The Mayberry Factor

'Hometown' mindset ranks Bosselman No. 1 in CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop for chains with fewer than 100 stores.

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

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What kind of convenience store would Sheriff Andy Taylor, Aunt Bee and Opie have run? Perhaps the type that ranked No. 1 in this year’s first-ever CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop study of chains with about 100 stores or fewer.

Mayberry’s hometown mindset drives operations at Grand Island, Neb.-based Pump & Pantry, a 50-store chain that claimed the top spot in every category in the study.

The margin of victory was so removed from group averages that it may have made the chain a scientific anomaly. But barring such exclusion, it’s a happy victory that most certainly earns the Nebraska chain a closer look. (See the list of seven chains shopped in this category on p. 72. For a review of chains shopped in the category of 150 stores or more, see the August 2013 issue of CSP magazine)

For Bosselman Pump & Pantry Inc., which owns and operates the Pump &Pantry chain and employs 1,200 peoplewithin its network of businesses, its secret lies in a mission that turns customers into family, the store into a home.

“It’s a Mayberry experience,” says Charlie Bosselman, president of the 65-year-old company, which also runs quick-serve restaurants, hotels and truck service centers.

“We always say we’re from a small community, so we reflect that in the store whether we’re in a town of 400 or in Omaha.

”Yet having its fi ngers in many pies, as itwere, Bosselman as a company draws from disciplines across channels—something the c-store industry is just now beginning to take advantage of.

Having started on a farm with a second job driving a truck, Bosselman’s grandfather, Fred Bosselman, began the company in 1948 with a truck stop. The business developed into fuel wholes alingand c-stores, and over the years expanded in many directions, including owning a professional indoor football team, the Nebraska Danger.

But Bosselman says the key to the company’s operational excellence is in understanding  the restaurant business. “I’ve heard [people] say if you can make money in restaurants, you can make money [anywhere],”he says. “In a restaurant, you need quality control, cleanliness and discipline over the floor, inventory, margins and payroll—it’s a discipline that’s then easier to implement within a c-store.”

That’s certainly not to say that running a c-store—especially to Bosselman’s standards—is easy. His expectations regarding store appearance and customer service are 100% all the time.

“But the ultimate foundation when you talk about cleanliness is we’re also in foodservice,” he says. “We have the same philosophy … [in that] the convenience store needs to be as clean as a restaurant, and that’s one of the things we emphasize.”

Standing by Its Mission

The hometown experience for Bosselmanbreaks down into terms that start to soundlike solid operational priorities. Its missionis supported by five principles:

  1. Cleanliness
  2. Pride in your work
  3. Integrity
  4. Friendliness
  5. Fun

Getting back to the restaurant premise, Bosselman says that type of business means employees must stick to policies and procedure sfor cleanliness, dating product forfreshness and watching inventory in the cooler for spoilage. All these elements are continuously in play.

Foodservice has been a pivotal part ofthe business, with the company havingput its fi rst Subway franchise in a truckstopin 1990. The company has six full-servicerestaurants and what Bosselman says is“a number” of fast-food sites. Some areconnected to c-stores, and some are freestanding.

This is where Bosselman first startedwithin the family business. It’s also wherethe company got its taste for the brandedfast-food concept. “We do a good job runningoperations,” he says. “Other peoplespend a lot of time inventing their ownconcept, but we do a better job at managing.”

Pump & Pantry is the only c-store chainin the country with a Cinnabon franchise;seven stores have the profit center, withplans for 20 total. “This is not just the newestthing we saw at the NACS [Show],” hesays. “We’re going to run it as a restaurant.”

That means clean, with the biggest concernbeing restrooms. “How often do yougo into a restroom and it’s a disaster?” hesays. “People start to wonder, ‘What’s thekitchen like?’ ”

As a side note, Bosselman is clearly ona mission when it comes to bathrooms,preparing to launch a major initiative toremodel every restroom in its chain. Allstores will soon have accessible, updatedrestrooms—with higher-end tile andfixtures, along with touch-free dryers—that neither require keys to get in nor haveoutdoor entrances.

For Bosselman, the investment is simplyanother extension of its family philosophy,one that’s communicated during the hiringprocess and continues through ongoingdiscussions with seasoned supervisors. “Itell my managers it’s their store,” he says.“ ‘You’re the one running it; it refl ects onyou.’ ”

What helps this reinforcement processis the very hometown demographic thesestores serve. “We know a lot of people …our family knows a lot of people,” he says.“So it doesn’t take long after someonedrops the ball for me to hear about it. Customerscall me directly.”

But Bosselman has a strong cadre ofexperienced and loyal managers, he admits,many of whom have worked for the companyfor 10, 20, even 30 years. That “consistencyin leadership” is also part of hischain’s success, he believes.

“Our district managers have cubicleshere in the office, but most of the time,they’re out in the field,” Bosselman says.“They’re taking the mission statement,emphasizing those points and hammeringthem home all the time.”But reinforcement works only whenemployees already have a bent towardcustomer service, he says. “Ultimately, customerservice is not something … you can train,” he says. “You can’t hire an 18-year old kid who won’t say boo to anybody. It’s not the personality you want to hire.”

He describes the right personality traitsas positivity and having an innate understanding of what good customer service is. In addition, the company does a lot ofrole-playing with its staff, showing them what to do to resolve conflict.

Often, employees will go out of their way to solve customers’ problems, Bossel man says, recalling how one employee even lent her car to a stranded motorist so he could make it home for Christmas.

“It’s not the legal way you want [the employee] to do it, but it comes from the idea of providing a hometown experience,” he says. “And we emphasize that ,sharing those comments with our employees.”

Handling Remote

Along with the hospitality piece of the QSR and even motel businesses, Bosselman’s other endeavors cross-pollinate into good c-store practices

For instance, its chain of 42 trucking service centers is spread across 20 states. The discipline needed to make stores in remote areas successful tie back to hisc-store chain. While calling it a balance between holding the reins tightly and letting go, he says remote surveillance, a firm connection with store number sand frequent district manager visits all help make widespread networks succeed.

Again, being a 50-store chain may help in that employees know Bossel man himself may step in to rectify any major concerns. While a virtue at Bosselman’s chain, that kind of on-hands super vision may be a disservice as the company grows. He admits that the company couldn’t acquire more than three or four stores a year; otherwise the new sites might not get the full attention or training employees need.

And it’s not just management style that would impede the process—it’s that hometown business formula in general. “Implementing those principle scan be difficult because a lot of people, especially in big cities like Omaha, are not used to a small-town mentality,” he says. “When you go into a store, the clerk knows your name. And from behind the counter, she’s got your [favorite] pack of cigarettes because she knows what you buy.”

That step back into a long-lost era has been operational gold for Bosselman’s and something that, for many Americans, will never get old.


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