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    A Day in the Life of E-Z Mart

    Family, collaboration and reinvention are at the core of this 300-store chain

    By Angela Hanson, Convenience Store News
    Sonja Hubbard has been at the helm of E-Z Mart since 1999.

    The company culture at E-Z Mart Stores Inc. can be summed up in one word, according to CEO Sonja Hubbard, and that?s family. The 300-location convenience store chain, based in Texarkana, Texas, started out as a family business and is led today by family members, but the culture of family also extends to every one of the retailer?s 2,200-plus employees.

    Most members of E-Z Mart?s senior management team have been with the company for decades. Like a true family, Hubbard said they sometimes argue about things and then make up. ?But everybody is very comfortable sharing and I think we make better decisions because of that,? she said. ?People care more, too, and I think that shows. I enjoy the people I work with and get so energized by how much they care. E-Z Mart just becomes part of you.?

    As in any family, all members get a voice when it comes time to make decisions. Instituting a collaborative environment was something Hubbard tackled as soon as she took over as CEO upon her father?s passing. E-Z Mart founder Jim Yates died in a plane crash in December 1998.

    ?It?s not this department vs. that department. It?s everyone sitting around the table and debating and coming to a decision. Without that, we don?t have the buy-in,? she explained. ?And it might take a little longer to get everyone to the same place, but once we get there, we know we?re all on the same team and we?re all marching in the same direction.?

    These days, the direction they?re headed is toward rejuvenating the 44-year-old business.

    The first phase was a ?resizing? of the company. From 2001 through 2004, the c-store chain sold or closed more than 200 underperforming locations after finding itself highly leveraged with new, big-box competition and compressed margins in a down economy.

    The second phase, which has been ongoing for the last 10 years, is ?rebuilding? E-Z Mart. After taking a hard look at each store, the retailer is razing and rebuilding locations where the real estate is available and remodeling locations where property is not available to do a new build. While the rural-based organization has always been a lean operator, Hubbard said there are uncontrollable pressures on cost today and therefore, every store needs to turn a higher volume.

    ?We turned 44 years old this year, and we all need a little work. Sometimes, you have to put a little lipstick on,? she joked. ?So many of our stores were acquired or built years ago. ?We got the company resized, and now we?re taking our assets and upgrading them.?

    The new stores E-Z Mart is building are larger and more open (4,000?5,000 square feet vs. 2,000 square feet), offer more fueling positions, deliver quality foodservice and provide nicer restrooms. They were designed by looking through the lens of the brand?s tagline: ?Making Life Easier for You.?

    For instance, the No. 1 thing customers come in to purchase is a beverage, so the new stores put beverages front and center. They don?t make customers walk through multiple aisles to get to the coolers. Instead, to still capture impulse sales, bump-outs were added to the checkout counter where the stores merchandise the top add-on items, according to Hubbard.

    ?Consumers can get a bottle of water or a bag of chips anywhere. So, the more we can do to get them in and out of there fast and serve them more conveniently, the better,? she noted.

    To date, about half of the company is either rebuilt or remodeled, with E-Z Mart pouring all free cash flow back into the business for the past 10?12 years. To supplement its cash flow and expedite its efforts, the company recently secured financing through Wells Fargo & Co.

    ?I think the numbers from our new stores reflect that we?re on the right path,? Hubbard added.

    The next phase for E-Z Mart will be unit growth. The chain has been static in store count for a few years now, as it?s been adding stores but also selling off locations at the same time. With the new financing, Hubbard expects to once again see E-Z Mart?s store count rise. And this growth will not just come organically; the retailer is also looking for acquisition opportunities.

    With a wide footprint that spans from Lubbock, Texas, to the middle of Louisiana and then up to the edge of Arkansas and back down to San Antonio, the chief executive sees one of the company?s greatest opportunities going forward as ?filling in? its operating area. Filling in will improve its efficiencies and distribution capabilities, especially in regards to foodservice.

    ?There?s no store count I?m shooting for. I really just want to have quality stores in locations that serve the community. And better locations will also help us serve our employees with better benefits, wages and hours,? Hubbard said. ?I?m proud of what we?ve done and what we do.?

    No Spotlight Needed

    Bob Hubbard works behind the scenes to keep E-Z Mart humming along

    Behind the scenes is where Bob Hubbard prefers to be. E-Z Mart?s president and chief operating officer is perfectly content letting his wife, who?s also the company CEO, have the spotlight.

    ?I like the way it is just fine,? he said. ?She?s a much better out-front spokesperson than I would be.?

    Away from the limelight, Hubbard, who started working for E-Z Mart full-time in January 1988 and moved into his current role in 1999, supervises store operations, merchandising, maintenance, real estate, construction and fuels. Two division vice presidents who oversee the stores, as well as the individual department vice presidents all report to him and he works closely with each one to keep things on track.

    Sitting on his desk is a wooden sign that reads, ?I?m not bossy. I just know what you should be doing.? It was given to him by an employee as a joke, but Hubbard likes it. ?I hope my employees would say I?m fair. To me, that?s the most important thing,? he noted.

    Much of Hubbard?s job revolves around asking questions and finding the answers. On the morning of Convenience Store News? visit to E-Z Mart?s Texarkana headquarters, he was looking into one of the company?s dealer locations where there?s an ongoing fuel outage issue and trying to get a handle on what?s happening there.

    While there is no typical work day for him, the one thing Hubbard does every day when he?s in the office is review E-Z Mart?s daily sales report. The report is delivered to him at 11 a.m. each day and it takes him about a half-hour to go through all 300 stores and look for exceptions.

    ?Sales always tell the story. If you?ve got a problem, it will show,? he explained. ?Sometimes it?s the weather or there?s road construction happening in the area, but there?s always a reason. Sales don?t jump up real big or go down real big without a reason.?

    Oftentimes, Hubbard also discovers the reason behind things by getting out of the office and visiting E-Z Mart?s stores. He tries to do this at least two days a week. ?You really get more of a pulse of what the store looks like, how our execution is. You see what?s going on in the competitive landscape, and it?s always changing. It always amazes me,? he said.

    Lately, Hubbard has been spending 25 percent of his time on real estate and construction as the chain is aggressively rebuilding and remodeling stores to generate higher fuel and in-store volume. E-Z Mart has been in this remodel and new construction phase for the last four years or so.

    ?We have some old stores. We started in 1970 and as we moved forward, we built stores, we acquired stores. We?ve got a hodgepodge of everything,? he said. ?So, we?ve taken our stores and looked at them. We?ve looked at where we can get the best return on our money.?

    In some cases, a store has a good piece of real estate, but a poor facility. In other cases, the store is fine, but the gas presence is poor. ?We?re going back and where the real estate is available, we?re doing raze-and-rebuilds. And where the real estate isn?t available, we?re doing remodels. We?re remodeling the ones we think have potential,? he said, acknowledging that there are some existing stores that are ?tired? and won?t be a part of E-Z Mart in five years.

    ?We?ve always been pretty lean operators and it?s helped us be very competitive. But you can only be so lean. Eventually, you have to operate stores that do more volume outside at the gas island and inside the store. That?s what we?re looking for now ? higher-volume locations.?

    As of July, the retailer had a total of 11 new stores open, and Hubbard?s hope is to open three more before the end of the year. The new stores measure about 5,000 square feet. Outside, most of the new locations have eight MPDs for a total of 16 fueling positions. Going forward, E-Z Mart wants all its stores to have a minimum of four MPDs for a total of eight fueling positions.

    ?You?ve got to have fueling positions to sell fuel,? Hubbard said. ?We have some stores with only two MPDs that sell a lot of fuel, but realistically, there?s only so much volume they can do with that few fueling positions. You have to set yourself up to do the higher volume.?

    Inside the new stores, E-Z Mart has focused on opening up the sales floor and adding more endcaps to merchandise product. There?s also a greater emphasis on foodservice. The retailer?s Two Chicks proprietary foodservice program is included in all the new stores, and Hubbard confirmed that?s the direction they?re headed chainwide.

    ?We?re trying to keep it proprietary, but simple and not overly labor intensive. We want food that we can do well, do consistently and have a margin in it,? he added.

    Hubbard especially likes E-Z Mart?s new stores from the standpoint of moving customers in and out, and as he pointed out, ?that?s really what this business is all about.?

    With each new store opened, the company?s executive team goes back and looks closely at what they like about the store, what they don?t like, what they spent and what they wasted money on. They?re also asking if there?s anywhere they can cut cost and have the same store.

    Then, the new stores are being measured after the first quarter they?re open, second quarter and so on to see whether they are performing as expected. ?We always make these forecasts on what they?re going to do, and you like to see you?re right the majority of the time. You can?t really afford to have many misses because everything is so expensive these days,? he said.

    Hubbard is happy to report the new stores are performing better than the projections. For him, developing a property into a successful store is the most rewarding part of his job.

    ?I want us to be one of the top convenience store chains in the country,? he concluded, when asked where he wants to take E-Z Mart in the future. ?I want this thing to be as profitable as it can possibly be, provide great service to our customers and be a great place for our employees to work.?

    Strictly Business

    Chief Financial Officer Stacy Yates keeps E-Z Mart operating in the black

    As the daughter of E-Z Mart?s founder, the late Jim Yates, Chief Financial Officer Stacy Yates has been familiar with the family business her whole life ? but her first role at the company was less than glamorous.

    ?My job was to sort the mail, open the mail, to remove all the staples where the stores would staple everything 50 times and divide it up for the different departments,? Yates said, recounting her early days helping out. ?There were plenty of little tasks to do.?

    The day of CSNews? visit to E-Z Mart?s headquarters involved less manual work and more concentration for Yates, who now oversees the accounting and information technology departments ? and most can be done from her computer instead of the mail room.

    Along with answering ?lots of emails,? she was familiarizing herself with some of the incoming financial figures before finalizing the numbers, along with pulling other financial statements for review.

    ?The first part of the month is going to be slower because I?m sitting here waiting on accounting to do their crunching and get cost of sales and everything else posted,? Yates explained. ?Once we get that done, we have deadlines at the end of the month for all of our bank compliance. It seems that we?re always hectic more toward the end of the month.?

    When she?s not crunching numbers or pulling data, Yates involves herself in operations. In particular, she enjoys discussing new products and ideas at the company?s weekly staff meeting. While she doesn?t always get to visit new and remodeled stores as often as some other members of the E-Z Mart executive team, Yates makes a point of keeping up to date through a website that lets them share photos of each location throughout the construction process.

    Whatever happens to be on her schedule on a given day, she tries to use her time productively and efficiently. ?Non-productive meetings are my absolute least favorite thing,? she said. ?Chop-chop, get to it and don?t waste a lot of time on fluffy stuff. I like to cut to the chase.?

    It?s not a position Yates always expected to find herself in. Growing up, her father insisted his children work and earn their own way in life. ?He would not give us a job just because. We were expected to perform at a higher level than others,? she said. She went to school and worked in public accounting before coming back to E-Z Mart as assistant controller ? something that was far from inevitable.

    ?I watched my father work so hard with so many hours going into the business. I thought I would do something different,? Yates said. But after she had the chance to explore different career possibilities, it turned out to be a natural fit at E-Z Mart. ?I enjoyed accounting and it just came easy to me.?

    Now that she?s firmly entrenched, Yates enjoys running the business with her family, kicking off every day by exercising with sister Sonja before they head to the office. There are days where they have to work closely on a variety of projects and days where they keep to their individual workloads.

    It?s a willingness to be open that keeps the family working as a team, despite all the time spent together in and out of the office, according to Yates. ?It?s keeping open that line of communication that does it,? she said. ?There are very few times we?ve argued. We may disagree, but it all works out in the end.?

    From her perspective, the family part of E-Z Mart doesn?t only mean those who are blood related.

    ?I like the fact that we are family-owned and we feel like a family,? Yates said. ?We have lots of long-term employees and we?re close with lots of people. We value their input and their ideas, and we listen to it. I think it?s probably easier to talk to us than it would be to a public corporation.?

    Looking ahead, Yates wants to set some new goals for E-Z Mart as it continues its chainwide renovation. One that she?s actively working on is implementing the company?s new payroll software.

    Her son, who could one day be part of the third generation to run E-Z Mart, has some long-term ideas of his own. ?He says he?ll take us international,? Yates chuckled. ?We?ll see.?

    Building the Future

    Lanny McAlester?s operations background brings discipline to the construction department

    Just call Lanny McAlester ?the juggler.?

    E-Z Mart?s senior vice president of construction and special projects spends most of his work days bouncing between projects, keeping an eye on work sites and making sure his team and the subcontractors they work with are doing what they should be ? on time and on budget.

    On the morning of CSNews? visit, he was arranging for a generator to make its way to a store in Newkirk, Okla., where a storm the previous night resulted in a power outage. (The chain has generators available throughout its operating area.) At the same time, McAlester was monitoring via surveillance camera a construction site in West Texas where he had made it clear to the contractor that today was the drop-dead date for the crew to lay the concrete.

    Later in the day, he planned to take an hour?s drive to Kilgore, Texas, to check on the progress of landscaping work at a store that opened July 8. The city gave E-Z Mart a temporary certificate of occupancy, but won?t grant a permanent certificate until 70 percent of the site is landscaped.

    ?There?s so many different hats that I wear,? said McAlester, who moved into his current role only 14 months ago after spending 30 years in various operations positions at E-Z Mart. He joined the company in 1980 as a store manager and gradually rose up the ranks to become a supervisor, zone manager, division manager and vice president of operations before taking on this latest role, which he acknowledges is very different from his past operations jobs.

    The new role especially appealed to him because prior to joining E-Z Mart, McAlester worked in the construction business. ?This opportunity came along and I?m just enjoying the heck out of it so far,? he said. ?I get home every night and I?m plumb worn out.?

    McAlester is E-Z Mart?s first-ever senior vice president of construction and special projects. Before he assumed the post, there was a combined maintenance and construction department. Now, they are separate and he is responsible for overseeing the construction department.

    Reporting to Chief Operating Officer Bob Hubbard, McAlester has a staff of four ? one construction supervisor and three job superintendents. Each job superintendent is responsible for one or two of E-Z Mart?s operating states: Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas/Louisiana.

    ?I?m the go-between guy,? he explained. ?I depend on my guys, but if they have a problem, they call me. It?s like I told them, I?m very nosy. I want to know what?s going on. I ain?t gonna do your job for you, but I always want to know what?s happening. I hate surprises.?

    McAlester and his team are playing a pivotal role in E-Z Mart?s ongoing chainwide renovation.

    Upon moving into his current position, he sat down with the company?s senior management and together, they created a ?top 10 hit list? of new stores and raze-and-rebuilds to tackle first.

    As of mid-July, six of those 10 stores had been constructed and opened for business. In addition, 12 remodels ? considered any project over $50,000 ? were completed. Remodels may consist of fuel upgrades, new coolers (stores going wet that used to be dry) and upgraded restrooms.

    ?The new stores are doing good business. We?ve hit some homeruns,? McAlester said, noting that they have been tweaking and improving with every new store built. ?It makes us all happy when [a store] starts making money.? In his world, a great week is when they open a store on time and the first few days of business are ?gangbusters.?

    As for the remaining projects on the top 10 hit list, the construction department has begun the groundwork on all of them. The holdup now is in the local approval process. McAlester cites this as one of the most challenging aspects of his job. ?They don?t make it easy,? he noted.

    Another challenging part of his job is having to rely on subcontractors, who oftentimes don?t complete the work as expediently as he would like. On a typical project, E-Z Mart?s job superintendents will do 30 percent of the work with contractors handling the rest.

    ?You can?t just hire them and fire them, like you could in operations,? McAlester said of the subcontractors. ?And you can?t train them, like you can train your people in operations. You have to depend on [the contractors] to know what they?re doing and do it.?

    From the time of breaking ground to opening day, the average new store takes 130 to 140 days to open. The best they?ve done to date is 86 days from start to finish. And even after a store opens, he and his construction supervisor walk the site and compile a punch list of items still to perfect.

    The most rewarding part of his work, though, is seeing a job well done. ?When a project comes together on budget and on time, that really makes you feel good,? he remarked.

    Because of his operations background, McAlester brings discipline and organization to his department. He says he is lucky to work with a great group of guys, and to have bosses that feel more like family. That family atmosphere is what?s kept him at E-Z Mart for so long.

    ?I like what I do. I like the people I work with. If you do your job and do what you say, everything is great,? he said. ?I?ve been very lucky that I have a job I?ve enjoyed for the last 35 years. If you?ve got to work for a living, E-Z Mart?s a darn good place to do it.?

    The Price Is Right

    Lifford Luthringer approaches fuel pricing as more of an art than a science

    Lifford Luthringer, vice president of petroleum operations for E-Z Mart, takes his job very seriously. That?s because the retail fuel prices he sets each day for the chain?s 300 stores not only determine the company?s fuel sales, but also play a major role in in-store sales.

    ?I feel like I have to do a good job setting a fair and competitive retail price out front because that brings people into our stores,? he explained. ?A lot of times, the first thing a customer sees is that price out on the street. If I?m not right, if I?m not in line with my competition, that could influence whether they stop at our store [for fuel and] to shop for other items.?

    Retail pricing is the most important and most challenging part of his job. As soon as Luthringer arrives at the office around 7:30 a.m., it?s what he tackles first. He describes it as having ?a big gorilla in the room that I have got to tame every day before I can do anything else.?

    The 23-year veteran of E-Z Mart has been in his current role since 1998, coming to the position from previous posts in the environmental department and management information systems department. Given his long tenure, he knows E-Z Mart?s stores well. If you say a store number, he can even picture that store in his mind and envision the competitor down the road.

    All E-Z Mart stores sell fuel. About half are branded and the rest unbranded. The majority of its branded presence is Shell with some Exxon and Phillips 66 sites, plus one Mobil and Valero site sprinkled in. E-Z Mart also supplies fuel to its eight dealer-operated stores.

    Experience serves Luthringer well in his job, which is ripe with new challenges every day.

    ?You never know what?s going to happen on any given day, what could trigger the market,? he said. ?Yesterday, the market jumped up and we went up 3 or 4 cents [in cost] because there was some violence in Libya. Today, we?re down 3 or 4 cents. You just never know.?

    To set retail prices each day, Luthringer starts by looking at various fuel industry news sites and analysis reports to see what?s going on in the international market and how it?s expected to react. If he sees the market is moving up that day, then he?s careful about moving his price down, because he knows tomorrow his price is going to be higher than it is today.

    ?I like to get a feel of where we?re going,? he said, adding that he considers fuel pricing more of an art than a science. ?It?s kind of like you?re painting a picture each day.?

    What affects E-Z Mart?s retail fuel prices more than anything, however, is its competitors. By and large, the states the chain operates in ? Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas ? are aggressively priced states with heavy competition from big-box retailers. Chief competitors include Murphy USA, Costco, H-E-B, QuikTrip and RaceTrac/Raceway stations.

    Store managers, on their way to work each morning, are required to check their competitors? prices and enter that information into the retailer?s PDI back-office system. Managers are also asked to phone in or email any ?significant? price changes made by a competitor, and watch ?their? market all during the day and report any changes.

    ?We are always looking to see what the competition is doing,? Luthringer noted.

    He and his team, which consists of a departmental assistant, retail pricing manager, dispatch supervisor and two full-time fuel dispatchers, put a priority on addressing those voicemails and emails first. Then at 8:30 a.m., he gets ?the big report? that shows him all the competitor price changes made from the previous day that were keyed in by the store managers that morning.

    Armed with all this information, Luthringer takes his first run at fuel prices around 8:30 a.m. daily. On average, E-Z Mart makes 130 price changes a day across its network of stores. At some locations, fuel prices are changed multiple times a day based on competitor movements.

    Each store is priced individually as the chain?s fuel pricing strategy differs for each site and depends on the brand, the store?s location (inner-city vs. interstate vs. rural community) and the market. What works for one market or one store may or may not work for another.

    ?There are some markets that are extremely price sensitive where every penny counts and other markets not so much. In some markets, we make money on fuel. In some, we don?t. My job is to balance that when setting our retail prices,? Luthringer relayed, adding that he watches E-Z Mart?s daily fuel sales closely to see how the prices he set affected sales.

    Overall, E-Z Mart?s fuel strategy is to stay competitive, but there are definitely some markets where it aims to be the low-price leader. ?I like to think of us as an aggressive, competitive fuel marketer,? he said. ?You?re typically not going to see us have the highest price in a market.?

    When Luthringer started in this job, a quarter-of-a-cent, half-cent or penny move in the wholesale market was huge. Now, the market often moves a cent and a half every day and nickel moves are nothing.

    ?It is so much more volatile than it used to be,? he remarked.

    On the positive side, he feels this constant volatility has forced customers to relax a bit when it comes to differences of pennies between one retailer?s gas prices and another?s. ?Before, if one store was a cent higher, they wouldn?t shop there. Now, customers look and say that price is in line with the market and there?s a value in that price because their time is more valuable.?


    While retail pricing is foremost on Luthringer?s daily To Do List, he is responsible for all of E-Z Mart?s fuel operations. Essentially, if it is fuel related, he?s in charge of it.

    He spends a good deal of his work days ?putting out fires,? as he puts it. These ?fires? may include fuel outages, customer complaints, significant competitor price changes, etc. Terminal outages and supply allocation issues, however, are fast becoming a much higher priority for him and his team.

    The afternoon of CSNews? visit, Luthringer was meeting with his dispatch supervisor and two dispatchers to talk about outages. They meet once a week to discuss every fuel outage that?s taken place and analyze why it happened and what they can do to avoid it happening again.

    ?We try to place [responsibility], not to finger point but to figure out where we can fix this,? he said.

    Lately, he noted, a lot of the outages have been happening on Sunday evenings and Monday mornings because the dispatchers are dispatching all weekend long based on Friday morning?s inventory readings and expected sales for each store. But these expected sales can really change over the course of a weekend. For instance, Luthringer said, there may be a local festival they didn?t know about, so fuel sales at those area stores go crazy and that leads to outages.

    In an effort to cut down on outages, his department is working on a report to send to each store ahead of the weekend, outlining what they estimate that store?s fuel inventory should be. Managers, in turn, will be asked to report to the department if their store has ?X? percent more or less than this amount. Luthringer hopes the increased sharing will lead to fewer outages.

    ?We?re trying to get out in front of it and avoid outages,? he explained. ?The store managers are our eyes and ears. If they don?t tell us, we don?t know.?

    Other projects Luthringer is actively working on include the opening of E-Z Mart?s first compressed natural gas station (a vendor is leasing the space at its store in Monroe, La.), and the ongoing addition of auto diesel fuel dispensers to more E-Z Mart locations. For Luthringer, a good day of work is when the wholesale price of fuel is falling, the retail price is holding steady, there?s not a lot of movement in the fuel market and there?s no allocation problems. ?It?s July and I could probably count those days on one hand,? he told CSNews with a laugh at the time of our visit. ?There?s a challenge every day.?

    He embraces these challenges and said having a voice in the company?s direction is the most rewarding aspect of his job. He also feels fortunate to work with such a great group of people, from the top down ? many of whom he?s known since childhood.

    ?We work hard and play hard,? he said.

    Staying Connected

    Information Resources Manager Tom Withem keeps E-Z Mart?s technology running smoothly

    At first glance, the work of Information Resources Manager Tom Withem seems to consist of answering email after email. But even on days when he doesn?t leave his computer, the work of Withem and his team affects all 300 E-Z Mart locations.

    ?I?ll spend quite a bit of my day just replying to emails about issues that are going on or things people wish they could do differently,? he said. ?A lot of communication with a lot of different people.?

    Those people include the team of about 12 that Withem oversees. Their work runs the gamut from working on the company?s servers and networking in the main office to data processing, running batch reports and actually programming the financial software each store uses.

    The rest of Withem?s day is spent working on larger ongoing projects that won?t yield results in the immediate future. He tries to keep these projects from slipping down his list of priorities as he handles more urgent matters that require quick fixes.

    ?Sometimes you forget we?re trying to put [in] this new system where I?ve got to put in so many hours and work on that this week to try to keep it moving,? he said.

    Among these ongoing projects is E-Z Mart?s new disaster recovery site, which mirrors its entire system and is located in Dallas. In the case of catastrophe, E-Z Mart will still be able to accomplish such tasks as doing payroll, getting sales reports and dispatching fuel ? all of which were interrupted several years ago when a major ice storm struck the area and shut down the region for weeks.

    ?It was very manual and the banking was frightening to everybody from Sonja on down as far as handling the transactions that had to be made during that time,? Withem said of the aftermath.

    Other ongoing projects include pilot programs for video at the gas pump using VeriFone?s Secure PumpPAY solution, and in-store touchscreen panels that suggest products based on what best matches the items customers are purchasing at that time. Results of a 10-store trial are still incoming, but Withem is excited to see where it goes.

    ?I?ve always been a proponent of digital marketing anyway, just because of the ability to control the content; change it more quickly,? he said. ?That?s more engaging to me.?

    A veteran of the information technology industry since 1984, Withem?s history with E-Z Mart goes back to his high school days, when he was in the same class as Sonja and Bob and a few grades ahead of Stacy. When a position with E-Z Mart opened up in 2000, he was interested in a different role from the marketing and sales work he?d been involved with and came aboard as information resources manager.

    ?This way, I could focus on something and kind of own it and improve it along the way,? he said, unlike previous jobs where he would have to walk away after finishing a project. ?Here, if we do something, I see the results, good or bad?and keep working on the same issues, improving them over and over.?

    These improvements include customization of all the software E-Z Mart uses to keep things running behind the scenes. According to Withem, no program has ever met the company?s needs right out of the box. As a result, it?s up to his team to customize programs and the reports they generate in order to meet the needs of every department.

    This focus on improvement is reflected in E-Z Mart?s new mobile app, which provides users not only with store information, job postings and promotions, but also with more opportunities for E-Z Mart to learn how it can change and improve.

    ?One of the really good things to me about [the app] is that the customer feedback sections are really used a lot,? Withem said. ?They tell us good things, bad things, and it?s all categorized.?

    All in all, Withem is more than satisfied with his decision to join E-Z Mart 14 years ago, and enjoys the atmosphere fostered by the family-led company. ?They listen to us, what we have to say. It?s not just ?do what I say, my way or the highway,?? he said. ?It?s a great bunch of people.?

    On the Front Line

    Store manager Antoinette Davis works to make her location the best of the best

    The work of an E-Z Mart store manager involves juggling a wide variety of tasks, from paperwork to team management to just making sure everything is in its place. The complicated job boils down to a single, simple tenet for manager Antoinette Davis: customer service.

    ?That?s the No. 1 key,? said Davis, who has managed her own store for several years now after starting out as an entry-level clerk at E-Z Mart.

    On the morning of CSNews? visit, Davis had already been hard at work for several hours. Every day, she arrives at her store, which operates 24 hours a day, at 6 a.m. to do a walkthrough and make sure everything is in order before her clerk arrives an hour later. After filling out the day?s paperwork and visiting the bank, she normally takes over the register to let the clerk see to other tasks.

    ?Whatever we need to do as a team, we can do that,? she said.

    Known by regular customers for her sunny disposition, it hasn?t always been easy for Davis to put on a smile. A lifetime resident of New Orleans, she came to Texarkana after Hurricane Katrina struck. Despite her experience and skills as a cook, she had a hard time finding a new job at first.

    ?Nobody wanted to hire me as a cook, so I applied for a job everywhere,? Davis recounted. ?E-Z Mart called me. They were the first one that gave me a chance.?

    From her initial role as clerk, she moved up the ladder quickly, gaining experience and serving as an assistant manager at four different stores before getting her own. The six-day work week of a manager is challenging, she says, but she finds satisfaction in leading a quality team that runs the store well.

    ?I build them up to be strong and considerate of other people, and by the same token, I?m considerate of them,? she said. ?You gotta know when to be rough and when to be lenient.?

    The employees she supervises don?t just hear from Davis when they make mistakes. She makes a point of keeping an eye out for what they do right, whether that?s building an appealing display or handling customer interactions well.

    ?That?s how I build them up,? she said, noting that when mistakes do occur, she always takes the employee aside to talk rather than reprimand them in front of others. As a result, they avoid embarrassment and are more likely to listen instead of grow defensive.

    Davis also uses her own experience with E-Z Mart to show her employees how they can advance their careers. ?I let them know you don?t have to stop as a clerk or assistant manager,? she said. ?As far as you want to go, you go.?

    Happy with where she?s gone, Davis isn?t content to run an average store. She continually works to improve hers. Along with emphasizing customer service, she focuses on organization and cleanliness, especially when it comes to the bathrooms ? and her customers notice.

    Mealtimes are the busiest at her store, especially breakfast, and its location makes it a prime destination for nearby auto workers to visit on their breaks. Remembering these customers helps Davis build a bond, but it?s not just the repeat visitors she cares about. ?It is a growing business,? she said. ?You see new faces all the time.?

    The growth of E-Z Mart itself, along with the changes the company has made in recent years, draws in new customers that Davis strives to turn into regulars.

    People love new stores and new store amenities and will come inside to look for them, she explained. And once they find something they like, they?ll return for it, which is why she makes sure to stay on top of items like E-Z Mart?s sausage biscuits, which ?sell like crazy.?

    Because of the people she works with and the achievements she?s made, Davis is happy with her job, but she?s not complacent. ?My goal for my store is to be No. 1,? she said. ?It might take me some time, but I?m going to get it.?

    ?I want us to be one of the top convenience store chains in the country. I want this thing to be as profitable as it can possibly be, provide great service to our customers and be a great place for our employees to work.?
    ? Bob Hubbard

    ?Non-productive meetings are my absolute least favorite thing. Chop-chop, get to it and don?t waste a lot of time on fluffy stuff. I like to cut to the chase.?
    ? Stacy Yates

    ?I?ve been very lucky that I have a job I?ve enjoyed for the last 35 years. If you?ve got to work for a living, E-Z Mart?s a darn good place to do it.?
    ? Lanny McAlester

    ?I feel like I have to do a good job setting a fair and competitive retail price out front because that brings people into our stores. A lot of times, the first thing a customer sees is that price out on the street. If I?m not right, if I?m not in line with my competition, that could influence whether they stop at our store [for fuel and] to shop for other items.?
    ? Lifford Luthringer

    ?I?ve always been a proponent of digital marketing anyway, just because of the ability to control the content; change it more quickly. That?s more engaging to me.?
    ? Tom Withem

    ?I build them up to be strong and considerate of other people, and by the same token, I?m considerate of them. You gotta know when to be rough and when to be lenient.?
    ? Antoinette Davis

    By Angela Hanson, Convenience Store News
    • About Angela Hanson Angela Hanson is associate editor for Stagnito Business Information's Convenience Store News and Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner, where she is responsible for primary coverage of the candy, snacks and packaged beverages categories. Since joining CSNews as assistant editor in early 2011, she has played a key role in helping CSNews.com maintain its position as the No. 1 news source for the convenience store industry. Prior to joining CSNews, Hanson served as junior editor at Creative Homeowner book press and as managing editor of Anime Insider magazine. She has degrees in creative writing and visual communication technology from Bowling Green State University.

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