By John Lofstock, Editor
RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. has long been regarded as one of the fiercest competitors in the convenience store and petroleum industry. It has a long, proud history that dates back 80 years.
But about a decade ago, RaceTrac Petroleum decided it wanted to be something more. It wanted to be an employer of choice to attract great team members, it wanted to be respected by the communities it serves for its commitment to convenience retailing and, most importantly, it wanted to be considered among the best retailers in the convenience store and petroleum industry.
The company has accomplished all of these goals and so much more, that’s why Convenience Store Decisions is proud to honor RaceTrac Petroleum as the 2014 Convenience Store Chain of the Year.
“While this is a tremendous honor for the company, it’s important for us to recognize that is was our people who made it possible,” said Carl Bolch Jr., the influential chairman of RaceTrac who succeeded his father, Carl Bolch Sr., as chief executive officer of the family company in 1967. “We have a wonderful group of team members that helped put our retail strategy together and we continue to change and improve. Evolving is an important part of the business today and it’s very exciting to embrace new growth and new opportunities.”
The ability to adapt and change with the times is a RaceTrac hallmark and registered in the Bolch family’s DNA. For example, in December 2012, Carl passed the CEO title to his daughter, Allison Moran, while remaining chairman of the board, marking the company’s third generation of family-owned leadership.
Two other members of the Bolch family currently work for RaceTrac, including Melanie Bolch Isbill as director of brand communications and Natalie Bolch Morhous, the director of strategy and development. Plus, Carl’s wife Susan and son Jordan serve on the company’s board of directors.
“From the very time my dad first bought this business, change has always been a part of the lives of all the Bolchs. We were always looking to grow, looking for new opportunities,” Bolch said. “As soon as my dad took control of the company, he got to work on 100 installations in rural Alabama to grow our fuel volume. By the time I came into the business, he had doubled the volume, so we love change. Improving, to me, is the most rewarding thing you can have when you run a business. It’s the part you enjoy the most.”
Changes have been fast and furious through the years. The company grew from 12 stores in 1934 to 680 combined stores, including more than 370-company owned sites and more than 300 contractor-operated RaceWay units. RaceTrac is the third-largest privately-owned company in Georgia and No. 39 in the entire country.
In 2013, RaceTrac had sales of $9.1 billion, which translates to serving a guest—on average—every 10 seconds.
Still, in 2001, the company reached a crossroads, where it recognized the industry was changing. This led to a sharpened focus on team members and growing the foodservice business. The move was a stroke of brilliance, strengthening the brand, increasing consumer and team member loyalty and boosting store revenues.
Specifically, Moran credits the company’s renewed commitment to team members as the tipping point. Prior to 2001, turnover was not a priority for the company leading to a whopping 286% turnover. The average store manager stayed a measly 38 days. Still, the business was highly profitable. But as Moran began to look over operations, she realized there were quite a bit of untapped opportunities.
Both Moran and Bolch reiterated the concept that the marketplace is your teacher. They began to notice a dramatic shift in the industry where transaction-based shoppers who craved cigarettes and beer now wanted an experience and more choices for a quick snack. A savvier version of the convenience store gave people a reason to come inside and engage with the brand. These were all great changes for the industry. The company had to ask some hard questions such as, “Who did we want to be?” and “How will we compete?”
It was at this time that the company discovered the missing element to propel it forward: its people.
So in 2001, RaceTrac put its core values to paper. “Our values defined who we are and how we work: honestly, efficiency, positive attitude, respect, teamwork,” Moran said. “We knew there was a better way—the RaceTrac Way, which meant developing a culture of strong performers with a warrior’s passion and a humble attitude that live for fun every day.”
These core values are posted in stores, at the store support center, in the lobby and referenced in every meeting and every decision made at the company.
Providing leadership for these changes came naturally to Moran, who started with the company as the training coordinator 20 years ago and essentially created every component of the training department, right down to the employee manual.
“From my perspective, not being entrenched in the business at that point gave me a unique opportunity to add a fresh perspective to the company. I would watch new stores being built and the continuous acquisition of real estate and couldn’t help but notice that our team members could barely do what needed to be done to be a great retailer,” Moran said. “I understood the challenges that our store teams faced so it became a priority to provide them the tools they needed to do their jobs effectively.”
This also affected district managers and supervisors, all of whom Moran said were not in a position to support stores and provide leadership because they were constantly responding to problems and putting out fires elsewhere.
“What drove me in those early years was not only getting our team members the tools they needed, but showing them that we were going to invest in them and help them succeed,” Moran said. “It was not an easy process. There was no way to slow down that turnover, so we really had to take a pause from other things and focus on our internal infrastructure. ”
The company invested in training and set a vision of what it believed it could be. RaceTrac went from 95 hours in training back in 2000, with a focus on inventory and a goal of selling more gas, to today’s 570 hours of training with a focus on people and guests, and with the goal of being the convenience store of choice. A business re-alignment, from a traditional model to a more collaborative model, helped enhance the vision.
The Herculean effort to put these recruiting, training and retention programs in place has paid tremendous dividends.
Moran said that by “investing in our people, our people began to invest in us.” As a result, that tenure number of 38 days for the store manager has now become an impressive 1,915 days.
Still, just having a solid training program in place is no guarantee of success. The company vowed to also hold people accountable for their performance.
“Our message to team members was pretty clear. We wanted them to understand that we would provide the tools necessary for them to succeed, but now there was a new standard of measuring their performance and holding them accountable so that everyone understands the level of professionalism we were expecting from them,” Moran said. “In essence, we were able to transition internally from a culture that was very results-oriented to one where we maintained an eye on results, but added a new emphasis on how we were achieving those results.”
While quite a bit of attention is paid to team members, a keen focus remains on offering an unsurpassed convenience store offering. RaceTrac’s 6,800 team members continually aim to deliver a “wow” retail shopping experience.
Emphasizing employees and ramping up foodservice operations has seen revenue grow 80% per store in five years.
As consumer demand for faster transactions and convenient retail solutions has reached an all-time high, RaceTrac responded by introducing its largest retail prototype to date. The company in late 2012 debuted its new retail format in Acworth, Ga.
The new store design stands at about 6,000 square feet. RaceTrac President Max Lenker said RaceTrac worked on the project for “six to eight years.”
The new store looks to invite guests to stay a while and visit—like old country stores from yesteryear. To help encourage guests to hang around, RaceTrac added more seating, digital screens, free Wi-Fi service and in-store music. Other features include a coffee bar, 12 fresh-brewed teas, 24 frozen beverage flavors, 10-flavors of frozen yogurt with some 40 toppings and a walk-in beer cooler.
“We have been looking to make our stores more friendly to our guests,” said Lenker, a close Bolch family confidant, who will retire Dec. 31 after more than 40 years with RaceTrac. “We have worked hard on the interior. We have always had a great gas design. But we have improved our food offers and the quality of everything in the store. Guests have a reason other than gasoline to come and see us.”
All of the company’s stores going forward will be this format, Lenker added. “We are looking at our old stores to see how we can remodel them to be similar. Lots of times we are constrained by real estate or parking,” Lenker said.
Part of the redesign was recognizing that guests crave convenience and that c-stores have the capacity to offer so much more.
“We are well beyond the days of narrowing our offering to gasoline, cigarettes and beer,” Moran said. “As we saw demand soar for a wider variety of consumables, we realized our retail offering could be redefined not by our history, but by the needs of our guests. Naturally, things like beer and cigarettes are retail mainstays, but new guests now think of us when they are headed for lunch or looking to bring dinner home to their families. Providing a great, upscale offering has helped us evolve organically out of that stigma of being just another convenience store to be much more of a sought after experience, especially when you’re hungry or thirsty or just want a treat.”
Billy Milam, RaceTrac’s chief operating officer, has been with the company for 18 years, previously as senior vice president of store development. He marveled at how far the company has come and looks forward to driving retail innovations in the future.
“A lot of companies talk about their people being their competitive advantage, but our commitment to our people has put us on a course where we feel we can accomplish anything,” Milam said. “Ten years ago, I’m not sure at the core that we truly believed we could get to this point, but we made it our focus and created a special work environment where we not only have outstanding people, but we have outstanding people that want to be a part of our team, and I think that’s what we are most proud of internally.”
In fact, Milam added, it’s statistically harder to get a job at RaceTrac than it is to get into Harvard. Take that, Al Gore.
Along with the responsibility of being an outstanding retailer, RaceTrac feels a sense of urgency to also be an outstanding corporate citizen. This has led to the company donating more than $1 million to numerous local and national charities, some of which affect the company in very personal ways.
RaceTrac’s commitment to Camp Sunshine has seen the company raise more than $200,000 in the last 3 years alone. The relationship stems back more than 30 years.
This past July, RaceTrac announced that its cumulative contributions to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research had exceeded $1 million.
RaceTrac first partnered with the foundation in 2010 to help raise funds toward Parkinson’s research, establishing its
“Coffee for a Cause” promotion during April—National Parkinson’s Awareness Month. For one week during April, proceeds from all coffee purchases are donated to the Foundation.
Building on the success of these promotions, the first RaceTrac’s Run for Research 5K Fun Run in Atlanta was held in 2011. After three successful years, the company saw the opportunity to grow the event and held its inaugural run in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in 2014.
Carl Bolch, Jr., was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2007 and he currently sits on the Foundation’s 25-member Patient Council. His father and another family member also had the disease. Bolch said that it’s very important to him personally to be involved with the work being done by these charities, not just because it makes him feel good, but because he is involved to find cures.
That comes as no surprise to those that have met Carl, Allison and the RaceTrac team.
RaceTrac Petroleum At A Glance:
RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. was founded by Carl Bolch Sr. in 1934 in St. Louis, with his first stores operating under the name Carl Bolch Trackside Stations. In 1959, Bolch relocated and acquired the Oil Well Company in Alabama, which consisted of numerous independent outlets across Alabama.
Carl Bolch Jr., joined the company in Montgomery, Ala. in 1967. After pioneering the concept of self-service gasoline in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, the company relocated its store support center to Atlanta in 1976 and adopted the “RaceTrac” brand for its company-operated stations. RaceWay continues to be the company’s contractor-operated retail brand. Carl’s daughter, Allison Moran, took over as chief executive in 2012.
Company Headquarters: Atlanta
Stores: 375 company-operated units and more than 300 deal-operated stores under its RaceWay brand. It plans to have 700 total units by the end of the year.
Number of Employees: 6,800
Markets of Operation: Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Texas. RaceWay operates in 12 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia).
Foodservice Brands: Swirl World Frozen Yogurt, Speedy Avocado, RaceTrac Grab-and-Go sandwiches and salads.
• Carl Bolch Jr., Chairman of the Board
• Allison Moran, Chief Executive Officer
• Max Lenker, President
• Bob Dumbacher, Chief Financial Officer
• Billy Milam, Chief Operating Officer
• Max McBrayer, Chief Supply Officer
• Joe Akers, General Counsel
About the Chain of the Year Award
CSD’s Chain of the Year award annually honors a convenience store or petroleum chain that has established itself as a superior retailer and innovator in its markets of operation. CSD’s first Chain of the Year award was given to Wawa Inc. in 1990. RaceTrac Petroleum follows 2013 Chain of the Year winner Maverik Inc.
Other past winners include:
• 1990 – Wawa Inc.
• 1991 – SuperAmerica
• 1992 – QuikTrip Corp.
• 1993 – Casey’s General Stores Inc.
• 1994 – Sheetz Inc.
• 1995 – Diamond Shamrock Corp.
• 1996 – Mapco Express
• 1997 – Speedway Inc.
• 1998 – Krause Gentle Corp.
• 1999 – Dairy Mart Inc.
• 2000 – Amerada Hess Corp.
• 2001 – Huck’s Food & Fuel
• 2002 – Petro-Canada
• 2003 – Exxon Mobil Corp.
• 2004 – Kwik Trip Inc.
• 2005 – 7-Eleven Inc.
• 2006 – Valero Inc.
• 2007 – Alimentation Couche-Tard
• 2008 – Chevron Inc.
• 2009 – Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes
• 2010 – Rutter’s Farm Stores
• 2011 – Thorntons Inc.
• 2012 – Tedeschi Food Shops
• 2013 – Maverik Inc.