CST Brands: Turning a Corner

As CEO of Valero spinoff, Bowers brings fresh energy to new retail brand

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

Article Preview: 

In 2006, according to Tony Bartys, senior vice president and COO for CST, Klesse dispatched several executives to a California Valero jobber who had been building 10,000-square-foot stores. While Bartys and his group decided that the rural concept wouldn’t fly in many of Valero’s markets, they developed a 5,600-square-foot plan, with food being 40% of the offer.

In addition to roller grills, the company started the kolache program, which evolved from a sweet snack into a savory one. It also paved the way for a series of kitchen layouts and in-store, made-to-order concepts that continue to evolve today.

Yet despite the headway, retail would never garner the necessary attention while tucked inside a refining-first culture. About six years ago, Klesse set in motion plans to operate retail as a separate entity within the company. Adams recalls how the retail department paid for legal, financial and corporate services, even though it was still a part of Valero.

“We did it so that we could have our own balance sheet and income statement to prove our potential,” Adams recalls. “Then [in 2012], we started the process to see what was the most viable way to break the company apart.”

Bringing Down the Wall

For all the fanfare that accompanied her taking on CST, Bowers did not ignite her first weeks as top executive with highfalutin retail fireworks. Her first   step was the proverbial blocking and tackling: developing an administrative infrastructure for the new company and injecting new talent in the areas of finance, accounting and technology.

Foundationally stronger, CST is now focusing on growth, maximizing existing assets, expanding market strongholds with larger formats and, just as important, emblazoning a distinctive brand cachet that separates itself from the more formal Valero profile.

To this end, when the company officially went public last May, Bowers instituted a more informal dress code of jeans and a company shirt, throwing in the option of men having facial hair. (It had been deemed against corporate values because workers at Valero’s refineries had not been allowed facial hair for safety reasons.)

Bowers wanted to demonstrate a clean break. So although CST’s offices share the same campus as Valero, Bowers wanted the vibe at CST to be more relaxed, from opening up the offices to allow more fluid brainstorming to casual attire.

“And I like wearing jeans, so it was also self-serving,” she says.

To unify this burgeoning culture, she mandated “Corner Store Time,” a required two days of work at the stores annually for all administrative employees (five for leadership staff), with bonuses tied to their completion. And in the fashion of retailer Nordstrom, she also holds entire departments accountable. If one person doesn’t do their time, no one gets their bonuses, initiating a sense of group responsibility.

The plan has helped open up discussions from the top down, allowing even entry-level cashiers access to top-level brass.

Bowers is also reviewing store-level incentives, recognition and community activities, both creating and initiating new ideas to help folks connect at all levels.

It’s a way of creating the kind of culture needed at Corner Stores, especially those without the space for expanded   foodservice or in areas that compete with top-notch retailers.

“The challenge is corner by corner vs. store format,” she says. “As long as we continue to give great customer service [we can compete], even if we’re not in the bright, shiny boxes.”

Food Future

After spending time in the world of restaurants and in the galley of a naval ship, Richard Poye now walks the aisle of c-stores with fresh eyes.

As CST’s new foodservice director, Poye was spending his first weeks on the job when he talked to CSP, taking mental note of existing facilities, processes and products.

“How do you come into existing stores and develop concepts that can work with the infrastructure of that store?” he says. “It’s a challenge, but it’s not impossible.”


Click here to download full article