deliverance

Pizza delivery didn’t work out as expected for this small Carolina chain.

Mike and Brad Woodie were probably the type of kids who weren’t afraidto fall off their bicycles. The two—president and vice president, respectively,of Woodie’s (Charlotte, NC)—looked at the neighborhood around their newestWoodie’s store in uptown Charlotte and saw loads of high-rise apartments, condosand office buildings and figured they’d try something new: pizza delivery.

How hard could it be?

First, they made what they thought were all the right marketing moves.

“We had to educate people about the fact that we were here and offering food,” says Brad Woodie.

“Then, we had to educate them about our delivery capabilities. There were several hurdles to jump at one time. We did mailers, couponing and passed out thousands of fliers.”

But the plan didn’t fly.

“It didn’t go over well at all,” Woodie says. “The demand wasn’t consistentand that made it extremely difficult to have the correct amount of labor onhand when you needed it. We’re not doing it anymore. I think people are so accustomedto the big two or three like Papa John’s and Domino’s that it makes it realhard to break into that business.”

Not all is lost, however. Despite the delivery misstep, takeout business remains brisk.

“We do $3,000 to $4,000 per week in pizza,” Woodie says. “You can’t always beat your head against the wall trying to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes, you just have to find a thing that works and run with it.”

“Finding a thing that works and running with it” should be Woodie’s company mission statement.

A new wheel
Mike and Brad’s father, Ernest Woodie, probably never thought about sellingcigarettes, Snickers bars and bottles of Snapple when he opened his first servicestation in 1962. For years, Woodie’s Auto Service & Repair Center was astaple in the Charlotte community. But that all changed when his sons saw thatthe Big Oil companies were raking in the dough opening convenience stores. Thetwo decided that the future for Woodie’s would have to include convenience stores.Since then, Woodie’s has grown to include six convenience stores and six autoservice centers, all of which are within 25 minutes of Charlotte.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel in our stores,” Woodie says. “We have the standard full line offering of convenience store products.”

Instead of reinventing the wheel, Woodie’s finds the smoothest wheel and hops on for a ride. Just as Mike and Brad followed Big Oil into the convenience store business, they continue to look to such competitors to see where the business goes next.

“Exxon, Shell and BP have raised the bar for customer expectations exponentially,”says Brad Woodie. “The average store has to be in the 4,000 to 5,000 sq. ft.range, and you need the fast food concept, the immaculate cleanliness, the fullcoffee bar, the 24-head fountain soda offering and the multi-head frozen offerings.And it all has to be presented in an upscale environment. We follow those marketleaders.”

Woodie’s has no choice but to play follow the leader.

“Exxon targeted Charlotte as an area where they wanted to concentrate on, so everything in our area is corporate-owned Exxon On the Runs,” Woodie says. “Then, you have the independent competitor in our area—Petro Express—and they have about 60 stores spread out throughout the region.”

The Woodies knew that to play with the big boys they’d need to look like the big boys. So before re-opening their latest two acquisitions, they spent more than $500,000 to make sure the stores would turn heads.

“We started using a lot more colors in the stores that will appeal more to female clientele,” Woodie says. “We use light wood and maple cabinetry as opposed to metal cabinetry. We’re also mixing in a lot of different lighting—especially the pendant lights that hang down to highlight specific areas like coffee area—and better fixtures. Any store that we acquire and remodel now gets that look.”

Selling the yacht
Some retailers say they’d rather not acquire storesbecause of their inherent limitations. The Woodies look to grow only throughacquisition.

“To build a new store that would measure up to what people expect,” Woodie says, “you need to invest $2 million in our area.”

So the chain continues to seek out retiring jobbers or store owners with goodlocations who are looking to exit the business. In the meantime, the Woodieskeep fighting the good fight. “It’s getting harder and harder,” Woodie says.”Fuel margins are tough enough, plus you’re paying 4¢ to 6¢ per gallonin credit card processing fees. But, you just have to be more and more aggressiveinside the store. When it’s the only means you have, you find ways to save.”

Most times, that means trimming labor costs. Instead of running two cashiers,Woodie says, the chain asks managers to pull extra shifts. Nevertheless, Woodieand his family aren’t “down” on the convenience store business.

“It’s good, but sometimes it can be tough,” he says. “We sold all of the yachtsand racecars, and I’m down to only playing golf five days a week. We had tofire the masseuse—times are hard. Hopefully, you can tell there’s a healthydose of sarcasm.”

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