Growing the Family Business

Employee Relations

Though its owned and operated entirely by the Huppert family, the Team Oil Travel Center employs 16 people from the local Spring Valley, Wis. community. Tony Huppert, CEO and vice president of the company, calls employees and customer service the backbone if Team Oil’s success.

Employees are encouraged to learn many interesting and challenging aspects of the business, from cashiering and inventory management to external sales the firm’s in-house sign work.

“Operating in a small community offers a unique set of challenges, but the customers that come here are awesome,” Huppert said. “For this reason, we count on our staff to provide the outstanding service fitting of our loyal customer base. Above all else, we train employees to respect the needs of our customers and provide them the type of service they expect from others. Once they understand how important that is to us, and their future with this company, things fall into place nicely.”

Tony Huppert knows his single-store operation is very much a small business. But when it’s your family’s biggest asset supporting several generations of kids and grandkids, operating the business is hardly a small matter.

“I’ve worked so many different jobs, but nothing beats running your own company and watching it flourish based on the amount of hard work you put into it,” said Huppert, CEO and vice president of Team Oil Inc. in Spring Valley, Wis. “We have had a lot of professional consultants and analysts come in and look at our business and make expensive suggestions, but they don’t really know our business or our market. They are not as passionate as I am and, quite frankly, they don’t have nearly as much to lose.”

Team Oil is a dynamic, family-owned operation launched in 1995. It operates one store, the sprawling Team Oil Travel Center, which offers a wide-array of services including convenience and local products, BP fuels, a touchless car wash, a large foodservice program consisting of proprietary hot sandwiches and pizza, DVD rentals, financial services and in-house sign services. Also on the premises is retail space leased to the Westconsin Credit Union.

“Our focus is on friendly customer service and providing desired goods and services to local residents and the many tourists enjoying the growing Spring Valley area,” said Huppert, the patriarch of a family of owners that has a wealth of experience in management, sales and customer service.

The Management Team
Tony and his oldest son Eric Huppert are each 50% owners in the company. Tony is responsible for customer relations and assisting with employee management on a daily basis. He has more than 35 years experience in retail that provides him with the skills and attitude to successfully meet these responsibilities. He also has diverse experience in employee and customer relations as well as a thorough knowledge of fundamental day-to-day business operations and maintenance.
One of Tony’s primary strengths is maintaining personal contact with Wisconsin legislators on key issues concerning the retail and tourism industries. Among the company’s goals for 2008 is building a 40-room motel on the property to capture tourists to several nearby attractions like Crystal Cave, the Spring Valley Golf Course and Eau Galle Lake, which is the Midwest’s largest earthen dam. But, like many other convenience store owners, dealing with zoning and other regulations has evolved into a full-time job.

“We have the property and the land to build the hotel, but what has been so upsetting to us over the past few years is how long it takes to get things done in regard to local regulations, like zoning,” Huppert said. “It seems that some local politicians have personal agendas. It can lead to compromising your strategy. On the other hand, state and federal governments are fairly easy to deal with. You know what they want and once you do it, they leave you alone.”

For example, when Team Oil did its most recent addition, it was forced to have 99 parking spots in a town that has just 1,189 people. “Parking lots are expensive,” Huppert said. “The lot alone costs $250,000. The biggest obstacle in dealing with local politicians is jealousy and greed. I’d say 99% of the people are great and easy to deal with, but that last 1% will get you down.”

As president of Team Oil, Eric Huppert manages the company’s day-to-day operations. Eric’s management style is very much hands-on, and he is present in the store behind the counter each day. He is responsible for overseeing inventory, ordering, maintenance and employee training and management. “His 12 years of managing all aspects of the corporation and previous business experiences have prepared him well for these commitments,” Tony Huppert said.

Joining the Hupperts on the management team is Tony’s daughter Tina Smeby, the company’s bookkeeper and controller. Kari Huppert and Donna Huppert, his daughter and sister respectively, provide sales and marketing assistance. Trudy Huppert, Tony’s wife, is an optician, but also works at the business part-time. Michele Huppert, Eric’s wife, has a Master of Science in education and recently received the prestigious Kohl Fellowship Award for excellence in teaching. She has experience writing successful grant applications and business plans helping spearhead the company’s expansion efforts.

Small Business, Big Plans
The Team Oil Travel Center is centrally located on a 4.65-acre lot owned by Eric and Michele Huppert. All of the existing buildings on the commercial property are currently leased by Team Oil including a 2,300-square-foot house, the 11,000-square-foot store complex, which encompasses a full-service retail liquor store and the convenience operations. Additionally, the site has five private offices, a conference room with a kitchenette and storage areas.

The site is ideally situated in a growing market in close proximity to several tourist attractions and commuter routes. The thriving business employs 16 people (20 in the busier summer months.) Gross sales were $2.31 million in 2004, $2.76 million in 2005, and exceeded $3 million in 2006. This has been accomplished through a flexible management approach responsive to customer demands.

“It is our mission to continue developing our commercial property into profitable businesses that benefit our small community by both meeting the needs of local residents and promoting tourism,” Huppert said. “We are committed to remaining responsible, contributing citizens of the Spring Valley area.”

Business History
The Team Oil family appreciates its place in the community. It started from nothing more than its human resources. “There were no wealthy investors or family fortunes to draw upon when this business began,” Huppert said. “The business was built on hard work, borrowed money and a commitment to success by meeting customer needs with friendly efficiency.”

This humble beginning is a strength because the managers know how to watch the bottom line and maximize profits. Under Tony and Eric’s leadership, the site was developed in stages, dictated by customer needs and opportunity for profit. For example, the 1,000-square-foot liquor store was opened for business in 2002 to serve that need in the community. The liquor store area includes 100 feet of commercial three-shelf racking and a 10-door walk-in cooler with speed racking and a remote compressor unit.

In 2002, the liquor store operation was expanded to include a small grocery and produce line also in response to community requests. Grocery and liquor sales steadily increased through the winter so in 2003, the 3,000-square foot convenience store, which is connected to the liquor store, was completed. It includes a food prep area, deli counter, an ADA compliant sales counter, 240 feet of commercial shelving, a 210-cubic foot four-door freezer and an 11-door walk-in cooler with a remote compressor unit.

The gas station development also occurred in 2003. Two ACT100 underground fuel storage tanks were installed–one 12,000-gallon unleaded gasoline tank and one split tank for 6,000 gallons of premium gasoline and 6,000 gallons of diesel. Four fuel dispensers with eight fueling stations–six fueling stations with regular, mid-grade, premium gas, and diesel, and two high-volume fueling stations with diesel to accommodate the trucking industry.

A lighted, two-column 24-foot by 42-foot canopy was erected over two dispensing islands. “The other two islands have no canopy, as research shows that large diesel trucks filling at the high volume pump soot up a canopy with their exhaust,” Huppert said.

Operating Procedures
Because it serves such a small community, the Team Oil Travel Center isn’t open 24 hours. Instead, it’s open for business from 4:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day of the year. Fuels, however, are available at the pump 24 hours a day with an automated credit card system.

Security measures include surveillance monitoring with 55 cameras covering all areas of the complex, bright outdoor safety lighting, and zero tolerance for customer or employee theft.

On the marketing side, Team Oil’s strategy is to offer competitive prices on local and convenience products, “with an emphasis on clean, facilities,  efficient, friendly service and complete customer satisfaction,” Huppert said.

Team Oil also embraces its Wisconsin roots offering the products of many local businesses, such as meat and dairy products, in addition to a complete line of standard convenience store items. A farmers market with locally grown produce is housed in the parking lot each Thursday during the summer.

Recognizing how important it is to give back to the community, thousands of dollars have been given in local academic scholarships. Team Oil also makes significant contributions to the local high school science and technology programs.

“These unique factors have allowed us to attract, hold and increase our market share,” Huppert said.

Team has shown a constant commitment to its customers going as far as making costly investments based on consumer feedback. For example, after fuel operations were expanded in 2003, customers asked for an upscale, automated car wash, the only one in a 22-mile radius.

“During our feasibility study to determine what kind of car wash we should go with, customers indicated that they unconcerned about price. They wanted a good wash,” Huppert said.

“In response to these requests, we went with a touchless car wash that is large enough to service extended size pickups and SUV’s, has a cash acceptor and credit card reader and also offers vacuuming and shampooing stations. It’s the perfect complement to our business and our customers love it.”


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