Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based Open Pantry Food Marts is celebrating long-time partner Jim Schutz, who earlier this year accepted the title of chief operating officer (COO), in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Jim has really been running Open Pantry for the last eight years,” said Robert Buhler, president and CEO of Open Pantry, which operates seven c-stores in Wisconsin.
Schutz has a long history with Open Pantry, beginning in 2002 when he started as a field manager overseeing 15 sites. From there he directed the chain’s food offering in the role of food development manager. In 2008, he was again promoted to vice president of operations and human resources, and in 2014 he began managing daily operations for the company.
In 2015, Schutz stepped out from under the Open Pantry umbrella when he became the managing partner of S&W Retail Consultants LLC, but he continued to manage the day-to-day operations at Open Pantry via the consulting arm. When the consulting company later dissolved, Schutz ran the daily operations for Open Pantry stores as a consulting managing director.
Schutz noted that the new title of COO puts more authority into his role with Open Pantry and gives him the ability to better implement decisions for the company.
“It allows me to expand into many more areas relative to Open Pantry that the former title of managing director didn’t (allow as easily),” Schutz explained.
“Jim’s done a superb job each year. He’s been through a lot with our stores. … I want the world to know that Jim Schutz is the guy running Open Pantry — period, and that he has chief operating authority, and this title change tells the world he has done a great job,” Buhler said.
Schutz embodies the role of a servant leader — serving others and the needs of the organization first. For example, Schutz took immediate leadership of the chain’s pandemic response this spring when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.
“Our COVID initiative, when we didn’t even know it was COVID, was really driven by Jim. He took the initiative well ahead of the curve … and drove our response week over week, upping our standards,” Buhler said.
Among other proactive measures, Schutz spearheaded a formal COVID-19 policy for the c-stores, so the business had a plan for how to react if employees became ill or are exposed to the virus, directly or indirectly.
Getting ahead of the winter season, Schutz has sourced air purifiers for each location to help combat the spread of COVID-19 this winter.
“When the doors close in the winter, there’s going to be less (fresh) air floating around in the store, so we’re putting one or two air purifiers in each store that cleans 1,600 square feet in an hour,” Buhler said.
The heavy-duty air filters purify airborne particles down to 0.1 microns. Once again, Schutz was ahead of the competition in the impulse to implement air purifiers ahead of the winter season. “Now, I hear they’re getting harder to get,” Buhler said.
Last month, Schutz also accepted a seat on the planning committee for the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association (WPMCA). “I’ve been involved with WPMCA for three years now, but the planning committee was just newly formed a month ago,” Schutz explained.
Heading into the backend of 2020, Schutz has a lot on the docket, but it’s mostly business as usual for the c-store veteran.
Open Pantry is increasing store hours that were decreased early on in the pandemic.
“The major goal right now is to be able to capitalize on everything that we possibly can in order to maintain the sales level and the profitability level of the company,” Schutz said.
The chain is also “in full swing” on a major remodel at one of its sites in Brookfield, Wis., which is set to be completed in October of 2020.
“I truly respect where I’m at today and the title of chief operating officer, because I believe the title has a lot of influence in vendor relations and with members of the state and local communities,” Schutz said.
He added, “My time as a consultant for Open Pantry was gratifying, a lot was accomplished, and I truly enjoyed the challenge, however coming back into the fold with Open Pantry as chief operating officer further allows me to grow our business. I’m excited for the future of Open Pantry.”
“I too am excited about Jim leading our company, particularly as COO,” Buhler said. “There is no better c-store operations person.”