LAS VEGAS — Steve Loehr, Kwik Trip’s vice president of operations and the 2014-2015 NACS chairman of the board, kicked off his NACS Show general session speech in similar fashion to his 2014 general session—with a moving story about how Kwik Trip is truly making a difference in the lives of its customers.
An elderly man came to one of the La Crosse, Wis.-based retailers many convenience stores, asking a clerk to show him how to pump his gas, check his oil and check the air in his tires—later revealing that he knew how to handle all of these tasks, but was there because he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and was worried about his wife.
“I came here to see if what they say about Kwik Trip is true: that you really care about your customers,” Loehr recounted. “I want to make sure there’s somewhere my wife can go when I’m gone.”
Loehr hears stories like this all the time, giving all the credit to Kwik Trip’s store-level employees.
“Great team members allow great things to happen at our stores,” he said. “Kwik Trip’s success comes down to hiring great people and giving them the tools they need to succeed.”
For Kwik Trip, those tools have included sharing 40% of pre-tax profits with its employees and paying well above the industry average. As a result, turnover is exceptionally low and competition for new jobs is tougher than getting into Harvard. In 2015, Kwik Trip had 175,000 applications for 2,500 new positions. That’s an acceptance rate of 1.4% (versus Harvard’s 5.3% acceptance rate in 2015).
“Good thing I was hired 25 years ago,” Loehr joked.
After becoming the first convenience store ever to join the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) in 2014, Loehr not surprisingly brought up the need for retailers like Kwik Trip to adjust to truly meet the needs of their consumers.
“Convenience means choice: we offer options at our stores,” he said. “Today, customers are increasingly looking for healthier options.”
In fact, the PHA reports 75% of convenience-store shoppers say they are eating healthier today than they were a year ago. Branding itself as a destination for healthy options has worked in Kwik Trip’s favor. So much so that the retailer has now signed onto PHA’s Drink Up program, which encourages people to drink more water, more frequently.
“We are seeing benefits to both our brand and our bottom line,” Loehr said, praising retailers like Sheetz, Vintners Distributors, TriStar and U-Gas for signing on with PHA.
“My focus today is how people make the difference at Kwik Trip—people also make the difference at NACS,” Loehr concluded. “I can think of no other industry that shares as much, that works as hard, to make each other better. And, ultimately make the communities that we serve better.”