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Indie Closeup: An Inside and Outside Job

Beaudry Express is cleaning up in the Minneapolis suburbs, and across several levels
beaudry express
Photograph courtesy of Beaudry Express

A fuel brand conversion, a car wash subscription club, investment in beverage equipment and an intriguing side venture: these initiatives are all enhancing the customer experience at Beaudry Express, Elk River, Minn., and for its independent owner Josh Lund.

The single-store owner and his wife, Lisa, operate the 2,000-sq.-ft. unit with nine fuel dispensers and two touch-free car washes, located in a bedroom community north of the Twin Cities.

Lund, who has 15 full-time associates, most of whom have been with the company for years, has helmed Beaudry Express since 2005. The family-owned-and-operated store (since 1993), started as Texaco branded, converted to Shell and now has undergone its third conversion—switching to Marathon in the spring of 2021.

An avid outdoorsman and expert fisherman, Lund had an “ah-ha” moment in 2022 when he invested in a side venture that’s add more exposure to Beaudry Express—Lund Recreational Storage.

“Because of the time we spend on lakes boating and fishing, we understand that many are in a bind about where to store boats, trailers and accessories during the off-season,” Lund said. “We established Lund Recreational Storage so people can store their recreational water possessions for the winter at our nearby storage facility.”

He continued: “At the store, we know how to sell ‘convenience.’ The storage facility is an extension of that. Our tagline is ‘24/7 Access to Your Next Adventure.’”

Read ahead for a recent conversation with Lund about his latest ventures—all helping Beaudry Express fortify its position as a local retail destination spot.

Q: How did the conversion from Shell to Marathon fare in 2021?

A: We made the switch in spring of 2021, and it went smoothly. Our market is relatively an unbranded fuel market and independent refiner market, with brands like Holiday Stationstores, Speedway and Kwik Trip dominating share. People are accustomed to these brands and that level of service. We felt Marathon fit well into that scheme. That said, consumers here don’t put a real big premium on [fuel] forecourts: it’s more about what you offer inside. Is your location convenience? Do you have what we, as consumers, want?

Q: What other ancillary benefits accompanied the fuel conversion?

A: The conversion also meant being outfitted with new Gilbarco multi-pump dispensers. Not only does that enhance ease-of-use for our customers, but we’ve also had far fewer service calls [regarding MPD malfunctions]. People also appreciate the swipe-to-pay feature to buy gas rather than using the card readers. But the conversion hasn’t increased our monthly fuel volume—no fault to the new brand. We had been at 200,000 gallons a month pre-pandemic, but we’re nowhere close to that threshold because people are still not driving as much as before.

Q: What have been some in-store categories that are helping stimulate your monthly revenue?

A: We’ve always been a solid ‘inside-sales’ retailer—most customers come inside the store after they fuel. In 2022, we saw some off-the-charts numbers with cooler sales even with some significant wholesale price hikes. During summer 2022, we logged the best numbers ever for all types of beverages, including soft drinks, teas, juices, isotonics and energy, which has been a driving force.

Q: Have packaged beverages been able to keep up that torrid pace?

A: Even though the summer is over, the increase in sales for packaged beverages remains strong. We’re up 10% over 11 months in 2022 from same period [the previous year]. Customers are absorbing the price increases well. Whether an energy drink is $2.50 or if it’s $2.99, people still buy it. We’ve stimulated impulse with regular ‘two-for’ promotions—we’re always encouraging them to grab that second bottle or can.

Q: On the dispensed beverage side, you’ve had success with cold and frozen but have been hamstrung with hot beverage sales—why is that?

A: Hot beverages are down 20% to 30% since pre-pandemic numbers. Coffee is a goofy category. Since the pandemic, many folks opted not to buy self-serve coffee at c-stores, so our morning business is not what it had been pre-pandemic. Nonetheless, we still invested in an automatic Bunn bean-to-cup machine while also maintaining the old-style drip coffee program. We find that older folks want the drip coffee or cappuccino while the younger crowd prefer bean-to-cup. It doesn’t help that we have four Caribou coffee stores and Starbucks stores close by.

Q: Are you compensating for that loss of business with other categories?

A: With frozen beverages, we invested in a new ICEE machine and saw sales quadruple. We’ve also seen record sales with meat snack and jerky along with foodservice. One small but effective decision we made was to have Papa John’s pizzas brought into the store, where we sell pizza by the slice. Papa John’s gets their name out there and we get to sell some extra pizzas.

Q: You’ve established a solid reputation with your touch-free car washes. It must have been a no-brainer to activate a subscription club?

A: It was time. It went live at the end of 2021, and 10% of all car wash sales come from those who joined the subscription program—and that’s growing. It’s a proprietary app-based program where people download the app and purchase unlimited monthly car washes. All the friction points have been eliminated, as customers don’t have to roll their windows down and there are no codes to enter on a PIN pad. If people are gone for a month or two, they can suspend their accounts. (The wash offers PDQ equipment with a capacity to service 150 cars per day at price tiers ranging from $7 to $12).

Q: What other learnings have come from the new program?

A: We know that people don’t like to wait in line for a wash—they avoid it at all costs so we found that many will leave the wash if it’s crowded and come back later. They know they have that flexibility. We also saw inside-store revenue rise about 20% over last year tied to car wash customers coming inside.

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