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    Diversity Drives Profits

    Twin Stop combines several profit centers into one operation — giving it a competitive edge

    With a name like Twin Stop, you might think this convenience store/car wash chain, based in Twin Falls, Idaho, is just that — but you'd be wrong. Customers can fuel up, get a car wash, grab a bite to eat and even ship packages — all at one convenient location.

    "We just add to the one-stop shop," said Lori Donaldson, general manager of the seven-store chain that operates two convenience stores and five convenience store/car wash combos. "Hopefully when they come to ship a package, they find it convenient to fuel with Chevron fuel and wash their car. If they're hungry, they can grab a candy bar. It all gets people in the door."

    The company will mark its 11th year in business this May. That's when owner Mac Evans took his experience running an agricultural company, with a significant fleet of trucks, and a family background in c-stores, and decided to venture into the industry. Since then, Twin Stop has built three stores with car washes from the ground up and recently acquired four stores, two with car washes, from Boise, Idaho-based Jackson Oil.

    All Twin Stop stores, which range in size from approximately 3,500 square feet to 6,500 square feet, have Chevron gas operations, and the company runs an everyday promotion where every 10 gallons of fuel or more purchased earns customers $2 off a car wash. "One of our locations competes with a Costco (for gas), so we really try to emphasize that by fueling with us, what they save on a car wash could be more than what they save on no-name fuel, and they get quality Chevron fuel," Donaldson said.

    She estimates that more than half of the eligible customers take advantage of the discount, which is automatically taken off at the pumps or in the stores.

    Currently, Twin Stop's three ground-up locations feature RYKO car wash equipment. Plans call for the two acquired car washes to be equipped with the same for the sake of consistency in maintenance and value to the customer, Donaldson said. In the meantime, the company put both reverse osmosis and soft water into those locations.

    All Twin Stop car washes now have reverse osmosis systems, which remove the naturally occurring minerals in water to deliver a spot-free rinse to the car as it exits. Some locations also have a reclaim system that helps save water as the area where they operate is in a drought, Donaldson reported.

    Each wash offers three grades — The Works, Deluxe and Express. The Express is a pre-soak wash, rocker panel blasters, single-pass wash and dry. The Works includes a pre-soak wash, rocker panel blasters, tire blasters, double-pass wash, hot wax, spot-free rinse and dry. The Deluxe, such as the Magic Gloss wash that does use brushes, falls in the middle. Twin Stop's touch-free washes have similar offerings varying by the grade of wash. Two of its sites also have self-service handbays and vacuum bays.

    Prices vary, but each location consistently offers a $2 discount with a $10 purchase, Donaldson said. The most expensive wash without a discount is $8. A car wash can be purchased inside or at the pumps. The chain had to upgrade its facilities to offer this, but she said, "We feel it is a convenience for the customer and increases car wash sales." Only at one location that offers two different types of washes do customers have to go inside or use the drive-up window to purchase a code.

    For those who want to take advantage of Twin Stop's various car wash offerings, the chain has the WashCard, a cashless account-based system in which the customer slides his or her card through a reader activating the machine, and the number of slides determines the type of wash the customer's car receives.

    The card can be set up two ways, the first being a prepaid account that carries a balance just like prepaid long-distance calling cards. The prepaid cards are sold with a discount built into them. The second way is as a credit account that can have a set or unlimited credit limit. Credit accounts can be invoiced monthly at a discount determined by volume. The statements give detailed information as to who and where the WashCard was used. There are about 500 WashCards in circulation.

    A Well-Maintained Strategy

    In addition to its c-store and car wash operations, Twin Stop also maintains a business center at one of its stores in Twin Falls City. The concept came about, Donaldson said, given the store's vicinity to the College of Southern Idaho. Along with meeting basic shipping and copying needs, the center stocks greeting cards and scrapbook supplies and offers passport photos, mailbox rentals and high-speed Internet connection.

    Donaldson said the center is doing well, though it has ended up having less college students and more of a business clientele than originally expected. Future expansion plans call for a new ground-up location to include a business center.

    Inside Twin Stop's c-stores, customers find a traditional product mix with beer, tobacco and beverages as the top sales performers. "We definitely cover most everything anyone would want or need in a convenience store and more," Donaldson said.

    Three of the stores in Twin Falls City have walk-in beer coolers, and the same three also serve up branded foodservice.

    Twin Stop I has a local chain called Papa Kelseys Pizza and Subs; Twin Stop II features Subway; and Twin Stop III houses a McDonalds.

    Chain officials are working to bring branded food franchises to the four acquired sites. From here on, Donaldson said any ground-up will have branded fast food and a car wash. Speaking of future expansion, she said it is certainly in the cards, with three opportunities likely coming to fruition within the next two to three years.

    The chain continues to try and find ways to operate better and more efficiently and consistently trains employees to offer friendly service. Donaldson says the keys to running a successful operation are employee friendliness and facility cleanliness. The chain has won several awards from Chevron for outstanding customer service and clean facilities.

    One thing that sets Twin Stop apart from its competitors is the company employs one full-time and one part-time employee at every location whose sole job is to keep the facilities maintained.

    "We want to keep things clean and bright," Donaldson explained. "Our facilities are maintained to the best that we can maintain them."

    Another area the chain is very focused on is consistently having new items in-store. Donaldson said the stores get a lot of feedback from customers who say they know when they come to a Twin Stop store, it's going to have the newest products first.

    The company relies on suppliers to keep it abreast of what's new, but she said they do their own research as well. Beer and candy/gum are among the categories frequently rotated.

    The energy drink category is also huge right now, with stores offering at least a dozen brands, and new items are consistently being introduced.

    "We don't want to just be stagnant with everyday stuff, but to offer variety," she said.

    With all its locations situated in a highly competitive market for both convenience stores and car washes, Donaldson said she can't stress enough the success of their business, and any other for that matter, cannot be achieved without great managers and employees.

    "We tell them over and over that there is a c-store on every corner and the only thing that sets us apart is the cleanliness of our locations and the smile and great service that they offer the customer," she said.

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