The Store That Saved 'Stupid' QuikTrip

Fourth time charm for now-powerful c-store chain, which values employees, service

TULSA, Okla. -- The first QuikTrip store was just plain "stupid," according to Chester Cadieux. So were the second and third. The company's decision to begin installing gasoline pumps in 1972: also "stupid." While Cadieux admits to making a lot of "stupid" moves in building the c-store chain, it's obvious that he did many smart things during the last half-century, reported The Tulsa World.

Since the first store opened in Tulsa, Okla., in 1958, the company has been run by Chester Cadieux and now by his son, Chet Cadieux. But QuikTrip has not always been a retail powerhouse. The first location [image-nocss] nearly failed, said the elder Cadieux, now 76. "It was a horrible location, and we didn't sell any of the right stuff," he told the newspaper. "The first store was unprofitable for quite a while—a couple of years at least."

Initially, QuikTrip was simply a c-store chain, not selling gasoline. The first three stores struggled because of bad locations before the fourth store opened about three years after the company was founded. "With each store, we got a little less dumb, and that fourth store was the one that saved QuikTrip," Chester Cadieux said.

Another "stupid" move, according to Cadieux, was how the first gasoline sale location was set up. It consisted of two pumps crammed into a small area on the side of the store.

Through a series of acquisitions in subsequent years, the chain spread across the Midwest, Texas and Georgia, and most recently entered the growing Arizona market. QuikTrip now has more than 500 stores with some 10,500 employees. Sales last year totaled $8.3 billion, said the report.

Chester Cadieux said he felt pressure to sell his company several times over the years, but he worried that his employees would not benefit from such a deal. Current chairman and CEO Chet Cadieux faces a far different retail landscape compared to the chain's first half century. C-stores now focus more on food and in-store items; profit margins on gasoline have thinned as oil prices have increased. QuikTrip is facing a future that might not even include gasoline, Chet Cadieux said. "I don't know what we'll be like in 50 years," he said, "but I do know that, just as today, we'll have great people working for us and that we'll have great real estate. That makes for a lot of options."

That commitment to employees is a big part of the chain's success, added a report by The Journal Record. C-stores traditionally prove a one-stop spot, both for customers and their employees. But for QuikTrip Corp. it's a destination, the newspaper said. "The purpose of the company is to give opportunities to grow and succeed for employees," Mike Thornbrugh, manager of public and government affairs for QuikTrip, told the paper. "They start at entry-level and can go up to any position imaginable."

For several years, Fortune magazine listed QuikTrip among the "100 Best Companies to Work For." The magazine cited employee career options as a reason for below-average turnover. "By creating career opportunities, it not only brings finance but brings stability," David Dyson, professor of management at the Oral Roberts University School of Business, told the paper. "They are not looking for a quick fix, but people with a service mentality."

That strategy also helps bring stability in the company, said Becky Frank, president and CEO of the Tulsa public relations firm Schnake Turnbo Frank. "When an employee knows they have the opportunity to be promoted it is a meaningful thing," she told the Journal Record. "[That's] something that can be taken for granted in a lot of other places."

Chet Cadieux took the homegrown career path. While his father, Chester, is the founder of QuikTrip, Thornbrugh said Cadieux was not spoon-fed the leadership position. He started off like other employees, working the night shift and cleaning bathrooms.

And like its commitment to its employees, Dyson said QuikTrip's equally important "customer service first" culture rarely pops up in the c-service industry. "By serving first, they are redeeming the benefits," he said. "It's not just about quick convenience for the company, it's about convenience and service for the customer."

QuikTrip philanthropic culture encourages employees to get involved with the community, added the report. Every year, the company donates 5% of its earnings to nonprofit organizations.

Plans for QuikTrip include further expansion in the Dallas, Fort Worth and Phoenix markets, said Thornbrugh. That reflects a policy of controlled growth, which Dyson said helps maintains quality and profitability. "They have an effective growth model that maintains their quality," he said. "I see them as continually expanding."

In celebration of 50 years in business, QuikTrip sponsored a free concert Saturday. Tulsa-based Hanson and '60s rock musician Leon Russell were among the acts performing.