This article published October 2016. For latest news THIS MONTH'S ISSUE


Exclusive: Evolutionary road- Next generation QuikTrip

QuikTrip, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-headquartered convenience and forecourt retailer, which will feature on Insight’s Retail Study Tour, held during the NACS Show in October, has put food on the menu in its new generation stores and is learning how to reap the rewards. Fiona Briggs reports

QuikTrip is in experimental mode. The privately held corporation, which has its headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has introduced food to its core convenience and fuel product mix and is continuing to refine the offer to meet consumer needs.

Founded in 1958, QuikTrip has grown to a more than $11bn company, operating 700+ stores in 11 states.

The evolution began several years ago when QuikTrip launched its so-called Generation 3 store. It had an expanded footprint: an additional 700sq ft of space compared with existing sites and an exterior that was more akin to a restaurant than a traditional c-store. Crucially, the new space ushered in an in-store kitchen and, with it, a raft of new product categories.

“Over the last few years we have been experimenting with several different categories, we are continuing to evolve,” says Chuck O’Dell, VP sales, QuikTrip.

“It’s been a learning process of trying to run both businesses out of the same building - convenience store products along with fuel and then to bring in a kitchen and do prepared foods, made to order foods and ice cream treats.”

QuikTrip recognised it needed to differentiate both its store look and offer. Its traditional categories - gasoline and tobacco - had been in decline for over a decade.

“We needed to get into a new business to offset the declines in traditional categories,” says O’Dell. “C-stores have always had some kind of snack or treat but they are not first in mind to get a meal, prepared the way you want it.”

Kitchen focus

QuikTrip has been changing those perceptions for the last four to five years. Today 30% of the company’s stores are Generation 3 format, with a big kitchen. Retro fits and remodeling have also ensured 96% of all stores feature a kitchen, large or small, to provide a consistency of offer - a core QuikTrip strength.

“We’ve always been a proponent of offering what customers want in all of our locations,” says O’Dell. As a result, the Generation 3 stores menu is replicated in the smaller kitchens and, as QuikTrip increases those volumes, it is looking at expanding the smaller kitchens once again, O’Dell adds.

The food offer is a mixture of ‘grab and go’ and ‘made to order’ products but all portable and designed to be consumed-on-the-go.

QuikTrip doesn’t offer interior seating in any of its stores, although select outlets feature outside seating with picnic tables and umbrellas.

The offer includes coffee, shakes, ice cream with candy toppings, grill and flatbread sandwiches plus pizza, a recent addition.

“It’s a really good item for us and we sell it by the slice from a grab and go counter or it can be ordered the way you want it,” says O’Dell. Touch screen menus enable shoppers to customise pizzas and sandwiches, according to their individual preferences.

Take out pizzas are another innovation. They are currently available to order in store but QuikTrip is planning to release a mobile app, which will enable customers to pre-order and select the time they would like to pick the order up.

The concept is currently being data tested with a view to roll out in the next few months, O’Dell reveals.

QuikTrip’s confidence in the food offer is evidenced by the fact it has leveraged its own brand across the range, the kitchens, on Point-of-Sale and packaging.

Similarly, the kitchens are located in the centre of the store and are wide open and on view.

“We like the folks that work in the kitchen to interact with the customer - everything that we do is visible to the customer,” O’Dell states.

Dedicated training programme

The new offer has demanded a fresh mindset, not least in terms of training. O’Dell reports QuikTrip has launched an extensive training and audit strategy, which includes a dedicated foodservice mystery shopper programme to ensure the food offer is measured to the same exacting standards as customer service.

“It’s to make sure that we do what we say we are going to do,” says O’Dell, who claims QuikTrip’s training and execution is best in class.

“It’s a big transition from selling cases of pop and cartons of cigarettes to selling freshly made food but they’ve done a great job,” he says.

It’s winning traction with the QuikTrip customer base at least.

“It’s gotten busier. We are showing strong trends in food and continue to add to the menu. But we are taking it slow. There’s a lot of testing and research to really go to market with the best possible product and training,” O’Dell says.

Efficient service for time-poor shoppers

In the fast-paced convenience store sector, speed is of the essence too.

“The key to the whole food game is to make sure you give the customer what they ordered but in a speedy manner. Speed is very important to the customer,” O’Dell asserts.

And it’s here where QuikTrip spies a big window of opportunity with mobile ordering, whereby customers tell the retailer what they want before they even reach the store.

The pizza trial is just the start, O’Dell reveals. “We will then slowly open up the entire menu. The goal is to execute it so that’s it’s ready right as you arrive because, for the customer, timing is everything. People are time poor and everybody is in a hurry. The quicker we can get them in and out, the happier they are.”

Healthier products are on the radar too. Stores currently offer fresh salads, for example. QuikTrip’s R&D department also continues to investigate healthy options, which will find favour with customers; and the company sees this as a key trend moving forward.

Recent marketing efforts have been centred on the new food offer, which has appealed to existing and new customers alike. TV and mobile campaigns have been deployed to raise awareness and drive participation with offers for free pizza slices or coffee, for instance.

Non-gasoline store makes market debut

QuikTrip’s willingness to test and experiment is also evident in the opening of its first non-gasoline store in downtown Atlanta in July.

According to O’Dell, it’s located in an area which is not serviced by QuikTrip but does not afford the mandatory three acre lot with gas pumps for a regular site.

“It’s another way to get our brand in a part of the Atlanta market that we were not in,” O’Dell explains.

At 3,700sq ft, the site is smaller than Generation 3 store but features a larger kitchen and outdoor seating and canopied standing areas, appealing to the local high rise living residents and businesses.

“The store is in a part of Atlanta where there are a lot of open area dining experiences,” says O’Dell. “As long as people have a place to put their phone and food down, the stand up tables get used more than sit down tables.”

True to style, the store has the same offer as other QuikTrip locations - all of the c-store SKUs but just on a smaller scale with fewer facings. One point of difference is a new made to order Sub programme, which is reported to be doing extremely well.

Similar outlets are in the pipeline in markets where QuikTrip cannot obtain its normal footprint. “We are on the look out moving forward but there will not be hundreds out there - [Altanta] is just a way to get the brand into a part of the city we were not in,” affirms O’Dell.

Communication is at core of QuikTrip culture

Featured for the last 14 years as A Best Company to Work For, it’s clear the QuikTrip culture is helping to drive the business’s evolution.

For O’Dell, that’s summed up in one key word: communication.

“We are pretty good at communicating what is expected, what we are doing and why we are doing it,” he says.

He reports the company operates a number of mechanisms for store staff to feedback ‘what’s good, bad and what’s need to be fixed’ within the business but that it also listens and gives a response in return.

The open door approach is led from the front by CEO Chet Cadieux who personally meets with every staff member, every year at employee meetings. “He will say, “here’s where we have been and here’s where we are going”, and answers questions, so that employees feel really well informed about the direction of the company,” O’Dell says.

“Our training programmes are also really strong and we don’t try to overwork employees but give staff tools they need to perform and take care of customers. We modify things every year, in order to get better, and we communicate the changes too. It’s a neat culture, every day is different.”

QuikTrip to feature on Insight’s Retail Study Tour during NACS Show

Delegates on the Insight study tours during the NACS Show in Atlanta in October will experience that QuikTrip culture first hand with visits to a Generation 3 store and the non-gasoline outlet.

O’Dell, a participant in previous overseas store tours, appreciates the insights and learnings these visits can generate.

“I toured Ireland and London with Chet the last time we went over. We won a lot of subtle learnings from the folks over there on how to present food and the overall look.”

There’s little doubt those insights have been tried and tested in QuikTrip’s experimental and evolutionary approach.

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Fiona BriggsFiona Briggs Freelance retail business journalist

Fiona is an experienced journalist and editor, writing exclusive content for GCSF. She is founder of retailtimes.co.uk. She contributes regularly to NACS Magazine and writes articles on omnichannel shopper trends for Radial. Fiona is available for commissions at fionalbriggs@gmail.com

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