By David Bennett, Senior Editor
Like many convenience retailers that pour over the details until they have a sure course of action, Mach 1 Stores contemplates its future steps carefully.
The result has been a progressive c-store operation with enviable locations and a growing reputation for stellar offerings and satisfied customers.
Part of Teutopolis, Ill.-based Meyer Oil Co., Mach 1 operates 17 locations throughout central and southern Illinois and Indiana. The retail business began in 1989.
Meyer Oil is a branded supplier for Marathon and ConocoPhillips.
The company prefers to make life comfortable for patrons, to include providing cavernous retail space that allows patrons to buy a six-pack of beer, a hot pizza or time at the gaming booth.
Mach 1’s flagship location in Harrisburg, Ill., was designed by Paragon Solutions. At more than 8,000 square feet, the retail space is adorned with lively graphics, easy to distinguish service areas, large bathrooms and an expansive forecourt.
Alan Meyer, chief operations officer of the second-generation, family-owned business, said the convenience chain is slated to grow even larger with two new locations, which are in the planning phase.
“Yes, we are starting construction on a site in Benton, Ill. and will soon begin the design of what will be the company’s 19th store in Clinton, Ill.” Meyer said. “We plan to be operating 20 stores by the end of 2018.”
In the last few years, the company strategized that dispensed beverages—a high margin and profit earner—should be a more predominant focal point.
The Mach 1 Café features Ronnoco Handcrafted Coffee, provided by the St. Louis-based coffee roasting and distribution company.
The c-store also offers an array of cappuccinos. There are flavors such as French vanilla, pumpkin spice, gooey butter cake, caramel macchiato, chocolate fudge brownie, chocolate caramel pecan and white chocolate caramel.
Not only has Mach 1 keyed in on coffee, the c-store has developed the Mach 1 Chill Zone, which has an array of drink selections including freshly-brewed tea with flavors such as peach mango, raspberry and berry green.
Patrons can also choose from f’real milkshakes, Caribbean Crème smoothies, Flavor Burst frozen carbonated beverages and frozen sodas.
Meyer explained that establishing Mach 1 as a beverage destination was reasonable, but required a company commitment to ensure its success.
“First, the fountain and coffee demographic is one of the most loyal and finicky groups to capture. These people have high expectations with their purchases and once you’ve overcome that they will travel a long way to give you their business,” Meyer said. “Second, this space is one of the most visible aspects to a convenience store that we can differentiate from our competition. When people walk into a store they are directed to the equipment inside so the biggest and best versions of this will help you stand out. It is difficult to show someone that your company is better because you have the best gondola shelves or cooler doors.”
Fresh doughnuts, deli-style sandwiches and a popular roller grill program bolster the bevy of beverage offerings.
Mach 1 also offers Champ’s Chicken products and Hunt Brothers Pizza. Patrons can avail the Mach 1 Rewards loyalty program, where members receive two points per gallon at the pump and one point for every dollar spent inside the store. Customers can use points to purchase fuel or in-store items.
In addition, Mach 1 has a company app in which customers can track their loyalty points and promotions.
Through trial and error, Mach 1 has implemented effective upgrades and initiatives that helped streamline the retail business as a whole. The improvements have been varied, but effective:
• The company purchased headsets for all the employees. “This has resulted in customers receiving immediate service at the drive-through while at the same time allowing us to maximize the productivity of our employees,” said Meyer. “As our employees are addressing issues on the sales floor or on the lot they can be notified at a moment’s notice that they need to return to the checkout areas to assist customers waiting in line.”
• Company executives hired a third-party partner to visit all store locations regularly and report back on the quality of appearance and timeliness of service.
• The retailer uses a program that allows it to internally track a store’s appearance and identify any operational issues. “Site managers as well as operational management utilize this software program daily to make improvements as needed,” Meyer said.
• Mach 1 changed its point-of-sale system to NCR and a service called Pulse.
“Pulse gives us the ability to remotely monitor issues with the dispensers, receipt printers and car washes. With this technology, we have increased our efficiency in response to these issues.”
• The c-store is using analytics more to maximize productivity in addition to bolstering worker incentives. “We raised our wages and began offering sign-on bonuses to increase the quality of our staff. To offset this cost, we are tracking customers per payroll hour and adjusting hours where needed.”
In addition, Mach 1 is relying more on technology to boost internal operations.
“There are so many tools available today to track performance indicators such as productivity, sales performance, market share, etc. Of these areas, our priority has been to increase sales. Mach 1 achieved annual same-store sales increases of 9% in gallons and 7% on convenience items in 2016,” Meyer said. “The source of this success was being able to analyze areas we need to price competitively as well as areas we need to focus our marketing on.”
With each success, the company has grown even more aware of its customer needs and works hard to see how they can best be implemented.
Everything first starts with an idea and then, some discussion.
“I think family businesses allow the opportunity to have more open conversations,” Meyer said. “There are times when our passion spills over in the office and these conversations can get heated, but I think that it is how it should be. My entire life has been built around this company and I will do anything to make sure it succeeds and I know the other family members would do the same.”