cuttingedge

One might think being fired from his first job in the convenience industry may have soured Russ Quick to the channel. Granted, he was 14, sweeping parking lots for a corner gas station and was replaced when the owner's daughter came of age, but still, a man has his pride.

Quick dabbled successfully in several different fields—nuclear engineering, owning a couple Subway restaurants and creating a company called Fresh Way Subs and Salads—before making a full return to convenience.

"I was the operations manager for Duncan Oil Co.," said Fas Mart's vice president of marketing. "From there, 7-Eleven hired me and I spent roughly five years as foodservice category manager. Then I came to Fas Mart as foodservice category manager, was promoted to marketing manager and now vice president of marketing."

Quick joined Mechanicsville, Va.-based Fas Mart the day the company filed for bankruptcy—March 15, 2001—to help it through the process. Fas Mart has since been purchased by GPM Investments and, with its 146 company-operated and 62 dealer-operated Fas Mart and Shore Stop stores in six Mid-Atlantic states, is posting the strongest sales numbers in its history. And the company continues to grow—recently acquiring more than 100 stores from DB Marts and Sweet Oil Co.

"We only buy stores that make financial returns, that meet our ROI models," said Quick. "We don't overpay for a store and give a fair market value to purchased locations, but we're always looking to acquire."

Automation and category management allow Fas Mart to maintain its competitive edge. The company uses cigarettes, dairy and packaged beverage as points of distinction and leverages those offerings because they're destination items for its customers. For cigarettes, Fas Mart's strategy is to offer the lowest per pack price by selling them in groups of three.

Dairy is the No. 2 planned purchase behind bread, and Quick sees supermarkets as the company's real competition in this category, as it prices in line with grocers. The company is typically among the price leaders for milk—it prices very aggressively on gallons and features a strong variety.

The cooler overall is extremely lucrative for Fas Mart. Packaged beverages are the company's No. 1 profit category, a distinction achieved through strict category management.

Fas Mart has stores as small as trailers and some as large as 5,000 square feet, each with different footprints. The company uses the same strategy to go to market for each store, simply paring down the size of the offer based on the amount of space. But Quick claims it's never been a challenge because of its excellent partnerships.

"We plan out every SKU on every shelf in every store. We have hundreds of stores and hundreds of configurations," said Quick. "It takes a lot of work, but it allows us to determine the best use of our space.

"McLane has been a great partner," he continued. "We renewed our partnership with them for another three years and we're very pleased with what we've gotten on that distribution channel. Their core competencies match ours, and their focus on service is a big deal to us."

Quick's role is to leverage technology to help the company maintain its competitive edge. Fas Mart utilizes scan data to implement category management principles with product assortment— ensuring that everything goes in the right place.

The company's loyalty program technology tells it what's selling and the top 10 companion purchases made with those items. That data tells Quick what items to promote, what dayparts to promote them in to maximize dollar rings and enables the company to create offers that pose real value to customers.

As Fas Mart grows, it plans to pair technology with its partnerships to create efficiencies and reduce out-of-stocks.

"We look forward to utilizing a handheld ordering system that will be loaded with our historical data. It will track what's going in the store, what's selling and what needs to be replaced," said Quick. "[The handheld ordering] will help us with inventory controls and keep us in stock, and that puts us ahead of the class."

Have an industry "thought leader" at your company that qualifies as a "Rising Star?" E-mail kquackenbush@penton.com.

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