The Beast of Racine

New monster On the Run bares its teeth in Wisconsin

RACINE, Wis. -- Over the years, I've been able to do bits and pieces, but I can now say I've built my ultimate convenience store, Michael Willkomm said of his company's newest retail property in Racine, Wis. My dream has finally been built.

The third-quarter 2006 unveiling of Willkomm's first ExxonMobil On the Run has been a long time coming. His family's businessWillkomm Cos., a third-generation fuel distributor based in Racinelast built a new store in 1993.

This time, the Willkomms decided to do it right by starting from the [image-nocss] ground up. So far, the Willkomms have been pleased with the brand's performance. And they don't intend to stop at one; Willkomm Cos. is an On the Run franchise developer for the region.

It's perfect for guys like us, for small operations like usguys who didn't have the time and manpower to shop for coffee equipment, get the best beans from the roaster, hook up with the [point-of-purchase] manufacturers, he told CSP Daily News. This was our first On the Run, and we're hoping to build a couple more over the next few years, looking at existing stores and new-to-industry stores.

He describes the property as an 8,800-square-foot monster: The c-store spans 4,500 square feet, while an attached Burger King takes up the remaining 4,300. Willkomm Cos. is also a Burger King franchisee.

The c-store has a unique element in a drive-thru. Customers can purchase anything in the store, with the exception of alcohol (a small concession for getting a beer, wine and liquor license, according to Willkomm), from behind the wheel.

In the convenience-store world, you can pick up a new product and anyone will have it tomorrow, he said. It takes some doing, but this can give us a competitive advantage if we make it work right. We gave it its own register, and the target is to have customers in and out in 60 secondsand so far we're meeting it.

For the first 30 days of operation, the store did about 7% of its inside volume through the window, according to Willkomm. That figure, he believes, has since grown closer to 25%. He thinks the window will provide lasting benefits because it's going to be a while before someone can knock down their store and build a drive-thru, he said.

Willkomm's homework in assessing the needs of the community has fueled the store's out-of-the-gate performance, according to Darren Rebelez, On the Run franchise manager for ExxonMobil Fuels Marketing Co., Fairfax, Va.

It takes a little while to get the first one up and going, but they have more in the pipeline, and we're real happy with the progress they've made so far, Rebelez told CSP Daily News. Ultimately we'd expect them to develop upwards of 10 stores over the next several years.

In addition to the drive-thru, the Burger King, ExxonMobil Speedpass and the power of the ExxonMobil and On the Run brand names, Willkomm Cos.' newest store has several other tricks up its sleeve, such as high-end restrooms, E85 motor fuels, a conveyor tunnel car wash and an adjacent pet wash.

When we opened, the local paper came out and did a piece on the store, Willkomm said. The only thing they wanted to look at is the pet wash. Gratefully, they did put a nice picture of a customer washing dog on the front page. It's being used 30% of the time, so it's exceeding all of our expectations. Basically, we don't have a lot of competition for it, which is the business I like to be in.

Willkomm, whose company operates three stores and supplies another 17, is looking at additional properties in Kenosha and Racine to grow the On the Run network. Also, he admits to having a string of dealers who are antsy to get going on theirs.

We have a lot going for us, he said. We just can't drop the ball.

[To read more about Willkomm Cos.' first On the Run and other small-retailer success stories, watch for the March 2007 issue of CSP Independent magazine.]

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