By David Bennett, Senior Editor
Louisiana is largely the creation of the Mississippi River. As a result, the southern state has varied geography and habitats—tidal marshes, swamps and woodlands to name a few. Throw in a host of cultural dynamics and you have a true melting pot.
If diversity is the calling card of the Pelican State, then variety is one reason the convenience chain Y-Not Stop has garnered a loyal following.
From live fishing bait to car washes, from craft beers to homemade hamburgers, the offerings at the c-stores are as varied as the communities that St. Romain Oil Co., which operates 10 Y-Not Stop locations throughout central Louisiana, serves.
St. Romain Oil is a family-owned convenience and wholesale fuels company, which has been operating for three generations. The company was founded in 1970 in Mansura, La. by Edmond St. Romain. The mission of the start-up was to provide fuels and lubricants to farmers, loggers, construction machinery, riverboats, mechanical generators and service stations.
Annie Gauthier, chief financial officer and co-owner at St. Romain, along with her brothers Nicholas and Zachary St. Romain, acquired the company from their parents Todd and Sondra earlier this past summer. It wasn’t a career path that she envisioned for herself, however.
“This is what I thought I never wanted to do for a living until I started working for our state trade association in college and I fell in love with the industry,” Gauthier said.
After Hurricane Katrina, Gauthier and the Y-Not Stop team are firmly committed to the methodology of offering their customers a shopping experience built on added-value and quality service. The retailer also believes in giving back to its employees.
“Our mission is to refuel & refresh communities,” Gauthier said. “We do this with the products and services we offer and also by our commitment to our team members through great pay, a comprehensive benefits offer, training and talent development opportunities and a coaching culture.”
As merchandising sales have dipped the last few years, foodservice sales have increasingly become an important contributor to the company’s profits.
To maintain such momentum, the c-store chain has expanded its foodservice operation, including new food offers, digital-menu boards, ordering kiosks and in-store dining spaces. Six Y-Not Stop locations have seating for 20 or more people.
The company is focused on high-quality foodservice and high-quality stores. Gauthier estimates most of its stores generate foodservice sales that double the industry average—driven by its proprietary foodservice program, which includes chicken, tenders, fish, pizza, all-day breakfast and its signature Y-Notta burgers & hot sandwiches.
“In the past five years, foodservice sales have grown 51%,” Gauthier said.
Choosing to do a few things well rather than offering a vast menu, the chain offers “Fresh 5” – the top 5 of its freshly-prepared food items: chicken tenders, breakfast sandwiches, fried chicken, Y-Notta burgers and fish.
Y-Not Stop still uses pressure fryers to cook flavor into its popular chicken offerings. In fact, the company’s home-style approach has garnered a loyal following among its customers, as has its homemade burgers.
“We take great pride in our offering of freshly-prepared food,” said Amanda Austin St. Romain, marketing director. “Our Y-Notta Burgers are made by hand every day with our proprietary seasoning blend that we used to mix ourselves in Dad’s outdoor kitchen. (Now that process is outsourced). Our chicken is locally sourced and marinated for 12 hours before pressure cooking to seal in the flavor. Our family loves to cook and share good food, so it was important to us to be able to continue doing that with our community.”
St. Romain has implemented technology that allows the company to make menu changes from a central location.
“Because of these partnerships, we have a winning combination of consistent messaging across our locations,” Austin St. Romain said. “The digital-menu boards allow us to change up the menu as often as we like, along with promoting new or featured items. It’s so rewarding to hear a ‘guestomer’ at the register point and say, ‘I want one of those.’”
HEART OF LOUISIANA
The name “Y-Not Stop” was coined when a new store was built in an area known as Barber Spur, at a Y-shaped fork in the road. Since that’s what local residents called the area, the Y-Not Stop name came about and stayed.
After opening the third Y-Not Stop near Louisiana State University of Alexandria in 2011, the retailer began to focus on developing the Y-Not Stop brand and transitioning existing store locations to the new model. The new concept featured a cypress exterior, a spacious beer cave and a wide selection of unique products and snacks.
In the past few years, St. Romain has been busy rebranding the entire network of company-operated stores. In 2017, the company will raze and rebuild its last non-branded store, as well as build a new-to-industry location, which will feature its first drive-through. That store, which will be 5,500 square feet, will be in Alexandria, also.
The program will integrate the company’s app, allowing patrons to order food and other items ahead of time, as well as increase the convenience factor of the c-store considerably, Gauthier said. The store will keep a redundant inventory set of the top moving SKUs.
Paragon Solutions of Fort Worth, Texas is designing the store.
“It’s a crowded market, there,” Gauthier said. “We thought we needed to be poised to compete with the fast food guys so we would have some leverage against the c-store operators.”
Y-Not Stop uses its loyalty program to develop more customers. Specifically, the program is Shell’s Fuel Rewards Network, which uses Shell Fuel Rewards through a market basket offer, where patrons earn 10 cents per gallon off for every $25 they spend in the store on qualified items.
Social media is also an important marketing tool for the retailer.
“Our Facebook friends are always the first to know about new deals and menu items,” Austin St. Romain said. “While we do feature our freshly-prepared food, products and promotions, you’ll also find a lot of information about our community outreach efforts through our Corporate Works of Mercy foundation as well as many pictures of our team members who make it all possible.”
The company’s foundation supports various nonprofits in the communities it serves, in the spirit of its ‘refueling and refreshing’ mission. One of the charitable activities that St. Romain enthusiastically supports is the local BackPack Program, which is designed to meet the needs of hungry children.
Other program partners of St. Romain include the Food Bank of Central Louisiana, Faith House, Hope House, STEPS Cenla, Re-Entry Solutions and the Alzheimer’s Association. The foundation also operates the “Y-Not Assist” program to help neighbors in need of assistance due to personal tragedies such as floods, fires and extreme medical bills.