In 1958, the co-founder of QuikTrip set out to exercise his entrepreneurial spirit. A half-century later, he had helped convert the convenience store industry from a gas station culture to a trusted retail enterprise.
By David Bennett, Senior Editor
An entrepreneur who over his career gained much success putting forth a business ideology that focused on customer satisfaction, Chester Cadieux, co-founder of Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip Corp., created a retail model that is often cited, but hardly ever duplicated.
Many c-stores have tried. Some have even gotten it.
A clean store with friendly clerks has been QuikTrip’s long-standing creed, which in turn has spurred a loyal customer base stretching over 720 locations in 11 states. Cadieux, who made it seem simple, died last month at 84.
“Chester Cadieux will best be remembered for significantly raising the convenience store bar of excellence greater than any other leader at the time and he did so by instilling among his store staff leaders the importance of a positive customer experience each and every time a customer came into the store,” said Bob Meyers, president and CEO of Casey’s General Stores.
Those that knew him said that a winning personality was just one of the qualities that Cadieux possessed that helped drive success at QuikTrip.
“I’ve known Chester since my earliest days in this industry, and even as competitors, we always shared the connection of being part of, and leading, family-owned businesses,” said Kyle Krause, president and CEO of Kum & Go. “He was always warm, kind and helpful and generous with his advice, especially when I was a young leader. He will be missed.”
Recently, the company was named to Fortune’s Best Places to Work list for the 14th straight year. The January 2016 version of the rankings placed QuikTrip at No. 21, ninth among companies classified as “mid-size.” QuikTrip also ranked 30th on Forbes magazine’s list of largest private companies in 2015.
Born and raised in Tulsa, Cadieux and schoolmate Burt Holmes opened a modest store in a small Tulsa strip mall in 1958, a few years after Cadieux graduated from the University of Oklahoma. The capital investment was somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000.
QuikTrip didn’t immediately take off; not until Cadieux weighed what other convenience stores were doing—essentially trying to wring as much profit from a limited inventory as possible—choosing instead to provide customers more value by making certain items more affordable. First he narrowed his focus to quantity items: beer, soda, cigarettes, coffee, candy and later, gas.
According to Booz, Allen & Hamilton data cited by Forbes, by the end of 1999, a typical QuikTrip store sold $2 million of merchandise compared to industry leader 7-Eleven store, which sold and average of $955,000 in merchandise.
Cadieux recognized that store employees were the heart of the organization and developed programs to recognize and develop a productive workforce. As a result, employee turnover is significantly lower at QuikTrip than most convenience store chains.
In addition to the prominent presence he was in the c-store industry, Cadieux was recognized as an important figure in his community too. Among his honors, Cadieux was a member of University of Tulsa’s Business Hall of Fame, the Tulsa Hall of Fame and Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
On QuikTrip’s main campus, reminders of Cadiuex’s influence and winning personality will remain as the company goes forward.
“Chester’s vision, keen wit, insistence on fairness and marvelous ability to mentor people will never be forgotten,” QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said in a prepared statement. “He humbly professed to be ‘luckier than smart,’ and over half a century Chester grew a small neighborhood convenience store into a company that is consistently recognized as one of the nation’s best places to work. … His greatest love was for his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by Chester’s extraordinary gifts.”