CSD Cover Story: Sheetz Continues Reinventing Convenience
By Shahla Hebets
Through special arrangement with Convenience Store Decisions magazine, we present these opportunities to discuss the subjects of CSD’s monthly cover stories.
When it comes to delivering quality and value, few chains are as highly regarded as Sheetz. The chain has long been admired for its superiority in innovation and its diligent commitment to consumer satisfaction.
It’s not just that Sheetz has 326 stores in six states that make it a leader in the convenience channel; it is the total package of goods and services, quality and value that is driving the business. Sheetz strives to constantly reinvent itself “and put the Sheetz of today out of business,” said company President and CEO Stan Sheetz.
Among the ways the company is doing that are its self-distribution center in Claysburg, Pa., being the first to market with concepts like no-fee ATMs, E-85 fuel and its new convenience restaurant concept.
Sheetz began researching the restaurant concept back in September 2001. The company certainly considered competitors inside and outside the convenience channel in piecing the store together, but no existing retail concept served as a model for the prototype – the company started from scratch based on research culled from customers, vendors and employees.
As a whole, the convenience restaurant has an upscale, big city feel, but manages to maintain many of the design elements Sheetz regulars have come to expect. The company expects it to do nothing less than revolutionize the convenience industry.
The convenience restaurant measures 10,000 square feet, about twice the size of an average Sheetz store. Multiple touchscreen order points give customers the option of ordering brick-oven pizza, paninis, gourmet salads and other made-to-order foods. (Each “base” food item on the touchscreen menu lists the individual sandwich components so customers can select exactly what they want on their food item.) To the left lies an open atrium equipped with Wi-Fi Internet access, several big-screen televisions and an ample seating area with wood floors, bistro lighting and other design elements typical for fast-casual restaurants.
A made-to-order Sheetz Bros. Coffeez Espresso bar, manned by baristas trained in the art of crafting specialty coffees, adjoins the restaurant and c-store. Sheetz has raised the bar with its inline coffee station, offering high-quality hot and cold coffees and coffee alternatives.
Stan Sheetz recently spoke with Convenience Store Decisions about the company’s operations and the enormous success of the family-owned convenience chain.
CSD: To what do you attribute your success?
Sheetz: I believe success has been driven by our corporate culture. We always think we can do better or that good is never good enough… We continuously reinvent ourselves, and that means we always have to get a little bit better at everything that we do.
CSD: What do you deem your most innovative customer program?
Sheetz: Our focus is on the “on-the-go” consumer. It’s hard to put a pin on the demographic because so many people are on-the-go. We focus on people that value time, and we do not focus on one specific program, but rather create programs around a large demographic of convenience shoppers. One of the best things that we did years ago was to add restrooms to all of our stores and open them to the public 24 hours a day. This was difficult to execute because cleaning restrooms is not something that people like to do, but our customers really appreciated that we thought of their needs. The ultimate convenience consumer, “the road warrior,” knows that they come to us for a clean restroom, fuel for their car and something for their belly as well.
CSD: What recent experience had a significant impact on your organization?
Sheetz: One of the largest impacts occurred about seven years ago when we instituted our employee stock ownership plan. Every employee that has been with the company for more than a year becomes a stockholder automatically. We do not ask our employees to contribute or pay for the stock in anyway. Rather, we give them the stock as part of their compensation and incentive plan to foster a vested interest in growing the organization. It’s a really great thing, as it gives people a sense of ownership because they actually have ownership. But more than that, it gives them a sense of pride in delivering the Sheetz brand to our customers.
The only way to increase the value of the organization is through taking care of your customers and your employees.
Discussion Question: What makes Sheetz “different” from convenience stores and other businesses it competes with?
Reading the Convenience Store Decisions piece, we couldn’t help but wonder if innovation is really what makes Sheetz superior to those it goes up
against or if it is the chain’s commitment to properly executing the basics, such as keeping the restrooms clean, opening additional registers to keep customer lines short, etc.
– George Anderson