In just 10 short years, Charge Up has grown from a single-store operation to a 40-store chain with locations in Texas and Louisiana, with a goal of reaching 50 sites by 2021.
Young executive entrepreneur Irfan Tejani, the founder, president and CEO of Tejani Holdings Inc., the parent company of Charge Up, has his eye on extensive growth through 2021 and beyond.
Having arrived at 40 locations through a series of acquisitions, Charge Up is now set to reimage and renovate its stores, while continuing to grow organically through acquisitions and setting its sights on ground-up builds. Simultaneously, the chain is planning to expand its foodservice offering, launch a new loyalty program, delve into electric vehicle (EV) charging, brand its deli program and car washes, and innovate with new technology. For all this and more, CStore Decisions is recognizing Charge Up as a Chain to Watch in 2020.
Tejani arrived in the U.S. in late 2009. After finding a job at a gas station, he volunteered as an assistant manager in return for learning the ins and outs of the c-store business. By 2010, he had acquired and opened his very first convenience store.
Tejani’s wife, Salma; his sister, Sultana; and his late brother Usman, who passed away in 2019, joined him in running the business. “We’re a family-owned company, and we take a lot of pride in that,” he said. “Usman was super talented and is always in our hearts.”
By 2013, the Tejani family began to acquire additional locations, and by 2015 the chain had branched into new towns. Initially the chain was called “Fuel Guys,” but the family knew they needed a name that went beyond fuel, especially with EV charging on the horizon.
“We wanted a name that can relate to the future as well,” Tejani said. “So that’s where we came up with the name Charge Up. Tomorrow, if we have electric chargers at our sites along with fuel, the Charge Up (name) goes with everything — Charge Up Your Thirst, Charge Up Your Fuel — it’s a very multipurpose name.”
“We’re a family-owned company, and so we do everything,” he said. “I’ve changed trash bags, cleaned toilets, run the register, hooked up the pump. … ” The 18-hour days of hard work paid off. Today, at only 36 years of age, Tejani helms a successful chain set for rapid growth.
After expanding through single- and multi-unit acquisitions, Charge Up’s stores vary from 1,200 square feet to a 10,500-square-foot truck stop. Now, it’s renovating its locations to bring acquired sites under the same banner image, while also expanding the footprints of some stores.
“There’s a big branding expense that we’re incurring by next year to get all our stores into one umbrella, unified and maybe also with the (same) color scheme, too,” Tejani said. “Currently, we are under contract on more than a few sites. “By December 2020, we’re looking at acquiring another seven to eight assets. (It’s) going to be a big year for us because we’ll be going over 50 (locations) very soon.”
Charge Up also has its sights set on expansion via ground-up builds. In that phase, Charge Up expects to develop a precise design and store size. Tejani expects the offering to continue to vary between locations. Some stores will offer a branded food option, for example, while others may include a car wash.
Charge Up locations feature a variety of foodservice. Ninety percent of its Louisiana sites, and some Texas stores, feature delis. Charge Up delis offer a set menu with chicken, beef, vegetarian and rice options.
“We do have about 10-15 items on the menu, and we take that specific menu and implement it everywhere else,” Tejani said. “Then later on, based on customers’ feedback, we changed it around. But we do work off some basic guidelines tested internally.”
Tejani sees food as an essential component for a c-store to master as today’s shopper seeks a place to fuel up and buy tobacco, essentials and food all in one location.
“We have one store over in East Texas where we do about $20,000 worth of deli (sales). It’s unbranded, and it’s very busy,” Tejani said. Among its plans for the year, Charge Up will brand all of its delis under one name.
In addition to delis, some Charge Up locations provide co-branded concepts like Hunt Brothers Pizza and Krispy Krunchy Chicken, as well as local food concepts.
“We’re also looking into venturing into a co-branding option, which is connecting with the tier-one quick-service restaurants, and having a full-branding option within our stores, too,” he said. In addition, the chain plans to introduce a cold case grab-and-go food option, and it’s working to create a dine-in concept with an extended menu.
On the technology front, Charge Up is busy refining its back-office capabilities and preparing to launch a new loyalty program by early 2021. Meanwhile, the onset of COVID-19 impressed upon the chain the importance of integrating pickup and delivery capabilities.
“Our first mission is to focus on loyalty right now, and then later on, going towards how we can offer services like curbside pickup,” Tejani said.
Charge Up is currently working through the approval process with cities to roll out EV charging, which it will test initially at five of its sites. “The average time for a car charge is about 30-45 minutes, and that gets the customer to come in and check out the Charge Up brand,” Tejani said.
Charge Up also features 15-plus unbranded car washes at its c-store sites. As it looks to reimage its acquired stores under the Charge Up banner and brand its deli program, it’s also looking at branding its car washes and building additional car washes to help grow traffic to sites and capture a larger customer base.
“Charge Up is a brand that we grew from a grassroots level,” Tejani said, highlighting the chain’s rapid 10-year expansion. “When someone looks at the Charge Up brand, I want them to get inspired by the brand; if we have done it, you can, too.”
The key to success, he said, has been a driven, focused and hands-on commitment to the business.
“What Charge Up has done over the years, is that we have listened to our customers, and it has really worked for us,” he said. “I can assure you that in the next 10 years, we’ll be working even harder to grow, and we want to be recognized as one of the top 10 players in the industry — that’s the plan.”
While COVID-19 has impacted business, especially in Louisiana where strict lockdown measures were enforced, Tejani noted, “This has given us an opportunity to take a step back and understand how we can make this business even more service-friendly for our customers.”
Charge Up aspires to create a destination stop where all individuals feel welcome.
“You need to be obsessed with what you do in order to achieve what you want to achieve,” Tejani advised other young leaders. “Work smart, but work hard — extremely hard — and have faith. You must work hard in order to achieve your goals and dreams, and anything is possible — that is what I believe. If Elon Musk can sell you the moon, then you can certainly build a brand on earth.”
For more, listen to the podcast with Irfan Tejani: https://cstoredecisions.com/2020/07/13/podcast-charge-ups-ceo-talks-growth-plans/