Sheetz Debitz: It's a Loyalty Thing'

Chain rewards debit-card users with proprietary MasterCard program

ALTOONA, Pa. -- Sheetz Inc. has slapped its own brand of pizzazz onto a proprietary, new loyalty card program that gives consumers more incentive than ever to embrace debit for convenience purchases.

The innovative programSheetz Debitz MasterCardprovides debit-card customers with rewards similar to those harvested by heavy users of credit cards. Sheetz Debitz, which the 345-store chain launched in a test earlier this week, was created through a partnership between Sheetz and Capital One Financial Corp., McLean, Va.

The opportunity [image-nocss] presented itself and we took it, Rich Steckroth, director of business development for Sheetz, told CSP Daily News. It's a card that really rounds out our portfolio; it's not just another card. A debit card typically offers no reward, and this was a way to get the debit-card user to use a card that's unique to us and reward them for doing it.

The Sheetz Debitz card links to customers' current checking accounts, regardless of their banking institution, and allows them to earn rewards in a unique way. Rewards on purchases made at Sheetz stores, and anywhere else MasterCard is accepted, will be given in the form of Sheetz Gift Cards that can then be used for future purchases in Sheetz stores. Customers using Sheetz Debitz will earn bonus points on all purchases made in stores bearing the Sheetz logo.

What excites us about the program, Steckroth said, is that this doesn't make the customer change their buying habits or change their bank accounts, and it offers them the chance to get something for nothing for doing very little. We thought this was a great value-add that provides another piece of the pie.

Sheetz Debitz works like a standard debit MasterCard when customers make purchases in a store or on the Internet, or for use through an ATM. Steckroth said the card was not instituted as a way to counter rising credit-card fees. Sheetz also offers a MasterCard credit card that's co-branded with Chase.

It's really going to have no effect on our processing costs, he said. It's a loyalty thing. In dollar volume, plastic represents well over 60% [of transactions] industrywide, and we're no different.

He characterized the card as a test program that's open-ended at this time, during which the company can streamline the program before moving ahead with a wider rollout. Even in the program's first few days of existence, Steckroth said, Sheetz Debitz usage had indicated very positive results.

Scott Grimes, senior vice president of payments for Capital One, said in a press release that his company was excited to be partnering with a progressive company like Sheetz to design a unique debit program that builds customer loyalty and drives sales. Their reputation as an innovator combined with their customer focus presented a great formula for piloting our new approach to debit.

Established in 1952, Sheetz is one of America's fastest growing family-owned convenience-store chains, tallying more than $3.8 billion in revenue last year. The Altoona, Pa.-based company operates 345 convenience locations throughout Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

[See related story in this issue of CSP Daily News for details on Sheetz's newest location, at the Raleigh-Durham Airport.]