The Wisconsin convenience store company is feeling pretty good after adding four new c-stores, but the deal to acquire O’Connor’s jobber operations creates a host of opportunities.
By Erin Rigik, Senior Editor
Mad Max Convenience Stores is set for an aggressive expansion. This fall it purchased the assets of O’Connor Oil Co., growing its footprint from six convenience stores in Wisconsin to 10 c-stores and a truck stop—plus a trucking division and a wholesale gas jobbership. Indoors, the company is also expanding its barista coffee program and Max’s Café foodservice offering, as well as adding two drive-throughs and three Burger Kings.
Mad Max started in 2000 with one location in Fond du Lac, Wis. In 2007 the company opened its second store in Sheboygan, Wis.
“That’s when we took off,” said Janiece Maxwell, chief financial officer for Mad Max. In the following years, Mad Max grew to six convenience stores and three car washes, offering CITGO gasoline.
The decision to commit to its recent acquisition of O’Connor Oil Co. was an easy one.
“The time was right because we’ve been looking for a jobbership for sale for a while,” said Maxwell.
The two companies have been familiar with each other for some time, though O’Connor Oil had deeper ties to the community having been in business since 1921.
“Once we learned they wanted to sell we let them know we were interested,” Maxwell said. “We’re excited about the acquisition and how it will propel us forward and help us further grow our brand in Wisconsin.”
The acquisition significantly grows the chain’s footprint in Wisconsin—with the acquisition, the chain has two locations in Port Washington, three in West Bend, one in Sheboygan, three in Fond du Lac and one in OshKosh.
At its existing stores, Mad Max features a Max’s Café that offers a coffee program as well as hot and cold sandwiches—both made-to-order and prepared grab and go.
The program is receiving a new look complete with updated packaging and labeling.
“We do cold sandwiches, subs and wraps, hamburgers and chicken burritos. The chicken is cooked in a crock pot for an hour, and it’s really good,” Maxwell said. “Since we offer both made-to-order and prepared foods, customers can grab something quick or stick around and have something prepared the way they want it.”
Stores also feature self-serve condiment bars with options such as sautéed onions, lettuce and sauerkraut to further customize prepared foods.
Of the four newly-acquired stores, all but one will feature the Max’s Café foodservice program.
In addition, two of the newly-acquired stores will receive a complete raze and rebuild, while another will receive an internal facelift in order to accommodate the foodservice section.
Last year, Mad Max piloted a barista coffee program at its Port Washington, Wis., store offering “coffeehouse coffee” for a lower cost to compete with Starbucks and other coffee houses. The idea came from Maxwell’s son, who had worked for Starbucks.
“Our goal has been to make our stores a one-stop shop with food, coffee, snacks, etc. To do that, we brought some people over from Starbucks, and we have trained actual baristas that can prepare lattes,” Maxwell said. “When you add in a much larger selection of gourmet foods and sandwiches, as well as everything else you find in a convenience store, we can satisfy a wide variety of on-the-go customers.”
Once the program proved successful, Mad Max took its service center one step farther by adding a drive-through—the first is being added to one of the newly-acquired stores in West Bend, Wis., which is being rebuilt and will open in June.
The second drive-through will open in the fall in Port Washington and will also offer a coffee barista program. From there Mad Max aims to roll the baristas out to more locations.
Another of the new locations is a truck stop that already has a Stretch Restaurant attached to it, but Mad Max plans to add foodservice to the convenience retail side. “Not everyone wants to sit down and have a full meal. So we’re going to bring our sandwiches and grab-and-go product line to the truck stop for people who want to be on their way quickly,” Maxwell said.
For sites that can’t accommodate a Max’s Café, Mad Max has committed to adding three Burger Kings. The first will open in the spring of 2015.
Committed to Employees
Mad Max empowers its employees and, in return, the company is rewarded with a low turnover rate, an engaged staff and new ideas.
“Everyone in our corporate office has moved up from cashier, so our whole office used to be cashiers who went on to graduate with finance degrees and marketing degrees and so on. Everyone on the management team has been brought up through the company as well,” Maxwell said.
The benefit is a knowledgeable staff.“When you’ve worked at a store at the cashier level and you’ve worked your way up to manager, you know everything about the store, so it helps you solve problems more quickly, and you understand the difficulties that can arise,” Maxwell said. “Also, the fact that we pay well—our cashiers make, on average, $9.25 an hour—makes a better cashier. We also have cashiers that make $12 an hour. In addition to being paid well they see a future opportunity to move up into management.”
Ownership in the company is a big plus for employees because Mad Max encourages new ideas and helps employees with entrepreneurial projects.
For example, when Mad Max was looking to bring in someone to head its foodservice division last year, it hired a former retail general manager who had worked with the convenience store chain as a seasonal employee.
The worker had an interest in running her own QSR franchise. Using a lease-to-own agreement, Mad Max is opening three Burger King locations—and she’ll lease one of the Burger Kings, while paying money toward the franchise until she owns it in full.
In another example, an employee wanted to start a pay-as-you-go cell phone business. Mad Max allowed him to set up a display in one of its stores.
Now that the program has taken off with customers and is actually driving traffic to the store, Mad Max is building kiosks to house his cell phone business and adding it to additional locations.
It helps that 90% of Mad Max employees are college students. During the interview process, Mad Max asks what a prospective employee’s goals are and works to help him succeed. For example, a photography major who was hired as a cashier is also making extra money doing photography work for the company, a journalism major that works for the company crafts press releases and a video major is creating training videos.
Likewise, employees who are budding entrepreneurs and want to feature their new product in a convenience store, or lease a Mad Max retail business, can pitch their idea to the company for consideration.
Mad Max is committed to growing its new jobbership from the ground up as well as growing its footprint of company-operated stores.
“Our goal is to expand to 40 corporate stores,” said Maxwell. “With this acquisition, we’ll do about $100 million in sales next year, and we want to grow that to $500 million.”