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CSP Magazine

QT Sets Its Sights on San Antonio and Austin

While the cities are prime growth markets, the Oklahoma-based retailer’s move is driven by its people

TULSA, Okla. -- Location, location, location: Yes, this is important for any retailer looking to enter a new region or state. But for QuikTrip, the decision to expand into San Antonio and Austin, Texas, where it will open more than 100 stores beginning next summer, was driven by its people.

CEO Chet Cadieux has “made it clear that one of the biggest reasons for expansion is: If we don’t grow, we’ll lose a lot of really good people,” Mike Thornbrugh, spokesman for the Tulsa, Okla.-based chain, told CSP.

QuikTrip isn’t new to Texas. Of its more than 750 stores, it operates 134 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But moving further south gives the retailer an opportunity to promote individuals who will transfer to the new markets, and then promote other individuals to fill positions left open in current markets.

“That’s really what QuikTrip is all about: Give everybody the opportunity to grow and expand,” Thornbrugh says. “That recipe has been successful for us in the past. ... That’s part of our culture.”

That said, location still played a role in the company’s decision.

It has been six years since QuikTrip, which operates in 11 states, last moved into a new region. “You’ve got to find the right market,” Thornbrugh says. “We did a lot of due diligence.” San Antonio and Austin were appealing because they are two of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, he says.

Of cities with populations of 50,000 or more in 2015, San Antonio ranked third and Austin ranked ninth on the U.S. Census Bureau’s list of cities with the largest population increases from July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016. San Antonio’s population rose by 24,473, and Austin’s population rose by 17,738.

Texas is also “very pro-business,” says Paul Hardin, president of the Austin-based Texas Food & Fuel Association. With a $1.6 trillion economy and the country’s third-fastest job growth since 2011, the Lone Star State ranked No. 4 on Forbes 2016 Best States for Business list.

“Combine that with the quality of life [and] the rise of oil and gas shale plays, and you have a winning combination for our industry,” Hardin says. While the oil and shale plays have slowed, the Eagle Ford Shale pumped $60 billion into south Texas communities in 2012.

QT was also attracted to the San Antonio and Austin regions because of their proximity to the Dallas-Fort Worth stores.

“Even though they’re different communities, we have a pretty good idea of what we think will be successful and how receptive those communities will be to QuikTrip,” Thornbrugh says.

Part of that will be giving customers the QT experience they have come to expect.

“We’re really sticklers on having the same offer everywhere that we go,” Thornbrugh says. “When you walk into a QuikTrip—and it doesn’t matter if you’re in Phoenix, you’re in Wichita, Kan., you’re in Charlotte, N.C.—we want the look to be the same. If a person turns left or turns right, they know where to go to get what they are looking for.”

And for those unfamiliar with the chain, and who might be looking for a job: “We have to take the QuikTrip culture to that community. They get used to us—see how we do things and why we do things—and hopefully it will entice a lot of people that live there to say, ‘You know what, I like these guys, I’m going to try and work for them,’ ” says Thornbrugh.

Texas has the most convenience stores of all the states: 15,671, or about 10% of the nation’s c-stores, according to recent NACS/Nielsen Convenience Industry Store Count figures.

“The competition is fierce as the larger ‘chains’ get larger,” Hardin says. “[QuikTrip will] go head to head with the likes of CST/Alimentation Couche-Tard and 7-Eleven/Stripes, along with the smaller operators in that five- to 25-[store] category.”

QuikTrip doesn’t disagree. And it knows the competition extends into fast feeders, big boxes, grocery outlets and health-food stores.

“We know that we’ve got a lot of great competition,” Thornbrugh says. “So we have to do what we do: go out there and build great locations, great products, unparalleled customer service, and we have to do it on a daily basis. You get one, maybe—if you are lucky—two chances with new markets.”

A differentiator for QuikTrip could be QT Kitchens, its in-store foodservice program that serves fresh, made-to-order food, such as pizza, premium specialty drinks and frozen treats. “I’m certainly encouraged by the higher-quality foodservice in many of our stores,” says Hardin of the state’s c-store foodservice offer. “The c-store industry has been poked fun at for many years regarding foodservice, and I think that pendulum is starting to swing the other way.”

QuikTrip doesn’t have an end date in mind for when it will reach 100 stores in the San Antonio and Austin regions, but the retailer is confident it can be done. “We think, for now, that we easily can have 100 stores,” Thornbrugh says. “But it will take us a long time to get there, and we know that.”

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