success runs in the family

Piedmont Petroleum and its Corner Mart stores keep customers loyal by keeping things simple.

Different companies havedifferent ideas of what itmeans to be at their best. Tosome, it means being the biggest in the market. To others, itcould mean having the highest sales.However, to Kenneth Cosgrove andhis family, owners of the PiedmontPetroleum Corp. and Corner Martconvenience stores, being at their bestsimply means offering their loyal customers all the services traditional convenience stores are known for.

“You don’t have to give away yourmargin and you don’t have to haveelaborate foodservice to be successfuland viable in this industry,” saidCosgrove, who, like the other members in his family, handles a little bit ofeverything in the company, from operations to marketing.

Self-Made Company

The Greenville, S.C.-based chainwas founded in 1977 when Cosgrove’sfather—who answers to the name Ken— grew tired of his job, which motivatedhim to pull some money together andopen the first Corner Mart. Now, 30years later, the Cosgrove family is running 37 stores peppered throughoutSouth Carolina.

Since the company was created,Corner Mart has taken pride in beingthe local neighborhood conveniencestore, simply offering a variety of cstore staples—such as snacks and beverages, beer and cigarettes—as well as CITGO-branded gasoline. And whilesome of the stores do have a smallfood program of hot dogs and pizza,the Cosgrove family prefers to maintain their business by sticking to itsroots.

“We’re just trying to be a good, ol’convenience store,” said Cosgrove.”We’re not going to try and be arestaurant.”

Being a “good ol’ conveniencestore” is part of the family formula thathas helped Piedmont’s Corner Martbrand prosper. The family runs a tightship, with Cosgrove, his mother and his father running all the storesbetween the three of them, with asmall staff in each store. While thechain does have some programs itmanages with its vendors, Cosgrovetakes a lot of the planning into his ownhands.

Instead of relying totally on suppliers and their suggested layouts,Cosgrove develops planograms for all37 stores by himself, thus ensuring thathe has full control over the shelves.This control gives him the luxury ofbeing flexible when it comes to deciding what products to stock. He organizes everything using spreadsheets.

“There are a lot of things we can doourselves, and this is one of them. Wedon’t necessarily need to take all thesuggestions given to us,” saidCosgrove. “The nice thing about having just 37 stores is that I can dictatewhat goes on every single shelf inevery single store.”

Taking care of the stores how hesees fit has been useful on many occasions, most recently with the boom ofteas and energy drinks. Thanks to having complete control of the coolers ineach store, Cosgrove has been able tomonitor drink trends in each store.With many of his stores showing flatsales on carbonated soft drinks,Cosgrove has seamlessly made moreroom for the better-selling teas, energydrinks and non-carbonated beverages.

Vendor Relations
Just because the Cosgrove familytakes a lot of their own initiatives doesnot mean they refuse outside suggestions. Corner Mart maintains strongrelationships with its vendors, particularly the ones run locally. For instance,the Cosgroves have developed a verystrong relationship with PepsiCo’sGreenville, S.C. division, which provides most of the beverages that stockthe Corner Mart coolers. The relationship between the retailer and the vendor is so strong that it deterred CornerMart from making contracts withPepsiCo competitors.

From their healthy relationship withPepsiCo and some of the other localvendors, Piedmont has learned thevalue and benefits that come tandemwith strong networking and communication. It’s because of this that theyattend regular meetings for the SouthCarolina Association of ConvenienceStores (SCACS). Despite the desire toremain a basic corner store, Cosgrovehas found nothing but guidance,prospect and opportunity by participating with SCACS.

“SCACS has done an extremelygood job of bringing together vendorsand retailers in a very simple, nonthreatening environment,” Cosgrovesaid. “It’s been a huge asset for us.”

Cosgrove also credits SCACS asbeing an invaluable resource for bringing together local competition, something that has helped Piedmont maintain the type of business that has madeit successful for the past 30 years.

“Greenville is an exciting market,and we have tremendous competition.SCACS has been a great associationfor all of us,” he said.

Despite so many other stores in themarket, competition has never been amajor concern for Piedmont and theCosgroves, who have always beencontent on providing a helpful serviceto their loyal customers. Maintainingtheir business as a local, convenientshop has always been the priority forPiedmont, even more so than elaborate expansions and acquisitions morecommonly seen in today’s industry.

“We’re just a little chain and wewant to be there for the customer,”said Cosgrove. “We’re not trying torule the world; we just want to operatethe business the best we can and treatour employees the best we possiblycan.”

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