By David Bennett, Senior Editor
Alta Convenience c-store chain, based in Denver, has undergone big changes in the last few years.
The latest transition alteration occurred in October 2016 when Alta Convenience parent Western Alta Holdings LP acquired the retail division and operating company of Pester Marketing Co. from World Fuel Services Corp.
It was only eight months prior that World Fuel Services had completed the purchase of Pester Marketing Co. and its wholly-owned subsidiaries, Alta Fuels LLC and Alta Transportation LLC.
The newly-formed company will continue to operate as Pester Marketing. Moreover, the c-stores will operate under the Alta Convenience brand name.
Today, led by Phil Zaccaria, general partner of the investment group Western Alta and now the CEO of Pester Marketing, the retailer is making plans to streamline its company mission, embracing the operating principles that first launched Pester as a fledgling retail brand in the 1950s.
Long-time Pester executive Rich Spresser, president of Pester Marketing, said now that dust from the acquisition has settled, work on bolstering the company’s retail business has begun in earnest.
“With the new ownership structure, which is led by Phil Zaccaria, Pester Marketing is back to its original roots as strictly a direct store operation with the entire focus being on the day-to -day store operations,” said Spresser. Also, with Mr. Zaccaria’s penchant to raise private equity, it puts Pester Marketing in a great position for future growth.”
The executive group’s growth strategy is already taking shape, as the company is wasting little time identifying opportunities to enhance its geographic footprint.
“We have already purchased a small chain of six stores this year and have two other acquisition possibilities in the very near future,” said Spresser, who has been with Pester 23 years. “At this point there’s a great emphasis on expanding our store count and the Alta Convenience name, both within our current operational area, but also outside our current areas.”
The company is also currently looking at a few locations suitable for new store building projects.
The retailer that Pester Marketing acquired was LOCO Inc., based in Grand Junction, Colo. With the addition of the six-store locations, which are currently being rebranded, Pester Marketing currently counts 61 Alta Convenience c-stores in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and New Mexico.
According to Spresser, Pester Marketing is developing plans for newly-built convenience store sites, which will complement overall organic growth pattern, including new offerings at Alta Convenience locations as well as enhancing overall sales.
“Most of our so called renovations have come through a complete revamping of our in-store merchandise and our overall merchandising program,” said Spresser. “We have looked at deleting numerous slow moving items while enhancing other areas of the store including our offerings of general merchandise, bagged candy and our snack sections.”
Another objective the company hopes to achieve is creating a central in-store image that resonates more with Alta Convenience’s core customer base.
“With Pester primarily growing through acquisitions we have numerous foot prints and numerous sizes of stores, what we don’t have today is a consistent interior image,” said Spresser. “This will be one of our initiatives over the next 12 months.”
The roots of Pester Marketing Co. can be traced back to one modest Skelly Oil gas station in Jefferson, Iowa. Cloyd and Esther Pester pioneered a business model in the form of a start-up 1930s-style station.
Cloyd died in 1955 at age 44 after a short but robust and keenly-focused life. Esther assumed leadership of the fledgling company with Jack joining the company after graduation from Drake University. The company soon expanded to 17 locations.
Jack Pester, the hard-driving entrepreneur and son of Cloyd and Esther, the southern Iowa co-founders, built Pester Marketing, taking the family business of 17 gasoline & convenience stores and growing it substantially. At its peak in the 1980s, the business had 278 stores, plus a Kansas-based refinery.
“PESTER – IT’S A GAS!” became a trade-mark tagline for the convenience chain operating in 11 states.
After 1987 reorganization, Pester leased all its marketing properties to the Coastal Corp., and Jack Pester assumed leadership of Coastal’s world-wide refining and marketing programs.
Under Jack’s direction after his retirement from Coastal and following the final sale of its remaining properties to Coastal, Pester Marketing Co. started over with seven Denver-based c-stores. In the following years, the company began to grow its portfolio of stores once again, up until the recent changes in ownership.
Spresser joined the company in 1994 and during the last 23 years has focused on the day-to-day store operations.
Pester Marketing is exploring its foodservice option, which now includes both co-branded foodservice partners and proprietary food items. Two quick-service restaurants that can be found at Alta Convenience locations are Subway and Quiznos.
On a another scale, Alta Convenience intends to continue to roll out its own foodservice offerings.
“We currently have an in-house breakfast burrito program “Alta Premium Burritos” that is being produced out of a commissary that we own and operate,” said Spresser. “This program has grown over the years and is quite successful. We currently service about 25% of our stores with our challenge being: how do we deliver a fresh, consistent product to the other 75% of our stores? Unfortunately the commissary is not situated centrally within our store geography, but actually in the southern part of Colorado.”
Fresh food items will play even a bigger part of the c-store line-up, going forward.
“Obviously fresh is the new buzz in our industry, we are moving in the direction—sometimes painfully slow,” Spresser said. “We recently partnered with Java City to revamp our coffee program with a completely new cup and image and of course, a new blend of coffee.”
Not only has its coffee program gotten a facelift, Presser Marketing is integrating new technology into its stores in an effort to boost operational efficiency.
“Probably the biggest, and it was driven by the EMV (Europay, Mastercard and Visa) requirements, was the change in our point-of-sale equipment,” said Spresser. “This past fall we installed new state-of-the-art Gilbarco Passports in all of our stores. This was big for us both from an operational standpoint but also has greatly increased our reporting capabilities.”