'Measure What You Treasure'

Sheetz CEO talks company strategy, growth, Mystery Shop win

Linda Abu-Shalback Zid, Senior Editor

ALTOONA, Pa. -- You can actually hear the smile in Stan Sheetz's voice when he talks about his nearly 400-store family-run chain. "I'm really pleased that everybody has taken the whole customer experience so seriously around here," he told CSP Daily News. And with Sheetz stores winning the CSP-Service Intelligence Mystery Shop this year partially due to that customer-service focus, he certainly has plenty to smile about. "It's always wonderful to win; that's part of our culture," he said.

That win also was hard earned. After placing in the middle of the pack in [image-nocss] the 2005 Mystery Shop, the Altoona, Pa.-based chain retooled with metrics around its customer service. "You measure what you treasure, and you hold people accountable to it--and really the long-term goal is to make it part of your culture," Stan Sheetz said. "I think we've done that."

One such metric includes the amount of time a store manager spends out front at the cash registers, interacting with customers. "I think all retailers do this, because we've done this many times over the years: [Managers] end up being accountants, bookkeepers or paper shufflers in the back room--and that's not where the leaders should be, and that's not where your highest-paid store-level person should be."

For more on the Altoona, Pa.-based chain's CSP-Service Intelligence Mystery Shop win, please see the August issue of CSP. Andclick here for CSPTV coverage.

Another evolution at the company in Stan Sheetz's 16-year tenure has stemmed from c-stores, in general, seeing declining tobacco sales and gas consumption. "That leaves food, and food is a huge opportunity," he said.

He said the company is building a new commissary in North Carolina to enhance its fresh-food efforts. The 200,000-sq.-ft. "campus," as he called it, will include a bakery, a warehouse facility and some offices--and is expected to open in 2013. "We've spread out a bit--not to too far, because you can never grow too far. But we need a bakery down there, so we can ensure freshness to our stores," he added.

Every Sheetz store gets a delivery 365 days of the year. Stan Sheetz said driving into North Carolina from Pennsylvania "isn't cross country or anything, but when you're doing it every day for hundreds of stores, it equals millions of miles."

The company is also focusing on North Carolina--along with southern Virginia and southern West Virginia--as areas within its six-state footprint for growth. "The reasoning for us is we haven't saturated them yet, the demographics there are tremendous with regard to the population's growth, the average age and the average income," he said.

Great weather, he said, is another reason the chain is looking to the region. "Hot weather drives people to buy beverages, and when they buy beverages, they buy other stuff."

As for his own plans, Stan Sheetz said that he plans to stay on as CEO for "a couple more years ... And then we'll turn this thing over to the next generation."

There are currently three generations of Sheetz family members in the company's management team, whom Stan Sheetz said have made his job "the easiest job in the world. I have a lot of confidence in those guys, and we're very fortunate to have such talent in the family."

And he said, "We're just trying to have a bit of fun. If we get lucky, we make a little bit of money. But I just hope everybody goes home happy."