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What a year it?s been for Sheetz Inc.
The Altoona, Pa.-based convenience store chain has continued to grow, both in stores and number of employees. Sheetz is on pace to open 28 new stores in its 2014 fiscal year and rebuild eight existing ones. The company?s vaunted Sheetz culture also shined as the retailer made Fortune magazine?s ?100 Best Companies to Work For? list for the first time, coming in at No. 87.
In addition, Sheetz began building its second Sheetz Distribution Center ? including a Sheetz Bros. Kitchen commissary and bakery ? which should start deliveries to stores in December. And, early next year, the retailer expects to open its first fuel-free Sheetz location on the campus of West Virginia University.
From its humble beginnings as a dairy store in rural Pennsylvania, Sheetz? history has been one of continuous retail innovations that have shaped the company into one of the largest and most-admired convenience store chains in the world.
For its leadership in such critical areas as employee wellness, education and empowerment, giving back to the community, store growth and innovative retailing concepts, Convenience Store News editors selected Sheetz as its 2014 Retailer Innovator of the Year. Previous winners of this award were Wawa Inc. in 2013 and RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. in 2012.
?A big part of our success has been our ability to innovate within our industry, so we like to hire people who have a pioneering spirit,? CEO Joe Sheetz said in an exclusive interview with CSNews. ?To succeed at Sheetz, you have to be a high-energy person. You have to be able to make real connections with our customers and your co-workers.?
Another aspect of the company DNA is competitiveness. ?Sheetz people are very competitive,? said Joe Sheetz. ?We call it ?driven to win.? Dependability is important to us, as is respect for our customers, our business partners and each other.?
The c-store retailer remains focused on the needs of its customers through a concept called Total Customer Focus. ?The customer is at the center of everything we do here at Sheetz,? said the chief executive. ?Total Customer Focus (TCF) has long been the mantra that all Sheetz employees use to guide their work, day in and day out. As food has become the center of our business, we?ve started focusing more heavily on that restaurant-style hospitality in our training and employee development.?
When it comes to business decisions, the voice of the customer is always a guiding force. Sheetz relies on its Customer Insightz Team and feedback from its store employees to take the pulse of customers? needs from a store operations perspective.
This focus on people and customers has had a direct positive impact on the retailer?s expansion efforts, particularly into its newest state, North Carolina.
?Our success there [in North Carolina] has reinforced our belief that our people make us what we are,? said Joe Sheetz. ?Thanks to some talented and hard-working Sheetz folks who agreed to relocate and successful recruiting efforts in the local areas, we were able to establish our brand and our culture fairly quickly in North Carolina. In branching out so far from our hometown, we learned just how strong our operations, people and culture are.?
From a customer perspective, Sheetz learned that while there can be slight nuances in regional customer preference, some things are universal. Customers everywhere want fast and friendly service, as well as quality products in clean and convenient locations.
It?s obvious that innovation is baked into the Sheetz culture.
?Every day, we come to work with the vision of creating the Sheetz that will put the Sheetz as we know it today out of business,? said the executive, who assumed the CEO role last October. ?We?ve hired people who are creative and passionate about food, who embrace our fast pace and the pioneering mentality we have at Sheetz.?
Although Sheetz has been one of the convenience store industry?s most successful foodservice retailers, there?s little chance that it will rest on its laurels. The celebration of wins is short-lived at the company. ?We?re careful not to get complacent,? the chain?s leader stressed. ?We always have many products in the pipeline in an effort not to get stale.?
THE GROWTH GOES ON
In the company?s 2014 fiscal year, it will have opened 28 new stores and completed eight rebuilds, in addition to a heavy remodel initiative that?s been ongoing for the past few years.
In fiscal 2015, Sheetz plans to keep the pedal to the metal with growth in its current operating areas. There are currently no major plans to jump into a new market just yet.
In terms of store design, Sheetz is always evaluating and testing new ideas. ?Drive-thrus, inside seating, car washes and new consumer convenience features are always on the table for consideration,? said Joe Sheetz. By the end of its 2014 fiscal year, the retailer will have 45 drive-thrus in operation. ?But the bigger point is that we are committed to innovation, so you can always count on us to be testing something new.?
One of these new tests is the company?s idea to open a 15,000-square-foot convenience/grocery store in West Virginia. Why would Sheetz stray from its proven format to open a unit on the campus of West Virginia University?
?Well, first of all, West Virginia is a great market for us,? Joe Sheetz responded. ?We have terrific people there working hard to deliver our mission and connect with the great communities we serve. As for the new format, it was attractive from both an innovation and foodservice point-of-view. Opening a site that showcases the food side of our business in a prominent way makes a lot of sense for us.?
The executive expects the store to sell a lot of food and beverages, and he?s equally excited about the new things the retailer will learn about foodservice operations. ?It?s safe to say that if this format pans out like we think it will, we would certainly consider opening more.?
Besides format innovation, Sheetz is one of the most prominent industry retailers in promoting its brand, products and services via social media and mobile apps. Social media, in particular, has turned into a tremendous tool for the retailer.
?We love being able to connect with all our ?Sheetz Freakz? in a meaningful and direct way,? said the company?s leader. ?The main goal of social media is engagement. With 1.2 million Facebook likes and a budding Twitter and Instagram following, there?s a lot of great two-way interaction.?
As for the future, it?s always difficult to look into the crystal ball and predict anything with certainty, but Joe Sheetz is not afraid of more change.
?It will be fun to watch the Sheetz store of the future come alive,? he said. ?While there will be a lot of innovation and tests that happen before we get there, I can guarantee one thing ? if we build it, it will be awesome.?