QT Caps the Car Wash

Chain continues focus on gasoline, convenience, food through "scrape and build" efforts

Linda Abu-Shalback Zid, Senior Editor

TULSA, Okla. -- Four years after dipping its toe into the waters of the car wash business, QuikTrip is toweling off and sticking with what it knows best: convenience stores. "We wanted to take a look at car washes and test it," spokesperson Mike Thornbrugh told CSP Daily News. And although he said the company's three car washes have been successful, he added that the return on investment is much greater in convenience stores and gasoline retail.

The chain opened its first car wash about four years ago, and currently has two in Wichita, Kansas, and one in Tulsa, [image-nocss] Okla. And although operations will continue for now at those sites, there are no plans to add more; and those three might eventually be sold off.

"It's just not what we do," Thornbrugh said of the car washes. In fact, the company's mission statement doesn't include car washes: "To be the best gasoline, convenience and food retailer in the eyes of our customers, our competitors, and our employees."

Thornbrugh said, "When we say we're committed, we're in it big time." And the company is putting its money where its mouth is in terms of keeping its stores young and vital to their communities.

On average, there isn't a QuikTrip store that is older than seven years-despite the fact the company's first store opened in 1958 and the Tulsa, Okla.-based company owns and operates 506 QuikTrips (with the opening of 12 more planned by March 2009). The reason for the young age of the stores is that the company is constantly evaluating its stores to see if they are big enough, modern enough and have appropriate traffic flow within them.

These evaluations often can lead to a remodel, a relocation or a "scrape and build."

One older, formerly landlocked store in Wichita is currently undergoing such scrape-and-build efforts. "We basically build a new store behind the existing store. And this one is going from about 3,400 square feet to 4,600-a typical average for a QuikTrip store," Thornbrugh said. The old store will then be torn down and converted to additional parking.

Over the past decade, all of QuikTrip's stores also have gone through two "massive remodels," Thornbrugh added. The first was a drink initiative about seven years ago. The chain opened up area of the stores that contained drinks to be more customer-friendly, and it expanded coffee and cappuccino efforts (including the addition of steamers), expanded fountain-drink offerings to include 24 fountain heads per store and added its Freezoni carbonated frozen beverages and milkshakes.

The second, a food initiative, began with the company's launch of its first QT Kitchens bakery in early 2005, and QT Kitchens continues to be a driving force for the company. "We remodeled to change traffic flow to accommodate that," Thornbrugh said.

Today, customers can get sandwiches, wraps, salads, fresh fruit and baked goods, which are prepared at large bakery/commissary facilities in Tulsa, Kansas City and Phoenix and delivered via refrigerated trucks.

The company plans to build two more commissaries to accommodate more of the food offerings; one in Atlanta is slated to open in late spring/early summer 2009 and no date is set yet for a Dallas facility. "Production continues to grow, and the opportunities are limitless," Thornbrugh said.