With a new store design and a myriad of new company initiatives, everything is coming up roses for Stinker Stores.
By David Bennett, Senior Editor
The interactive LED display boards now being erected outside select Stinker Stores locations provide customers the latest in-store promotions, cool graphics and crisp digital messaging all at the flip of a switch. Not only is the board eye-catching, but it is designed to bolster local loyalty by giving customers data faster than the area competitors.
This is quite a leap from 70 years ago when U.S. Highway 30 was one of the few routes into Boise, Idaho. Along the highway stretching from there to the company’s origin of Twin Falls was a simpler billboard—celebrating “Fearless Farris” Lind and his string of Stinker stations.
Lind called his business “Stinker” because he took great delight in irritating his competitors by undercutting them on gas prices. When they raised a stink, the young entrepreneur began displaying the company’s skunk mascot wearing a sly grin and boxing gloves.
Stinker, now headquartered in Boise, Idaho, is as relevant today in its market as the convenience retailer was when it first sunk in its community roots in 1936.
In 2002, the Lind family chose to sell the family business to local businessman Charley Jones and longtime company employee Shawn Davis. Davis retired in 2012.
Since 2002, the company has invested in 30 acquired sites, but until 2015, hasn’t planned a new-to-industry (NTI) location in almost 11 years. The blueprints have been finalized and plans are in place that will enable the 65-store chain to become even more of a community retail player in the following decade.
The company chose a site in the city of Meridian, Idaho to construct a NTI store, which is scheduled to break ground in November and will be completed in 2016. Of the 6,000-square-foot building, 1,500 square feet will be occupied by a quick-service restaurant (QSR). Stinker’s executive team hasn’t chosen which QSR will occupy that side of the building.
What Steve Watts, Stinker’s chief operating officer, does know is that the newly-designed store is a vast departure from older Stinker locations. For one thing, it’s considerably more spacious than many legacy locations, which average about 2,000 square feet each.
“Considering 4,500 square feet of that being c-store, just the scale of it is pretty significant,” Watts said. “It will be easy to shop and easy to navigate. It will have significant holding power when you think about the selection of things like energy drinks, packaged beverages, beer, wine, the candy aisle, and there will be plenty of room without customers having to bump around into each other.”
Watts said the company didn’t shrink on materials either.
“It will have top quality finishes, furnishings, fixtures; the lighting will be very modern compared to some of the sites we’ve acquired in the past,” Watts said.
REVAMPING THE LANDSCAPE
Aside from the new Meridian project store, a refurbished 3,000-square-foot location in that historic district of Boise that Stinker remodeled this summer will serve as a template for some more modest-sized legacy locations. Some upgrades the company is considering, depending on the layout of each store, include taller coolers, a beer cave, remodeled restrooms and other interior improvements.
Regarding any and all store locations, Stinker looks at every financial decision based on the customer value it provides, Watts said.
One area that Stinker is looking to revamp at many of its locations is its foodservice program, which will emphasize fresh and healthy options.
“We will cater more toward the health-conscious crowd, so we’re upgrading our food offering to include more snacks like cheeses, fruits, vegetables, healthier sandwiches,” Watts said. “So expect our new stores and those we remodel to cater to those customer demands and those customer preferences.”
WestPoint Transportation and Arrowrock Supply are affiliated businesses owned and managed by Stinker. WestPoint hauls fuel for Stinker locations, which are spread out over 650 miles of Idaho, as well as transports petroleum products for customers in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Arrowrock Supply is a tobacco and grocery wholesale distribution company, serving Stinker and other retailers throughout Idaho. This distributor, which operates a commissary, enables Stinker to stock fresher foodservice items despite the long distance between many stores.
Though logistics plays a critical role in the company’s strategic plans, Stinker places even more emphasis on fielding a quality workforce. Sandy Bolinske, the c-store’s human resources director, said the competition for retail workers is as tight as ever in many of the Idaho areas that Stinker operates. To maintain competitiveness against other retail channels, Stinker has created a solid platform of benefits, which includes a competitive pay policy, profit sharing and strong 401(k) program.
However, employee retention still remains a top priority, and Stinker has been able to implement inventive workforce initiatives, which start at the top.
“We also make sure that our management at all levels is involved in the company, getting out of their offices and interacting with employees in the field,” Bolinske said. “This year, our owner, Charley Jones, started a campaign of “Let Charley Work for You”—with the goal to work a four-hour shift in all of our locations over the next year. This showmanship of care, getting to know the employees and our customers, and team building plays an important part of the retention of our employees.”
While Stinker continues to treat employees well, so they remain loyal, the c-store continues to give back to the communities where it operates.
Last November, Stinker customers were asked if they wanted to give to The Idaho Foodbank, eventually donating more than $34,000. Stinker’s Jones matched donations with an extra $20,000, which totaled together provided food for 216,440 meals. Stinker is also a major sponsor—through fuel donations—of the Foodbank’s Grocery Alliance Program.
Stinker is always looking at geographic areas where the c-store doesn’t operate, but could. Watts said it’s a constant process for the c-store. Though Idaho offers a lot of geographic opportunities, the company is also looking to expand outside of Idaho, perhaps in Washington, where the company has already scouted potential sites to grow. Still, such a decision will have to make sense for the company and its customers.
For now, Stinker works on improving all of its operating components, one at a time.
“I don’t know that you ever finish,” Watts said. “I think the really successful operators continue to improve and operate and that’s an area that we’re focused on right now.”