Morhous: RaceTrac to 'Lean Deeply Into Drive-Thrus'

C-store chain using drive-thru, walk-up, mobile ordering to better serve customers during pandemic
Photograph: Shutterstock

ATLANTA —RaceTrac Petroleum is always trying to meet consumers where they want to be met, President Natalie Morhous said. And amid the COVID-19 pandemic, that place may be at a drive-thru window.

Natalie Morhous

Morhous spoke with CSP’s Mitch Morrison, vice president of retailer relations, in a Talks From the Top conversation for the new Outlook Leadership Community.

The Atlanta-based company—which has more than 500 RaceTrac stores in the South and recently entered the Nashville, Tenn. market—had one drive-thru location that opened in September. The sales there have steadily increased throughout the pandemic, Morhous said.

“One of the decisions we've made as a leadership team is that we plan to lean more deeply into drive-thrus as a part of our future and give guests who may not want to come inside an alternative way to shop the inside of the store,” she said.

That’s not the only change the company is making. At the start of the pandemic, it launched mobile ordering for the first time. RaceTrac also started using walk-up windows more, improved its rewards program and made plans to expand self-checkout stations, Morhous said.

RaceTrac launched its mobile ordering program in April so customers could practice social distancing, she said. Since then, it has continued to improve and expand. While the program is still new, RaceTrac will look to see if people are using it to order more grocery items and larger family-sized items, or if they’re using it to increase their speed of service, Morhous said.

Another socially distant way to shop or pick up an order at RaceTrac is through a walk-up window.

Some RaceTrac stores had a window that, prior to the pandemic, was used by guests overnight when store doors were locked and only one or two employees were working. That window was re-purposed so RaceTrac employees can serve guests there at all times, whether they order on the website, mobile app or just walk up to the window, Morhous said.

The company also boosted its rewards program to allow customers to redeem points on fuel, in addition to in-store points.

“[Our hope is] to take perhaps guests who were more strictly gasoline guests previously and maybe high gas users and allow them to earn points that will draw them to the inside and convert them to being not just gas users, but inside guests as well,” Morhous said.

While the pandemic has brought about permanent changes to the chain, some Morhous doesn’t expect to stick. Social distancing markers, for example, will likely only be temporary, as will enhanced cleaning measures that take place nightly when stores close for an hour.

“We take a lot of pride in our typical cleaning standards, but we've taken those up to an even higher level and instead of operating 24/7 like we always have, we're operating 23/7 right now because of the pandemic and in an effort to be especially safe and clean for our guests and also for our employees,” Morhous said. “Again, those are things that I don't envision having to be the case in the long term, once the pandemic subsides.”

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