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TULSA, Okla. — Chet Cadieux, chairman, CEO and president of convenience store chain QuikTrip Corp. (QT), thinks “innovation” is an overused term.
“Most changes that I see, including at QT, are evolutionary more than they are innovative. By that I mean, getting better every day or constant improvement,” said the son of QT founder Chester Cadieux. “Whatever you want to call that constant improvement process, I think it is critical to a company’s survival.”
It is also something QuikTrip is very good at. In fact, Convenience Store News has selected QuikTrip as the 2015 Retailer Innovator of the Year. Previous winners of this award were Sheetz Inc. in 2014, Wawa Inc. in 2013 and RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. in 2012.
In an exclusive interview, Cadieux told CSNews that he feels true innovation — as in actually inventing something new — is rare and not essential to a company’s survival.
“I don’t necessarily think QT is good at literally inventing things. There are certainly companies that are a lot better at it than us,” the chief executive noted. “However, we are, I think, really good at working toward perfecting things that already exist.”
QT is the nation’s eighth-largest convenience store chain in company-operated units, with 700-plus stores generating more than $11 billion in revenue across 11 states.
Of all the company’s accomplishments this year, Cadieux said he is most proud of having installed the QT Kitchens made-to-order food and beverage concept in almost every store.
More than 90 percent of QuikTrip stores now feature the QT Kitchens offering consisting of made-to-order fresh food, premium specialty drinks and tasty frozen treat selections available at full-service counters open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. at most locations.
Specialty drinks include premium hot chocolate, frozen frappes, real fruit smoothies and frozen lemonade. Frozen treats include the QT Twister, soft-serve cones and QuikShakes.
The made-to-order fresh food menu includes toasted sandwiches, personal pizzas, soft pretzels, flatbreads and kolaches (a type of filled pastry). Breakfast also has been given an injection of excitement with the retailer’s new breakfast pizza — a freshly cooked pizza topped with eggs, sausage, bacon and cheese.
“Of course, that necessitated us hiring a lot of people to run those kitchens, which created a 30-percent increase in employee count companywide,” said Cadieux. QT has more than 18,600 employees. “And, of course, we had to train all those newbies as well as our existing employees on how to run those kitchens. To get all of that done in just one year was a real biggie for us.”
The creation of QT Kitchens is an example of how good QT is at taking an idea and perfecting it. The concept originated because two of the industry’s biggest categories — gasoline and cigarettes — are no longer growth categories, and instead are declining.
“As such, we needed to find something to replace them. We always thought we were pretty good at selling gasoline and convenience store items. Over time, our goal is to be as good at selling fresh food as we are at other items,” Cadieux said.
Don’t miss CSNews’ exclusive interview with Cadieux as he discusses QT’s achievements and how the company empowers its employees to be the best, coming in the October issue.