QuikTrip Got It Right The Fourth Time

Oklahoma c-store chain QuikTrip, which is celebrating its 50th year in business, was featured recently in an interview with the Tulsa World.

Former QuikTrip leader Chester Cadieux recalls the chain’s early days, and how it took four tries before they nailed down the right store format and location.

The Tulsa World reported:

The first QuikTrip store was just plain "stupid," according to Chester Cadieux. So were the second and third. The company’s decision to begin installing gasoline pumps in 1972: also "stupid."

While Cadieux admits to making a lot of "stupid" moves in building the convenience store chain, it’s obvious that he did many smart things during the last half-century.

Tulsa-based QuikTrip Corp. is celebrating 50 years in business with a blowout celebration Saturday at River West Festival Park.

Since its founding, the chain has grown into a gas station empire that stretches from Atlanta to Phoenix. QuikTrip now has more than 500 stores with some 10,500 employees. Sales last year totaled $8.3 billion.

Since the first store opened at 5204 S. Peoria Ave. in 1958, the company has been run by Chester Cadieux and now by his son, Chet Cadieux.

But QuikTrip hasn’t always been a retail powerhouse. The first location nearly failed, said the elder Cadieux, now 76.

"It was a horrible location, and we didn’t sell any of the right stuff," he said. "The first store was unprofitable for quite a while — a couple of years at least."

Initially, QuikTrip was simply a convenience store chain, not selling gasoline. The first three stores struggled because of bad locations before the fourth store opened on East Pine Street about three years after the company was founded.

"With each store we got a little less dumb, and that fourth store was the one that saved QuikTrip," Chester Cadieux said.

Another "stupid" move, according to Cadieux, was how the first gasoline sale location was set up. It consisted of two pumps crammed into a small area on the side of the store.

Through a series of acquisitions in subsequent years, the chain spread across the Midwest, Texas and Georgia, and most recently entered the growing Arizona market.

Chester Cadieux said he felt pressure to sell his company several times over the years, but he worried that his employees would not benefit from such a deal.

Current Chairman and CEO Chet Cadieux faces a far different retail landscape compared to the chain’s first half century. Convenience stores now focus more on food and in-store items; profit margins on gasoline have thinned as oil prices have increased.

QuikTrip is facing a future that might not even include gasoline, Chet Cadieux said. "I don’t know what we’ll be like in 50 years," he said, "but I do know that, just as today, we’ll have great people working for us and that we’ll have great real estate. That makes for a lot of options."

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