Following its rebrand as Huck’s Market in 2020, Huck’s has been busy redesigning stores, growing its foodservice menu and investing in new technology, including self-checkout and frictionless payments.
Carmi, Ill.-based Huck’s can trace its roots to 1960 when founders Frank Bayley and Bob Martin partnered to open Big John supermarkets. They grew the business from southern Illinois into Kentucky and Tennessee.
“After they got started with Big John’s, they realized that Walmart and other bigger retailers were going to be main players in the grocery business,” said Brittany Bayley, vice president of marketing at Huck’s and a third-generation member of the family business.
That inspired the founders to evolve and open the first Huck’s convenience store in Grayville, Ill., in 1974.
Today, Huck’s operates 125 c-store locations in five Midwest states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee.
Huck’s most recent new-to-industry store opened last month in Hannibal, Mo., the hometown of Mark Twain, who wrote “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” for which Huck’s is named. Twain published the renowned book on Feb. 18, 1885. By coincidence, the Huck’s team planned the store opening Feb. 17, just one day shy of the publication’s anniversary.
“It was just a cool fact that we found out after we were getting ready to launch the store,” Bayley said.
Huck’s operations area is positioned within the vicinity of its warehouse, Carmi Wholesale Distributors, which delivers to its c-stores twice a week.
“I would say 85% if not more of our items that you see in the store retail-wise are delivered by our warehouse,” Bayley said.
That includes foodservice products and ingredients — such as the breading for its chicken program — and tobacco items, cold vault and freezer products, and more.
“We are our distributor, except for a handful of direct store delivery suppliers,” Bayley said.
The second and third generations of the Martin and Bayley families are active in the company today.
“My grandfather was Frank Bayley,” Bayley noted. Her father, Mark Bayley, is currently the chairman of Huck’s parent company, Martin & Bayley Inc. Her brother Landon is the company’s vice president of fuel. Charles Martin, Bob Martin’s son, serves as vice-chairman. His son Lance Martin is a regional director at Huck’s.
Brittany Bayley started with the company in 2009. Each member of the third generation — Brittany, Landon and Lance — started out working in the c-stores after college, training at the associate level, managing stores and working their way up through the company.
“We like to ensure that all of us have a good idea of how our stores work and what our associates and our managers go through each and every day,” Bayley said. “So, that’s kind of the base training for anybody you would see at our position, or even at the field level. We like to promote from within. That’s really part of our culture.”
That applies even to Martin & Bayley’s CEO Murat Tokad, who joined Huck’s in 2004 as division manager and worked his way up through the company, holding roles as regional director, vice president of operations, executive vice president and president before taking the helm as CEO in May 2019.
In March 2001, the families turned the company into an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), an employee benefit plan that gives workers ownership interest in the company.
“That decision empowered the associates to be more than just an employee. They’re an owner. We went along that trail to empower them to think more as running their own business and not someone else’s,” Bayley said. “The ESOP acts as an additional retirement plan that doesn’t require any contribution from the associate, other than their time.”
The ESOP helps employees see firsthand how their work makes a critical impact on the business’s success, Bayley noted, and helps to grow their retirement account.
Huck’s introduced a prototype store in January 2020 in Seymour, Ind., featuring a fresh design with updated branding reflecting a name evolution to ‘Huck’s Market.’
“We saw things evolving and other retailers changing around us. We felt like there was a need for us to center ourselves and position ourselves with a new look,” Bayley said.
Huck’s partnered with GSP on the store’s design to incorporate that legacy Huck’s feel and evolve it into something fresh and new that emphasized the market approach to convenience, emphasizing foodservice.
“A big part of the redesign was not only branding the Huck’s Market, but better focusing and showcasing our food programs, which had always been there, but we wanted to bring them to the forefront because we know food is our future,” Bayley said.
The updated color scheme fades out the previous red and yellow with a modern, woodgrain look.
Huck’s has since completed several remodels on legacy stores and is continuing its remodel and rebranding initiative in 2022, with a goal of rolling the design out to its entire fleet of stores in the next three years. Huck’s also has plans to roll the new look out to new-to-industry stores in the future.
“We have several properties that are secured for the new look,” Bayley said.
New-to-industry stores will measure over 6,000 square feet, up from the 3,000-4,200 square feet of legacy stores. Most of Huck’s stores feature Huck’s branded gas and six to 14 gas pumps in the forecourt. It’s also testing electric vehicle charging at its Beaver Dam, Ky., location, where it’s encouraging customers to spend time in-store while they charge up.
Huck’s features grab-and-go, proprietary and co-branded foodservice, with plans to expand into made-to-order in the future.
“We are partnered with Godfather’s Pizza at over 70 locations. We also offer our proprietary brand of chicken, the Cluck’s Chicken brand, at 72 locations,” said David Grimes, vice president of foodservice for Huck’s.
Grimes has been with Huck’s for nine years. He served as a district manager and regional director before stepping up to the plate to direct foodservice initiatives.
“We’re in the process of developing our Huck’s Kitchen brand underneath the Huck’s Market umbrella,” Grimes said. “The development of the Huck’s Kitchen logo is complete, and we continue to evaluate and enhance our offers.”
As part of the Huck’s Kitchen program, the chain is offering new foodservice concepts including Bigg Fresh, Bigg Breakfast and Bigg Bakery.
Bigg Fresh features several wrap varieties, including Crispy Buffalo Chicken, Crispy Ranch Chicken, a Caesar wrap, turkey and ham wraps, as well as sub sandwiches on both traditional and pretzel buns. The program also includes several different salads. The Bigg Breakfast program includes sausage and bacon offerings on bagels, biscuits, croissants or burritos. Offers also include Texas Toast sandwich varieties, breakfast steak and biscuits, and gravy.
Customers can find Bigg Breakfast items in the hot hold and Bigg Fresh items in 48-inch deli cases. Huck’s also features a smaller ‘Snack Attack’ case that includes grab-and-go items such as meat snacks, cheeses and healthy options.
“Bigg Bakery includes several doughnut varieties, to include long johns, ring donuts, Persians and a variety of delicious muffins and cookie offers,” Grimes said.
The chain’s proprietary Cluck’s Chicken program includes hand-breaded chicken.
“We proudly sell a marinated chicken tender with our proprietary breading blend that we use to hand-bread our products. Other category offers include potato wedges, bone-in chicken, honey-battered wings, and livers and gizzards,” said Grimes. “Our proprietary blend of seasoning is something that we are super proud of. We think it’s just a great product. It gives a great flavor profile to our tenders, our wedges, our bone-in chicken.”
Huck’s features a coffee section branded Daybreak Café. As it remodels stores and opens new locations, it’s adding bean-to-cup coffee. “At this point, I would say we’re pretty happy with it,” Grimes said.
When it comes to cold dispensed, Huck’s features its Bigg Swigg fountain program and also offers a Fresh Blends smoothie unit featuring fruit, milk and coffee-based smoothies at its newest locations.
The chain is also delving into catering.
Huck’s provides food and product delivery with the help of third-party apps.
“In every area where we can be, we’re partnered with the third-party delivery services Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash. At our Godfather’s Pizza locations, we have Godfather’s Pizza Online,” Grimes said.
While the chain offered curbside pickup as an option during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there wasn’t a significant demand for it in Huck’s market area.
Huck’s is currently integrating online ordering and third-party delivery into its Huck’s Bucks Bigg Rewards app.
The Huck’s Bucks Bigg Rewards app features its near-five-star-rated loyalty program.
Huck’s is currently testing self-checkout kiosks and preparing to expand that to more locations. The chain also features bitcoin kiosks and bitcoin ATMs in several sites. And it has a gaming section in several of its Illinois stores.
Huck’s also features frictionless payment through the Skip app at all locations. Customers open the Skip app, scan the items and pay within the app. Huck’s is now working to integrate the Skip frictionless payment with its Huck’s Bucks app, so customers only need to open the Huck’s app to both pay and receive loyalty rewards in the future.
“We are also building out alternative payments (ACH, PayPal, Venmo, etc.), online ordering and digital fuel pump activation,” Bayley noted. “Currently, we are working on integrating all of these features into a single-app ecosystem to streamline the customer’s experience and be able to engage with the Huck’s brand inside, (in the) forecourt or from home.”
Huck’s is eager and ready for growth in 2022, Bayley noted.
“At the end of the day, we want to be peoples’ first choice for convenience. And we want to be the first choice for food offerings. We want to be considered a viable alternative to the quick-service restaurant,” Grimes said.
“We are here to stay,” added Bayley. “We are growing. We are excited for a new year and the years to come.”