Nearly 50 next-generation executives representing 40 c-store chains traveled to Atlanta for an in-depth look at RaceTrac’s operations and to participate in ample networking opportunities.
By Erin Rigik, Senior Editor
The National Advisory Group (NAG) kicked off its third annual Young Executives Organization (YEO) roundtable on April 27 in Atlanta.
RaceTrac Petroleum, Convenience Store Decisions’ 2014 Convenience Store Chain of the Year award winner, hosted the two-day event for nearly 50 next-generation executives representing 40 convenience store chains across the U.S.
RaceTrac operates more than 700 stores under the RaceTrac and RaceWay banners in 12 southern states.
Attendees learned about RaceTrac’s operations; toured its test kitchen, mock convenience store and warehouse, and sampled its new made-to-order sandwiches and private label products.
“We are thrilled to welcome so many YEO members and next-generation leaders to our third annual YEO roundtable,” said John Lofstock, NAG executive director and editor-in-chief of Convenience Store Decisions. “This level of engagement demonstrates your commitment to providing outstanding leadership and further underscores the role next-generation leaders will play in the future of our industry.”
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. The warehouse at the regional center is the third facility the company uses to mock up c-stores. Walls set on casters can expand to fit any footprint required to test new equipment.
RaceTrac Chef Bob Derian walked young executives through the company’s food offering, including the category’s evolution at RaceTrac.
“When I got here seven years ago, our food program was based on cheap food, cheap prices—a fuel margin mentality,” Derian said. “We had to commit to changing the quality.”
Increasing food safety practices was a big part of the shift, as was adding fresh foods. About three years ago, RaceTrac launched its Speedy Avocado burrito business. In May, it launched another made-to-order program, which focuses on portable, customized foodservice items outside of the Southwest genre.
INNOVATION ON THE GO
Bart Stransky, executive director of merchandising for RaceTrac and a YEO board member, offered attendees an overview of the company’s merchandising initiatives, including the chain’s successful private label program.
Melanie Isbill, executive director of marketing, outlined the chain’s marketing direction and strategic initiatives, including its loyalty program via a new rewards app that launched in April.
On the second day of the conference attendees received a guided tour of two local RaceTrac locations—a 6,000-square-foot model and a 5,400-square-foot model—to get a firsthand look at some of the initiatives discussed during the first day of the conference.
As RaceTrac embarks on an aggressive remodel of its legacy stores, all of its c-stores will begin to incorporate many of the features seen in the 6,000-square-foot locations, such as fresh biscuits instead of frozen, a fresh toppings bar to accompany the roller grill and an expanded iced tea selection. All stores will also carry the Swirl World frozen yogurt program.
Attendees ordered Speedy Avocado burritos via touchscreen and ate in the outdoor seating area at the 5,400-square-foot store. RaceTrac currently features the Speedy Avocado program at six locations.
At the 6,000-square-foot store, high ceilings and eye-catching graphics and signage greeted guests, including visuals of produce on the ceilings.
“I really liked the high ceilings at the (6,000-square-foot) location. It makes the store feel more open and spacious,” said Andrew McIntosh, director of sales and marketing for McIntosh Energy, based in Fort Wayne, Ind. “And, I liked the produce photos on the ceiling as you walk in because it really advertises a healthy lifestyle and fits with the new made-to-order sandwiches that the chain is launching that are fresh and healthy.”
McIntosh was also impressed that distribution factored directly into the store’s design. For example, beer deliveries can be made directly inside the cooler via a back door without setting foot inside the store, eliminating the chance of disturbing customers on the main floor.
TYING IT TOGETHER
One thing that YEO participants found to be on display at all the locations they visited was continuity.
“The most interesting thing for me was how organized the back rooms are and that they planogram all back room space,” said Dimitri Olympidis, director of marketing and central enterprises for Family Express Corp., which hosted the YEO Roundtable in 2015. “That must lend itself to consistencies from one store to the next. From a marketing perspective, RaceTrac’s commitment to its newly launched loyalty app really shows in the way they market it from the pumptoppers to signage at the store entrances and throughout the store.”
The c-store’s signature offerings and innovations also piqued attention.
“For me, the internal graphics and signage were impressive and different from what we usually see in a typical c-store and almost more like a grocery store with the images of fresh produce,” said Sharif Jamal, corporate training manager for Chestnut Petroleum. “I also liked seeing the hot tamales on the roller grill—I’ve never seen those on a roller grill before.”
In addition to learning about RaceTrac, attendees had opportunities to network with their peers.
“It is beneficial to see what industry leaders are doing and get new ideas to take back, and to network with our peers from different areas,” said Dana Moloney, food service director for Warrenton Oil Co., and a member of the YEO Board of Directors.
“The NAG YEO is an unmatched opportunity to share ideas and experiences with young industry peers and to learn from the best and brightest in the industry,” said Jared Sturtevant, YEO board chairman and supervisor of digital marketing for CST Brands Inc.
YEO will meet again at the National Advisory Group (NAG) Conference this September in Savannah, Ga. For more information or to view the NAG Conference agenda, visit www.nagconvenience.com. To join YEO or NAG, contact NAG Executive Director John Lofstock at [email protected], and stay tuned for details on the fourth annual YEO roundtable in April 2017.