familial operations

Unlike many retailers profiled in Rising Stars, Kurt Straube always knew he would have a career in the convenience industry.

Kurt Straube
Dari Mart Stores

His grandparents purchased afarm in Junction City, Ore., back in 1940, which grewinto Lochmead Dairy, a milk processing plant, and Dari MartStores in 1965. Three generations of his family have been a partof this burgeoning 43-store chain, and Straube grew up right inthe middle of it.

His first official “paid” position was in building/equipmentmaintenance and landscape during his teenage summers of1981 through 1985. After graduating from college and marryinghis wife, he moved to Seattle, where he spent six years working foran S&P 500 company, specializing in executive benefit consultingand business continuation planning. Once his first son was born,Straube decided it was the right time to return to Oregon and reenterthe family business.

“I had always intended to make a career at Dari Mart, but itwas a personal priority for me to go outside our family businessto gain the valuable knowledge and experience of working in adifferent industry for a different employer,” he said. “Looking back,that proved to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Returning to Dari Mart in 1994, he assumed the position ofoperations manager where he teamed with his father to run thecorporation. But the company has never been big on formality.

“Formal job titles have never been a big deal at Dari Martand the medium-sized nature of our operation really dictatesthat each member of our management team needs to knowour business from the bottom up,” said Straube. “To that end, our‘open-door/hands-on’ corporate culture has resulted in a strongmanagement team. Everyone is expected to help out. If somethingneeds to be done and you’re standing there, don’t wait forsomeone to come and do it for you. Everyone is responsible andI see this as one of our biggest competitive advantages today.”

Straube credits his family for always leading by example—if there’s a job to do, no matter how dirty or menial, no one isabove doing it, no matter what their title may be. “It really buildsaccountability when the newest hire is running the register whilethe owners are on their hands and knees cleaning the floor.”

Straube has been a part of many important projects at DariMart since his return. The close-knit culture of his company ledhim to install closed-circuit TV and audio in all the stores,which created a safer environment for employees. Healso redesigned the store managers’ compensationpackage to tie directly to performance indicators that have thebiggest influence on the company’s bottom line.

“Our managers went from an outdated commission-style programto a base salary with bonus components tied to labor costcontrols and store gross profit,” he said. “When labor is managedand gross profit is good, we both win.”

Another project that Straube spearheaded has made theDari Mart name well-known in the communities it services. Whileit’s not uncommon today to find surcharge-free ATMs in conveniencestores, Dari Mart was a ahead of the industry when it firstintroduced the idea in its stores in 1994. Not only do customersremember it, but the company has received a great deal of positivepublicity from local area credit unions touting the companyas a recommended place for their customers to withdraw moneywhen unable to access one of their branches.

“We enjoy ATM activity that is much higher than the industryaverage and it drives a lot of new customer visits each year,” saidStraube, who confesses the company’s monthly ATM volume is inthe ballpark of $2.5 to $3 million. Not bad, considering the companydoesn’t offer gas at its locations, so it misses out on someof that destination traffic. “Forcing customers to pay a surchargeisn’t a good trade off for the positive feedback they receive.”

Straube hopes to see Dari Mart continue to grow. It seized theopportunity to purchase its biggest competitor, the Grocery Cartchain, in 1997. The buy vaulted the company from 32 stores upto 45, and Straube is convinced that additional growth will be asgood an idea now as it was then.

“We have identified many surrounding areas we wouldlike to be doing business in and I would like to see that happenas soon as it is realistically possible,” he said. “We need tobe ready to go when the opportunity presents itself. When theright stores and/or properties become available, wesee to it that we are in a position to move quickly atthe chance.”

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