Kansas City, Mo.-based Fav Trip is data-driven across all aspects of the business, with a special focus on branding, social media, technology and ensuring the success of its employees. The three-store chain offers limited-edition merch drops, delivery and drive-through, and it’s currently building its first ground-up location, which will be twice the size of its other sites and feature a proprietary pizza program.
CStore Decisions is recognizing Fav Trip as a Chain to Watch for its data-driven and tech-forward approach to convenience retailing, social media strategy and employee-centric culture.
Fav Trip President and CEO Babir Sultan doesn’t have a background in the convenience industry. Before Fav Trip, he worked in computer networking at New York’s JFK Airport.
“The first store, it’s always been near and dear to us. It was also accidental,” Sultan said. “My family and I went to Kansas City to visit some relatives. And they were in the convenience store business, so they encouraged us to look into it. We really fell in love with Kansas City, as well. It was a nice change of pace. So we started leasing one location and eventually bought it.”
Since then, Sultan’s been furthering his education and applying what he learns to the business. He recently graduated with his executive MBA degree from Rockhurst University.
“I had the business first, and the education came later for me,” he said. “When I’m in class, I’m one of those students some might find annoying where I’m asking too many questions. … I still stay in touch with my professors, and whenever I run into an issue, I have great mentors and teachers that are more than willing to help out.”
Small Chain, Big Reach
Fav Trip’s stores, its store count and its budget are small, Sultan said, but you wouldn’t know it based on its branding and online presence.
“A lot of customers think we’re some kind of big chain because our following is great,” he said.
Fav Trip will host competitions to create merchandise designs, which customers then vote on. Right now, its website features shirts, bags, phone cases, blankets, mugs, stickers and more. But the limited hoodie drops are especially popular.
“Before winter even comes, they always sell out,” Sultan said. “We’d usually start off with 25, 50, 100. Two-hundred, I think (will be) our next batch, and in winter, we plan on having a least 500. Once they’re gone for the year, they’re gone. We don’t reorder.”
The chain reaches upwards of 900,000 customers monthly through social media. The strategy, Sultan said, is to focus on engaging content like memes and videos, rather than trying to promote products with every post.
Fav Trip has a presence on most social media channels. With TikTok, Sultan started off by doing some research on the platform and even attended a social media-focused event for ideas before he decided to pass the baton.
“There’s only so much I can do, and it’s not necessarily my demographic,” he said. “One of our cashiers, we didn’t realize she’s very passionate about doing TikTok, and we had another cashier that was with us who, with a little guidance here and there, helped us reach 41,000 (followers). That’s totally them — 41,000 on TikTok alone.”
But Fav Trip’s most infamous account is its YouTube, which features videos with a very distinct theme: shoplifting.
“We used to have a shoplifting problem, and there was nothing done about it,” Sultan said. “Eventually, on Facebook, we posted a picture of somebody shoplifting, and it got so much engagement. We were like, ‘Okay. We’re onto something.’”
Sultan had some experience filming and editing videos for fun, so he started uploading shoplifting videos to the chain’s YouTube channel. Later, Fav Trip took the videos a step further by adding commentary — which Sultan records, edits and uploads himself every week.
Now, the channel has more than 44,000 subscribers, and some videos have upwards of 2 million views. The YouTube channel is now monetized, too, and it features collaborations with Gas Station Encounters, a similar channel with 1.74 million subscribers.
“Our customers, our guests, they love the brand, and we just get a kick out of it and don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Sultan said. “I have some ideas to change up or diversify the content. But we’re trying to find a balance without losing our core audience. That is the challenge for sure.”
Fav Trip’s now in the process of hiring a social media manager so Sultan can focus on building the chain’s newest store from the ground up.
“I’m trying to take off some of these hats so I can focus on growing the business,” he said. “This is our biggest project, a passion project.”
Ahead of the Game
Offline, Fav Trip is set to embark on its first new-to-industry ground-up build in Grandview, Mo. Construction documents are currently being finalized, so there’s no opening date set just yet.
Designed by Paragon Solutions, it’ll be 4,000 square feet, roughly twice the size of the other two sites, and will have a more updated, modern design, all the way to the pumps and overall forecourt. Still, the core brand image and signature red color will remain, Sultan said, at the request of customers.
The store will also feature a new, proprietary foodservice offer, which Sultan sees as the next big challenge.
“The data shows that we need to be pizza-focused, so that’s something we are going to tackle,” he said. “We’re exploring different vendors — the sauce, the dough. … This is all new to me, so I’m learning quite a bit. We’re trying to be as detailed as possible without losing our minds.”
When the store’s open, and the program’s in place, Fav Trip will be ahead of the curve, as it already offers delivery through Vroom Delivery at all locations — a concept it first began exploring roughly three years ago.
“A lot of people that we were talking to (back then) were like, no way in the world somebody would use a convenience store for delivery,” Sultan said. “That changed quickly.”
In fact, the Grandview, Mo., store already offers delivery as a sort of ghost warehouse, similar to DashMart, which is proving a great way to introduce customers in the area to the brand ahead of its opening.
Fav Trip’s stores also feature drive-throughs, which has been a “lifesaver” during the pandemic, Sultan said.
“There might be one or two customers inside, but 13, 14 cars waiting in the drive-through,” he said. “It’s been great for our business and for the customers.” The new store will be “intensely focused on drive-through, with everything available 24/7.”
In addition to drive-through and delivery, at one point, Fav Trip had a loyalty app — which Sultan founded himself. Ultimately, though, through data, Fav Trip learned that most of its customers preferred and could more easily subscribe to a text-based loyalty program versus an app.
Today, Fav Trip’s text club is 10,600 people strong, Sultan said. The program offers five cents off per gallon, plus 10-15 cents on Fridays. It’s helped to increase inside sales, too.
“We noticed a lot of customers just buying gas and leaving. So now you have to come inside and show the text to get the discount. And we might offer some other deals on the text, too,” Sultan said. “It encourages customers to walk in the store and buy other items instead of just (filling up and) leaving.”
As far as new technology goes, down the line, Sultan expects Fav Trip to implement automation.
“We’re not quite committed yet, and I don’t think we need to be there yet,” he said, “but we always like to plan ahead and be ahead of the game when it comes to technology.”
Like all aspects of the business, Fav Trip approaches company culture in an intentional, data-driven way.
The team met with Zeynep Ton, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of the book “The Good Jobs Strategy,” which focuses on four retailers — Costco, Mercadona, Trader Joe’s and QuikTrip — to demonstrate how high investment in employees translates into lower costs, higher profits and increased customer satisfaction.
The idea is that investing in employees, creating a good company culture, is a win-win for everyone.
“Our cashiers, if they’re not happy to be behind the counter, everything we do online or offline is a failure,” Sultan said.
A good company culture starts with hiring and training, both of which Fav Trip takes very seriously.
“A lot of companies say, ‘You’re not a good fit for us.’ Sometimes we tell (applicants) that we might not be a good fit for them, either,” Sultan said. “If they’re going to be part of the Fav Trip team, the training success team member has to sign off that they really think that they qualify.”
From there, long-term initiatives for employees include monthly one-on-one meetings with Sultan himself, as well as opportunities for pay increases.
“We don’t pay minimum (wage),” Sultan said. “Once (employees) start off, we have a roadmap for them: Get cross-trained, do these things in two to three months, and we always allocate more and more money toward that.”
So far, it’s paying off. Unlike many retailers today, Fav Trip has not struggled with a labor shortage.
“Our employees have literally been offered more money (by other companies),” Sultan said. “If I’m paying somebody $13 an hour, and they’re offered $15 or $16 an hour, and they say they don’t want to leave, it tells us we’re doing something right.”
Moving forward, Sultan’s exploring different ways for Fav Trip to give back to its communities, such as through a scholarship program, inspired by Sultan’s own education journey.
“I have to thank my customers and employees because they supported me throughout my education,” he said. “I read a book, ‘StrengthsFinder,’ and one of my strengths is supposed to be ‘learner.’ So I’m a lifelong learner — and that’s one of the things I’m trying to encourage, as well.”