Young executives get a close up look at RaceTrac’s facility and initiatives.
The National Advisory Group (NAG) kicked off its third annual Young Executives Organization (YEO) roundtable on April 27 in Atlanta.
This year’s two-day roundtable event is being hosted by Atlanta-based RaceTrac Petroleum, which operates more than 700 locations, both company-owned RaceTrac stores and third-party contract operated stores under the RaceTrac and RaceWay brands in 12 Southern states.
Attendees had the chance to learn first hand about RaceTrac’s operations, including a tour of its test kitchen and mock convenience store and warehouse, and a chance to sample its new made-to-order sandwiches and private label products. Attendees also had the opportunity to network with other YEO members, many of whom are facing similar challenges as young executives.
“We are thrilled to welcome 50 YEO members and next generation leaders to our third YEO roundtable. The engagement shows the role these leaders will play in the future of our industry,” said John Lofstock, NAG executive director and editor-in-chief of Convenience Store Decisions as he addressed attendees.
Attendees met at RaceTrac’s Georgia Regional Center, which serves the 90 stores in the Atlanta region and includes a 3,000 square-foot test kitchen where RaceTrac tests food, food safety and every piece of equipment that ends up in a RaceTrac store.
Chef Bob Derian walked the young executives through the company’s food offering, including the evolution of the food program at RaceTrac.
“When I got here seven years ago, our food program was based on cheap food, cheap prices—a fuel margin mentality. That impacted quality….We went through a process of saying ‘how can we become a destination for food?’ People will pay more if you give them more, if you give them value,” Derian noted. “We had to commit to changing the quality.”
Increasing food safety practices was a big part of the shift. Currently, the company now has three people per store who are certified in food safety.
Over the years, RaceTrac tested expanding its roller grill offering, adding fresh foods and increasing limited time offers, working closely with vendors.
About 2.5 years ago, the company launched its Speedy Avocado burrito business.
“We had always been grab-and-go. Now this was made to order,” Derian said. The company currently features the program in six stores that use touchscreen ordering.
The program, however, wasn’t scalable for all stores, especially those with a small footprint. So RaceTrac began developing a pizza program, focused on the best, highest quality ingredients, including self-rising dough, fresh-packed sauce and high-quality Mozzarella. The chain also worked to improve its breakfast offering.
Today, the chain is set to launch a made-to-order deli program, which will include eight signature sandwiches, and the ability for customers to customize their own sandwich. “We’re baking the bread in store so people can smell and see what is going on,” Derian said.
The program is set to launching next month in the first location. Employees are currently being trained on the new offering in the test kitchen where RaceTrac also tests every piece of equipment. The warehouse at the Georgia location is the third the company has used to mock up stores. Walls set on casters can expand to fit the footprint of whatever size store the chain is experimenting with. The company has even been known to bring in an equipment company and ingredient company to brainstorm how to achieve a desired food product result.
With so many different store footprints using various types of equipment, RaceTrac is able to use its warehouse and test kitchen to ensure that what it puts out to its fleet will have the quality at all its locations.
Bart Stransky, executive director of merchandising for RaceTrac, walked attendees through an overview of the merchandising department at RaceTrac and its various initiatives, including the chain’s successful private label program.
In 2015 alone it added several new private label products, including eight chips SKUs, two wine SKUs and electrolyte water.
The chain’s 24-packs of RaceTrac water are its No. 1 McLane item, not including tobacco. Considering all RaceTrac water product lines, it sold more than one million gallons in 2015.
The chain is currently undergoing a massive remodel program through the end of 2018, updating old locations and converting locations over to its 6,000 square-foot model. As stores are remodeled, RaceTrac is adding the infrastructure needed to potentially add the made-to-order program in the future.
In his overview of RaceTrac’s foodservice direction and the chain’s upcoming plans, Steve Turner, director of food and dispensed beverage, noted that grab and go will continue to be strong for the chain even as it expands into made-to-order food. RaceTrac continues to look for ways to cross utilize ingredients between its food programs; for example, using sauce and cheese from its pizza program in its meatball subs; and ice cream and toppings from its Swirl World frozen yogurt concept to also create milkshakes.
RaceTrac is also innovating on the technical front as well. Melanie Isbill, executive director of marketing, spoke on the chain’s marketing direction and initiatives, including its new loyalty program via a new rewards app. The program and app, which launched this month, look to reward loyal guests as well as eventually provide a better understanding of the customer at a personal level and allow the chain to leverage that data into more specific targeting of customers. The app includes tiers of points based on frequency of purchases that can be redeemed for beverages and other items, and also offers coupons—all based in the app. The discounts available are automatically given when customers scan their loyalty app barcode at checkout.
Attendees wrapped up the first day of the conference with a dinner and networking event at McCray’s restaurant and are set to embark on guided tours of local RaceTrac convenience store locations in the morning.