CHICAGO -- Most of the top brands among CSP’s Fuels 50 have some aspects in common: aggressive pricing, above-average size convenience stores and private ownership, to name a few.
“To me, the message of this is still that the private companies, Sheetz, Wawa—family companies in some cases—they’re still out way beyond what you’re getting from public companies or the brands associated with the big refiners,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis for Oil Price Information Service (OPIS), Gaithersburg, Md., which partners with CSP on the Fuels 50 ranking.
That said, the highest-ranking fuel brands also have some unique differentiators that help them reach the same goal of grabbing more gallons. What follows are three factors that top Fuels 50 brands use to their advantage.
For QuikTrip, which placed third among the Fuels 50 brands, achieving high volumes is about mastering the “the little things,” said Mike Thornbrugh, manager of public and government affairs for QuikTrip Corp., Tulsa, Okla.
“We hope that we continue to execute and be consistent with the offer,” Thornbrugh said. “What that means is being highly competitive with regard to pricing. Make it easy for customers to get on and off the lot.” QuikTrip’s fuel quality, as represented by both its guarantee and certification in the Top Tier fuel-detergent standard, also add to its appeal.
But another important aspect is that customers feel safe and secure when they visit the store. QuikTrip creates this perception partly with a focus on clean and well-maintained fuel pumps, and spotless fuel islands free from trash. QuikTrip is a perennial favorite in CSP/Intouch Insights’ mystery -hop program, where it regularly scores near the top for cleanliness.
And part of security involves payment. QuikTrip tries to have a leg up with this, too.
“One of the things we’ve done companywide now is have a program we call Pump Shield, which is our latest effort to address skimming,” Thornbrugh said. If there is any unauthorized entry of the pumps, they shut down and an alarm alerts employees.
Pump Shield, which is in place at all QuikTrip stores, has been a success in deterring and catching skimming, Thornbrugh said. “Is it fool-proof? Nothing’s foolproof,” he said. “But I don’t know anyone else who’s got the systems we do and it’s working for us.”
Mike Lorenz, executive vice president of petroleum supply for Sheetz Inc., Altoona, Pa., which ranked fourth in the 2018 Fuels 50 list, considers location and price as the biggest drivers of gallons. While location “is what it is,” Lorenz said, price offers more flexibility as a tool in a retailer’s arsenal.
And like Kum & Go, Sheetz finds opportunity in its loyalty program, MySheetz, which offers members 3 cents per gallon off fuel purchases. Customers can build up “pointz” for every dollar spent in the store and redeem them on beverages or snacks.
Despite Sheetz’s fuel prowess, it’s also not shy about experimenting with models that diversify the forecourt focus beyond gasoline—such as adding electric-vehicle charging stations—or remove gasoline altogether.
Sheetz’s fuel-free sites—Sheetz at University Place at West Virginia University and another near Indiana University of Pennsylvania—are “experimental” and provide a good opportunity to learn about the needs of its student customers, Lorenz said.
“They’re definitely different animals,” he said of the sites. “You have to operate them differently.”
The stores’ labor and product mix are different from a typical Sheetz, shaped by the unique hours of the typical college student. “We’ve got a pretty robust breakfast offer, but college students aren’t up at 8 a.m. They’re not eating breakfast. They’re eating at 1 a.m. So the whole daypart skews later,” Lorenz said.
Matt Spackman, vice president of fuels for Kum & Go LC, West Des Moines, Iowa, which ranked 12th in the 2018 Fuels 50 list, is a self-described “data guy.” This shapes his approach to overseeing the fuel business for the chain, which has more than 400 stores in 11 states.
“The fuels business is a data-driven business, and pricing especially,” Spackman said. “To me, it’s an analytics question from the get-go.”
Some of the numbers Spackman tracks include the tried-and-true gallons sold, customer count and number of transactions. “I’m also really concerned with how [that data goes] down to the different products we sell,” he said, such as the gallons for different fuel types such as E15, the 15% ethanol blend, which Kum & Go offers at around 130 sites.
Kum & Go’s &Rewards loyalty program is another powerful tool in growing the fuel business. Customers can earn points for every gallon of fuel they purchase and every dollar they spend inside the store. They can redeem the points for rewards, including fuel discounts. Or Kum & Go can tie the fuel transaction to the store. For example, a customer can earn 10 cents per gallon off a fuel purchase when they buy a whole pizza inside the store.
“The loyalty program is key, but ... when you fuel at our stores, and see the store itself, the quality of offer and products itself, that’s the main draw,” said Spackman, alluding to Kum & Go’s latest 6,200-square-foot Marketplace concept. “I don’t know if we do anything at the pump different from the competition, but when the store’s different, that’s what’s going to pull people inside.”
For more on what differentiates the top Fuels 50 brands and to see the 2018 ranking, click here.