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Indie Closeup: Keeping Up With Hruska’s

New tech drives retailer’s customer experience, engagement higher
Hruska’s Store & Bakery
Photogrph courtesy of Hruska’s Store & Bakery

A recent phone conversation with Angela Solis, store manager at Hruska’s Store & Bakery, Ellinger, Texas, produced a couple brief interruptions—for a legitimate reason.

The 10,000-square-foot Chevron-branded convenience store had gone live in early November 2023 with a new, dynamic point-of-sale (POS) system to support in-store transactions, an investment that featured seamless integration from store to fueling forecourt.

The “good” reason for the interruption was that Solis was tasked with providing quick feedback to a Hruska’s staff member about a basic step using the new system.

The operational headache is well worth it: when you run an iconic retail operation with brisk business through all dayparts, a dynamic transactional technology is paramount to keep up with hourly flow.

After seeing the writing on the wall with outdated POS technology, Hruska’s upgraded to Passport Point-of-Sale from Greensboro, North Carolina-based Gilbarco-Veeder Root in late 2023.

“We needed a solution different, and really understood that the modern customer demands ultra-quick service,” said Solis, who started as a Hruska’s cashier more than 20 years ago and moved up the ranks to manager. “We have 54 employees, so reducing labor costs and stress on employees was paramount. The self-checkout function of Passport enables better efficiency all the way around, and Combine Express Lane offers a seamless experience.”

Known for ‘Skrumption’

Hruska’s, located at state Hwy. 71 between Houston and Austin, has been in business for a century. The third-generation, family-owned business opened as Hruska General Merchandise Store in 1920. Current owner Theresa “Carrie” James began managing in the mid-1990s, assuming control from her grandparents.

To complement in-store upgrades, Hruska’s invested in new multi-pump dispensers (five MPDs, 10 fueling positions) at a location with an ultra-large footprint and ample parking. The main perk of new MPDs is that customers can now simply tap to pay for gas and view store promotions from a larger screen format. Ordering food from the forecourt is still a work in progress.

“We’re known for great foodservice—we call our proprietary brand ‘Skrumption’—so while people fuel we can get to a point where we can customize at-pump messages about not only food promotions but what’s new and available at our great gift shop,” she said.

Baked-In Advantage

The store coined “Skrumption” as its merchandising brand mark, and has it embossed on packages of proprietary sweet snacks.

“Skrumption items have a higher price point for the simple reason they’re richer, more indulgent and more labor intensive compared to the rest of what we offer,” said Solis. Skrumption cookies, for instance, are infused with a rich filling in the middle that requires extra steps and prep time compared obviously to direct-store-delivered fare.

Hruska’s onsite bakery also churns out Pigs-in-a-Blanket (a roll made of sweet spun-dough, similar to sausage rolls) and kolaches, made using a special recipe consisting of milk, cream and cheese from local livestock and poppyseed from a home garden. The store employs one bakery specialist who’s worked there for 25 years.

Seven to nine staffers are needed daily to support bakery operations, as Solis rotates front-of-store people to the back.

Gifts Keep on Giving

With supply chain efficiency and merchandising consultation from its long-time wholesale distributor The Grocery Supply Co., Brenham, Texas, Hruska’s continues to hit on all cylinders across all profit centers.

One is its destination-driven gift shop, which features a robust selection of seasonal and year-round items and home accessories. “We have a lot of seasonal and everyday gift items, plus apparel from Texas A&M and the University of Houston,” Solis said.

With the holidays around the corner, Hruska’s is gearing up to meet the customers where they’re at—in a spending mood.

“We have everything from candles to windchimes to lighted trees,” said Solis. “In early November, we added additional Christmas items, such as light-up snow globes and light-up Santas, as well as smaller decorative trees and scent-filled holiday candles,” she said.

The new POS system will certainly support a bustling daily business cycle, as the long-time retailer is adept at sustaining customer loyalty while also keeping the competition at bay.

“We’re in a good position—our location,” said Solis. “There’s one restaurant in close proximity and a Shell station. People might eat at the restaurant and swing by our store for ‘Skrumption’ to-go or buy gifts. Some might get gas at Shell but still swing by Hruska’s for the same things. One way or another, we bring them in.”

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