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By Linda Lisanti
TULSA, Okla. -- Fifty years ago today, QuikTrip Corp. was born with the opening of a convenience store that wasn’t all that convenient. "You could get a sandwich at our store if you bought a loaf of bread, some bologna and mayonnaise," QuikTrip co-founder, Chester Cadieux, told CSNews Online, reflecting on the chain’s misguided beginnings.
"That first store was struggling. We had a leaking boat to begin with," he recalled. In fact, Cadieux said most of the early years were filled with moments of doubt. "I don’t know that I ever said we’re not going to make it, but there were times I had that pit in my stomach."
What kept the chain surviving—and these days, has it thriving—is what QuikTrip has learned through its failures. Today, the retailer marks its 50th anniversary with 500 corporate stores, 10,500 employees, and more than $7 billion in annual sales.
"Not many companies that are startups last 50 years," said Cadieux, who opened that first QuikTrip store on Sept. 25, 1958, in partnership with his former classmate Burt Holmes. "We’re very good at changing. We have changed over and over and over again. We listen … We spend a whole lot of time listening to our store-level employees, and people all over the company who have come from the store level, about their ideas for change."
This ability to evolve goes hand-in-hand with QuikTrip’s guiding principle of hiring good people and promoting from within. "Our ability to keep changing is a function of the people who work here. If you’re not changing, they’re likely to run you over," Chester’s son and current company president and CEO Chester "Chet" Cadieux III noted in an interview with CSNews Online. "We have always been consistent in having great people to work at our stores, as opposed to the lowest common denominator, and we always will be."
In celebration of 50 years in business, QuikTrip sponsored a free music festival this past Saturday at River West Festival Park in its hometown of Tulsa, Okla. Hanson and ‘60s rock musician Leon Russell were among the nine bands that performed. Chester was on hand signing copies of his soon-to-be-published book detailing his experiences.
The company also is commemorating the milestone by giving back to its community, funding a new plaza and playground to be built in River Parks. The $2.5 million to $3 million project will be an innovative, outdoor environment for children, as well as a venue for special events serving the needs of the entire community, according to media reports.
"When we got so we could afford it, community giving became one of our cores," Chester said, adding QuikTrip gives 5 percent of its prior-year earnings to charity annually. "[River Parks] is a place that a lot of people see and enjoy. I was on the park’s board on and off for 14 years, so it holds a place in my heart."
Looking ahead to the next 50 years, the Cadiuexs said it’s impossible to predict what the future holds. They believe the biggest obstacle the convenience industry faces is the uncertainty around its top two categories, gasoline and cigarettes. "Fifty years from now, who knows if we’ll be using gas or smoking cigarettes anymore?" Chet questioned.
And so, QuikTrip is making huge investments in fresh foods —an area where it’s lacked in the past—through QT Kitchens, a commissary initiative launched in August 2006.
"My hope is that 20 years from now, QuikTrip will be as good at selling food as we are at selling gasoline," Chet said. "We’re spending a lot of money, and I’m confident that with as much effort as we’re putting in, it will happen. It took us 30 years to get this good at gasoline. If we can accomplish this in 20 years, it will be a heroic achievement."
For a more in-depth look at QuikTrip’s 50 years in business and its plans to prosper in the future, check out the Oct. 3 issue of Convenience Store News.