growing with the business

As Alan Drake grew up in central Colorado, he found himself working for a local convenience store through high school.

At the time, Kwik Stop had just one store operating out of its headquarters in Penrose,Colo. Drake learned the business from the ground up—stocking shelves, sweeping parking lots and putting a smile on customers’ faces.

Drake, who is now the director of operations for all six KwikStop locations, made quite an impression on the store’s ownerduring his run as a store clerk. After he left for college on a basketball scholarship, the owner recruited Drake to help him run thestore. In 1984, Drake helped Kwik Stop acquire its second store,and began to slowly add four more locations until the last onewas completed in 2004.

As the company continued acquiring new locations, Drakeseized the reins, overseeing operations in each of the stores. Hemanages all the merchandising, human resources, distribution and general store functions, with help from partners suchas McLane Co. Inc., referred to by Drake as “good people withwhom we have a long working relationship.”

In the stores, Drake keeps the staff large enough to efficientlyrun them, but lean enough so that he still has a hand in everyaspect of the business. Skilled managers, many of whom havebeen with the company since 1987, aid in running the stores.

“With a small company, we don’t have the need for additionalspecialized help,” said Drake. “It’s been an interesting ride since Iget to be a jack of all trades.”

Since Kwik Stop is competing with chains with upwards of135 stores, Drake keeps each location distinctive to its local community. But the one constant that remains is the commitmentto branded foodservice programs, such as Subway, which helpsKwik Stop bring in a steady flow of customers.The stores stayahead of the curve by being exceptionally clean and friendly. “What works in one town may not necessarily translate toanother, so it is important to keep each store unique in its concept and design,” he said.

For example, Drake recalled the last store Kwik Stop acquired,which was originally designed by an out-of-state businessmanto be a Taj Mai Hall-like travel center. But, halfway through theproject, construction stopped, allowing Kwik Stop to step in.The glitzy, sophisticated motif was a bit out of the ordinary forsuch a rural store location, but Drake was fascinated with the unique opportunity.

As such, the Kwik Stop store is one-of-a-kind in the area,attracting a much more diverse base of customers than itsother locations. The community has a large number of retireeswho are attracted to the store’s design; people Drake believeswouldn’t normally visit a c-store on a regular basis if it weren’t forthe fantasy element of the store. This particular location alreadyhad a full-scale restaurant built into its design, so Drake founda qualified person to lease out the space and create a new revenue stream.

“The original owner put a lot of time and money into this location. When we took over, it was out of our knowledge range. Butwe adapted and it has become one of our most successfulstores,” said Drake.

As more retailers start to carry unbranded fuels, Kwik Stop isa big believer in offering its customers a high-quality brand offuel. The company directly markets for both Shell and Valero’sDiamond Shamrock brand, something Drake feels distinguishesthem from the competition.

“We’re still the little guys, but I think [branded fuels] help us,”said Drake. “We can give each store individual attention andanticipate our customers needs.”

As his 30th anniversary with Kwik Stop approaches, Drakefeels confident that the chain’s broad offerings of brand-namefuel, car washes and foodservice will continue to set it apart in the industry.

“As long as we’re in tune with what our customers want andwhat the industry is doing, we are willing to change alongwith them,” said Drake. “I don’t see any challengesthat can’t be overcome.”

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