Some companies would celebratetheir 40th anniversarywith balloons and a lot of handshakes.For QuickChek, themilestone was an opportunity to show offits innovation and commitment to growingoperations.
Last month, the Whitehouse Station,N.J.-based chain moved into the NewYork market with an expansive 7,200 sq.ft. store. The multimillion-dollar Florida,N.Y. unit is the first of nine QuickChekplans to open in the Empire State over thenext three years. Overall, it plans to openan average of eight stores a year in thatsame time.
“We believe we are the best conveniencestore chain in New York and NewJersey, so when we were looking for newareas to grow that were familiar withour brand and had similar demographics,New York was the obvious choice,”said Dean Durling, president and CEOof the 110-store chain. “It’s a great marketwith a growing population, and it’sunderserved.”
QuickChek’s move into New York,while a bold statement, was expertly conceivedand calculated. It took four years ofplanning from the time the decision wasmade to move into the market until thedoors were finally opened on July 10.As part of the company’s due diligenceprocess, it analyzed consumerdemographics, consensus data, shoppinghabits and even commuter routes to work.
All of this was on top of dealing with zoningboards, where it wasn’t afforded thebrand recognition it enjoys in its coreNew Jersey markets. Then it had to findlocations that were easily accessible fordistributors and, more importantly, filleda void for consumers.
One major benefit the companyenjoys is that customers in the New Yorkmarket are already familiar with theQuickChek brand. For starters, the mediabuy is the same meaning customers inNew York routinely hear the company’sradio commercials and see the giantbillboards promoting its foodserviceprogram and popular 20-minute coffeefreshness guarantee.
There is also a noticeable lack of achain presence in the market. Stewart’s,7-Eleven and Hess are present, but lack asignificant store count to control the market.Where Stewart’s Shops are known fortheir ice cream, QuickChek is able to drawon its strengths to offer a variety of retailsolutions under one roof, and in New York,it’s doing just that.
The store, in a word, is impressive. It’sspacious, bright, warm and inviting. Whatmakes this store standout from its competitorsin the market is really two things: thefuel offering and foodservice.
Fueling New Business
QuickChek’s fuel program is still inits infancythe New York store is justits 11th with gasoline. Going forward, allof the company’s new units in New Yorkand New Jersey will feature fuel operations.The New York store features threefuel grades and 22 fueling stations.“We already know we attract customerswith our coffee and sandwiches. The additionof fuel allows us to offer a completeone-stop solution,” Durling said. “We arestill learning fuel, but it is a natural additionto our business that creates a wealthof opportunities.”
The QuickChek proprietary fuel brandis a major coup for the company. It hasdeals with multiple fuel dealers to buygallons in bulk, allowing it to be extremelycompetitive on price at a time when fuelprices are well above historical averagesin a market that has always been pricedhigher than U.S. averages.
A survey of the market in mid-Julyfound QuickChek’s price of $2.95 forunleaded regular to be a full five centscheaper than its closest competitor, aValero just three blocks away. The pricedifferential jumped to nearly 10 cents forpremium. For stations about two milesaway, the difference in price for regularwas 11 cents. Since the store opened,fuel prices in the market are down nearly10 cents.
The high national price of gasolineplays right into QuickChek’s strategyin the market. “Whether it’s national oilbrands or an unbranded program, whengas prices rise, customers are looking forlower-cost alternatives,” Durling said.“Our strategy is to be among the lowest onthe street so customers will recognize usfor the value we offer and still feel comfortableshopping inside the store.”
Should a customer have some reservationsabout eschewing a national fuelbrand for the QuickChek offering, thecompany posts a message on every fuelpump that reads: “The quality of nationalbrands… always at a better price.”
Though the store opened just a fewweeks ago, customers were quick to noticethe disparity in price. “Deciding to get mygas here wasn’t really much of a choice,”said one customer filling up a cargo workvan. “It’s the cheapest station around andI can get a lunch and a cup of coffee.”
Meet QuickChek’s core customer. The company is taking a multi-prongedapproach to cultivating a customer basewith the fuel and foodservice offerings.All food items are prepared fresh onsiteand made-to-order. Stores bake bread,cookies and other pastry items three timesa day.
The foodservice menu spans all threedayparts and ranges from traditional subsand sandwiches to specialty items like ciabattabreads, wraps and salads and low-fatsandwich specials.
But where QuickChek is able to distinguishitself is with its coffee program, orwhat Durling refers to as one of the company’ssignature items, along with no-feeATMs (See “Coffee Credo” sidebar).“When it comes to producing a greatcoffee program, there are a 100 thingsyou have to do right every time, and all100 are equally important,” Durling said.“One bad cup of coffee loses a customer,and that isn’t just a coffee customer.That’s a gas customer, a sandwichcustomer, etc. We can’t afford to getit wrong.”
In fact, QuickChek spares little expensewhen it comes to coffee and backs it upwith the 20-minute freshness guarantee.“We probably dump out more coffeethan the average convenience store sells,”Durling said.
At anytime during the day, eachQuickChek store offers more than 10 flavorsof coffee, up to 12 varieties of Lipton Teas and nine varieties of cappuccino andhot chocolate.
While the company’s strength liesin foodservice, there are some areas it isjust getting acclimated to, like beer, forinstance. Convenience store ownersaround the country may be used to operatinga beer cave, but since New Jerseyallows businesses to own no more thantwo liquor licenses in the state, just twoof QuickChek’s 109 New Jersey storessell beer. By contrast, all of the New Yorkstores will feature beer.
Eight of the New York store’s 22 coldvault doors feature beer, offering a mixof imported, domestic and local brews.Outside the cooler, floor displays of 12-packs and Heineken mini kegs retailfor up to $19.99, helping the store boostits average sales ticket over stores inNew Jersey.
Expanding With a Purpose
Though there are other gas stationswithin a few blocks, the store sits nicelybetween two supermarkets, the closestof which is about seven miles away. Thatprovides a great opportunity to providefill-in grocery items along everyday needslike tobacco, snacks and beverages.
The grocery section is large andaccommodating. Working with its wholesaledistributor, McLane, QuickChekhas already tweaked the offering to provideadditional grocery products, suchas laundry detergents, diapers andpaper goods.
“The feedback from customers has beenamazing,” said John Schaninger, vice presidentof sales and merchandising. “Theycame to us and asked us to add some newthings, and we saw that as an opportunityto show them how serious we are aboutmeeting their daily needs.”
The front counter is one of the store’sstrongest features. It faces the forecourtand greets customers from one of thestore’s two main entrances. There arethree checkout stations, each
equippedwith POS terminals that allow customersto swipe credit and debit cards or useMasterCard’s PayPass.
While the chain is extremely focusedon expansion, the employees it putsbehind the counter continue to be its mainfocus. For example, each new hire isformally trained at the company’sheadquarters in Whitehouse Stationand personally meets both Durling andMike Murphy, the chain’s seniorvice president.
“It’s rare in any company that new hiresget to meet the company president andsenior vice president, but that is importantto us because we want them to knowthat they are part of the QuickChek family,”Murphy said.
To prepare for the New York grandopening, the chain bused all the newemployees from the store to WhitehouseStation for training and team buildingexercises. “The staff was very appreciative,”Durling said. “Many of them cameto me and said, ‘We’ve never worked for acompany that went out of its way to makeus feel so valued.’ That’s just the messagewe send to all our employees.”
The chain is moving full-speed aheadon its next New York store, scheduled toopen later this year in Kingston. It is currentlydoing about $450 million in annualsales, but with an aggressive growth strategyand the addition of fuel, the salespotential is unlimited.
“This is a very exciting time for everyonein our company,” Durling said. “Weare seeing the fruits of our labor in NewYork, satisfying a wide-range of customersand attracting talented new employees.It’s been a lot of hard work, but our successhas been very rewarding for everyoneinvolved.”
The QuickChekCoffee CredoGuaranteed fresh every 20minutes is the company’s coffee motto.QuickChek’s brew is not only guaranteedfresh, but it’s made from hand-selectedbeans, triple-filtered water, exacttemperatures and an enormous varietyof flavors, sweeteners and toppings. Thecompany is so focused on coffee that itpromises customers:
- To carefully select and fresh-grind onlythe best coffee beans the world canoffer.
- To prepare each pot of coffee usingexact standards, including triple-filteredwater and consistent temperatures.
- To graciously offer and ensure a freshpot every 20 minutes…guaranteed.
- To create an extraordinary coffeeexperience for each guest, every visit.