new products to get in front of senior leadership,” he says. “It was a lot of upstart work in the department and, with that, a lot of freedom and flexibility to design it in the way I envisioned.”
Lazenga grew within the finance and accounting department over the next few years, ultimately stepping into a manager-level role. “Toward the end of that role, I started to focus more on our real estate portfolio, our real estate acquisitions, and our remodel and construction projects,” he says. “I was not only looking at the models behind those projects from the financial analysis side, but also going out in the field to see some of the projects and get exposed to the operations side.”
In particular, Lazenga cites the acquisition of a 35-store chain as a major inflection point for Coen. That acquisition, along with the acquisitions of multiple single-site stores and the divestitures of others, shaped the company into what it is today.
“Over the last three or four years, we’ve been able to remodel and rebrand 80 to 90 percent of our portfolio,” Lazenga says. “That has required a lot of planning and effort from not just myself but a lot of people in the office. It is definitely a collaborative effort here at Coen.”
His current role, which he has held since early 2023, allows him to spend even more time managing projects and people alike. On the people front, he offers his team members ample opportunity to take the lead, whether in the office or out in the field.
“I believe in working together rather than practicing a top-down approach to leadership,” he emphasizes. “I try to get my staff trained up to a point where they feel comfortable and where I can trust them to take an assignment from the start, ask the appropriate questions, and work independently—but I still like to get my hands dirty behind the scenes when necessary.”
Lazenga has had plenty of chances to do just that amid Coen’s pivot from remodels to ground-up construction. Unlike remodels, new builds often require sign-offs from regulatory bodies like the Pennsylvania Departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection on top of the standard zoning and building permits.
“We have two pretty large competitors in our area who are also looking to build new sites,” Lazenga adds. “Trying to find good locations—good dirt—for us to build on with that local competition is tough, but we’re hoping to get started on two or three new-build stores before the end of 2023 and then have a nice list going into 2024 and 2025.”
He takes his cues for the future from Charlie and Andy McIlvaine, Coen’s third-generation family owners. “They have a vision for the company, and I would like to do whatever I can to support that vision,” he confirms. “I’d like to get to a point where we’re building 5 to 10 new stores per year. Toward the end of the decade, that’s where we’d like to be.”
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