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LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Locally based Kwik Trip Inc. continues to use vertical integration to its advantage, helping its convenience store operations run like a well-oiled machine.
For example, Kwik Trip is known for its bananas. While it may only take a customer a few minutes to stop by and pick up a bunch, timing perfected over decades allows the retailer to offer the yellow fruit in its 440 convenience stores spread across Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
According to a report by the LaCrosse Tribune, the fruit makes its way from South America through the Gulf of Mexico to Texas. Once it's offloaded to tractor trailers in the Lone Star State, the bananas are shipped to Kwik Trip's distribution center in La Crosse, explained Brad Clarkin, warehouse superintendent at the center. They remain in the distribution center to ripen before being sent to Kwik Trip stores.
"We sold 44 million pounds of bananas last year," Clarkin told the newspaper, adding that controlling the ripening process helps ensure freshness.
Such fine-tuned operations can be found across the board at Kwik Trip, which produces many of its own commodities in its dairy, kitchens, bakery, ice plant and beverage plant, Clarkin said.
Its 360,000-square-foot distribution center, with 240 employees, is the hub that delivers 6,300 products to Kwik Trip stores as far away as 245 miles. "Everything we deliver, we’re out and back the same day," he added.
Kwik Trip began making deliveries from the company headquarters. Then in 1996, the retailer opened a 110,000-square-foot distribution center that has since been expanded to its current size. As many as 145,000 units a day leave the center, according to Clarkin, and special offers often multiply orders.
Kwik Trip also owns and maintains its own trucks, a move it made after acquiring Convenience Transportation as a subsidiary in 1999. Its fleet includes 67 petroleum trucks hauling fuel, 45 grocery trucks and 25 fresh trucks.
In addition, the company uses a computerized warehouse management system to provide tracking for every item, from its receipt at the facility to its departure.
Clarkin gives credit to Kwik Trip owner Don Zietlow, who worked himself up from being a truck driver to president of Gateway Foods before coming to Kwik Trip.
"It was his vision that really got us here," Clarkin told the LaCrosse Tribune. "The offerings at our stores reflect his grocery experience."