Cleanest. Restrooms. Ever.

How and why Kwik Trip keeps its restrooms sparkling

By 
Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

Kwik Trip Mystery Shop restroom

A Kwik Trip employee cleans restroom.

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- Each week, about three million people visit the restroom at a Kwik Trip convenience store. And chances are, in the vast majority of these visits—say 96.1%—they find clean restrooms.

That might be a tough claim for many retailers to document, but not for La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip Inc., which has 450 sites in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. For one, company CEO Don Zietlow personally receives and responds to every restroom complaint; his name is posted, along with a special hotline number, in every restroom.

For another, Kwik Trip finished first in CSP/Service Intelligence’s 2015 Mystery Shop, pitting it against some of the industry’s best and shiniest convenience-store chains—QuikTrip and RaceTrac, among others—and clinching a score of 96.1% in a ranking of clean restrooms.

For Zietlow, cleanliness is a personal obsession and business practicality.

“When you go out to eat and the floor isn’t clean, or you go into the restroom, and the restroom’s not clean, or the outside’s not clean, your perception may be: 'How clean is the kitchen? How good is the food?',” said Zietlow. “That’s important to me, and it’s also a source of pride with our coworkers.”

Every Monday morning, Zietlow spends an hour speaking to customers who have called the dirty restroom hotline, getting details of the problem and trying to leave them satisfied. “I call them up and try to turn the negative into a positive,” he said.

Ben Wilson, regional retail operations manager at Kwik Trip, said this personal touch also motivates coworkers to keep the restrooms clean.

“[Zietlow] takes a lot of pride in it,” said Wilson. “If something’s not right, he gets every one of those calls. We don’t want to have those calls, or have to follow up because our restrooms are dirty.”

Kwik Trip has been upgrading its restrooms over the past couple of years, not only to ensure they are compliant with Americans With Disability Act (ADA) requirements, but also to make them easier to clean. This includes tiling the walls to make them easily washable, and installing new fixtures.

Cenex Zip Trip, Spokane, Wash., the company-operated chain of 70 stores of CHS Inc., finished among the top five brands in the overall CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop partly thanks to its clean bathrooms. According to Ian Johnstone, general manager, the key is making a commitment to cleanliness, regardless the challenge—such as maintaining restrooms located on the outside, a feature at some Cenex Zip Trip stores.

“Nobody likes to use an outside bathroom, because they’re afraid when they open the door what they’re going to see,” said Johnstone. “It doesn’t mean we have to be that way. Let’s make an effort.”

This is especially true during the busy summer months, when Cenex Zip Trip has an opportunity to make a good impression on the greatest number of customers.

“We have a chance to influence a tremendous amount of customers in May, June, July and August—let’s embrace that and take advantage of it,” said Johnstone. “Let’s spend more time in the bathrooms and make sure they’re clean.”

As the chain remodels its stores, it has been updating restrooms, removing paper towel dispensers and replacing them with Dyson hand dryers—“It’s amazing how a paper towel never seems to make it into a garbage can that’s three feet away,” quipped Johnstone. It installed push buttons commonly found in hospitals so customers could open restroom doors without touching the handles.

For Kwik Trip, Cenex Zip Trip and other chains that ranked at the top, a clean restroom is the international language of hospitality.

“[Customers] want to come to a clean, friendly environment,” said Zietlow. “They want to be appreciated. There’s no better way than to have a clean bathroom.”

Was the restroom clean?

  • Kwik Trip (96.1%)
  • QuikTrip (94.2%)
  • RaceTrac (92.4%)
  • Cenex Zip Trip (90.5%)
  • Cumberland Farms (90.5%)
Part of CSP's 2015 Convenience Top 101 retailers