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COVER STORY

Big Thinking for

BIG RESULTS Since 1977, Bill Shanks of Convenient Food Mart in Versailles, Ky., has succeeded by adapting to the changing needs of the customer By Tammy Mastroberte

W

ith a degree in secondary education from the University of Kentucky, Bill Shanks discovered the only teaching jobs available in the early 1970s required him to relocate — something he didn’t want to do. After working in convenience stores parttime during college and meeting the vice president of Convenience Industries of America, owner of the Convenient Food Mart franchise, Shanks fell back on what he knew.

“I saw how the owners of the two stores I worked in were pretty successful, and the vice president offered me an assistant manager’s job at a store in Louisville, so I took it,” he told Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner. Eventually he became manager, but dreamed of owning his own store. After moving to Versailles, Ky., to manage a store, Shanks met a salesman for Amway, which specialized in positive thinking books. “He approached me with it as another way to make money, and I didn’t want to do that, but I started reading several of the books and put forth the power of positive thinking into my busi14

ness,” he said, explaining that he began to “think big” and eventually approached the owners of Convenient Food Mart about buying the Versailles store. It turned out his timing was perfect since it was the end of the fiscal year and the company wanted to show a profit. Thanks to a loan from his in-laws, Shanks purchased the store in 1977, and he still owns and operates it today. “Everybody said it was too much money and I would never succeed,” he recalled. “But I paid it off in a couple of years, and I never looked back. I have to credit it to those positive thinking books.” His store was branded Convenient

» APRIL 2013 CONVENIENCE STORE NEWS FOR THE SINGLE STORE OWNER

Food Mart before Dairy Mart purchased the company and the banner changed. However, Shanks eventually decided he didn’t want to continue paying the franchise fees, and felt it was important to own the property in order to secure his future. “I knew early on [that] owning the property was my goal,” he said. “Through perfect timing once again, I was able to purchase the store in the mid ‘90s and it put me in the driver’s seat.” He changed the store’s name back to Convenient Food Mart, as it was known in the past. Through research, he saw the name was generic as long as he didn’t use the former company’s logo or signage. Today, he operates the store with 12 employees — most of them full-time — and has had the same store manager for 27 years. At one point, the store was open 24 hours, but when he became an independent owner, he changed the hours to open at 5 a.m. and close at 1 a.m. “It was too much trouble to stay open 24 hours, and that is where a WWW.SINGLESTOREOWNER.COM


Photos by Paul Atkinson WWW.SINGLESTOREOWNER.COM

APRIL 2013 CONVENIENCE STORE NEWS FOR THE SINGLE STORE OWNER

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COVER STORY

Help Your Customers Bar Hop Throughout The Day. For Mornings

Many of Shanks’ 12 employees have worked at the store for more than 10 years. His store manager Pam Trejo has been with him for 27 years.

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» APRIL 2013 CONVENIENCE STORE NEWS FOR THE SINGLE STORE OWNER

lot of the problems occur. It’s really only four hours when we are not available,” he said. The store is currently branded with Shell gasoline, which Shanks switched to approximately three years ago when Chevron pulled out of the state. He also participates in the Shell loyalty program, offering Shell-branded credit cards that tie in with the local Kroger, the major grocer in the county. “They offer 10 cents off at the pump and that has helped our gas business,” he noted. Although his location started with only two gas pumps, he remodeled the exterior 10 years ago to accommodate three pumps — six fueling stations in total — and a diesel pump on the side of the store. Last year, his hard work was recognized when the Kentucky Grocers Association/Kentucky Association of Convenience Stores honored Shanks as the Convenience Store of the Year. At the ceremony, he credited his store employees and store manager Pam Trejo for much of his success. INSIDE THE STORE

Over the years, the inside of Shanks’ store and his product offerings have evolved to accommodate the changing times and customer needs. Years ago, the store offered more grocery items with taller shelves; today, its offerings are much different. “We used to get 150 cases of product a week and spend all day stocking the shelves with grocery items,” he said. While soft drinks have always been big sellers, the focus currently is also on salty and sweet snacks, and beer. “That is what the customer wants,” Shanks said. “We eventually got into the beer market, and we sell a lot of that today.” Lottery is another big seller, and his employees are trained to prompt the customer to purchase a ticket. They also try to upsell customers with different specials and promotions. All new employees are WWW.SINGLESTOREOWNER.COM


given manuals on procedures and policies, including the correct way to take a customer check, how to handle beer, and the various laws and regulations requiring compliance. “There is so much you have to be responsible for and aware of, and we need to make sure our employees understand everything,” Shanks said. Many of the employees have worked at the store for more than 10 years, which the customer base appreciates because they get to see familiar faces.

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Shanks’ Secrets to Success Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner asked Bill Shanks of Convenient Food Mart in Versailles, Ky. – winner of the 2012 Kentucky Convenience Store of the Year award – to share the tools and strategies he’s relied upon to be a successful single-store operator for the last three decades. Choose the Right Suppliers – Before becoming an independent store owner, Shanks worked as part of a franchise and because he had a high-volume location, he developed relationships with many suppliers. This experience helped him when he became an independent operator. He believes one of the keys to his success is choosing the right suppliers. “Picking good suppliers is important to an independent store like mine. I work with Team Modern as my wholesaler and they participate in a program called Wham, which gets new items into my store as soon as they come out. This lets me offer items before some of my competitors do,” he said. Community Involvement – Shanks is not only active in the convenience store industry as part of the Kentucky Grocers Association/Kentucky Association of Convenience Stores, but he is also involved in his local community. People know who he is and that he owns the Convenient Food Mart in town. “You have to be part of your community so people get to know you,” he said. “I’ve been chairman of the local library, part of the community bank and on the Board of Adjustments. I’m active in my community and support it where I can. You need to do your share.” Gain Volume – In the early years of operating, Shanks focused on building store volume so suppliers would see him as a high-volume location and be willing to offer him promotions. “Even if you have to price some things low at first, once you get the volume, you can start working it up to a profit,” he said.

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IRI AllScan C-Store Data for the latest 24 weeks ending in 04/15/2012. ©2013 General Mills

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COVER STORY

“I think the important thing is I treat the employees as I would family, and I don’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do, whether it’s cleaning a dirty bathroom or being nice to a customer. I try to show them by example,” he said. When he is in town — which is 10 months out of the year — Shanks makes sure he is in the store every day to support the management team and greet customers. “I feel it’s important they know I’m there and in the trenches with everybody else,” he said. Foodservice is one of the store’s major profit centers. The menu includes breakfast, lunch and dinner options prepared in the store’s kitchen.

FOODSERVICE SUCCESS

Over the years, Shanks has continued to “think big” to meet customer needs and improve the bottom

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line. In 1988, he added a 10-foot by 20-foot kitchen onto the back of the 3,000-square-foot store. “Looking back, that was one of the better moves I made,” he said. “At the time, tobacco was a huge amount of our business — around 50 percent of sales — and I felt we needed to diversify and find another revenue stream.” At first, the store offered hot dogs and sandwiches, but Shanks wanted to create a broader menu, so he added fried and roasted chicken, steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes and more. Today, his Convenient Food Mart offers breakfast, lunch and dinner and he continues to diversify the menu. “We start the day with sausage

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» APRIL 2013 CONVENIENCE STORE NEWS FOR THE SINGLE STORE OWNER

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and biscuits, steak and biscuits, and we’ll make fresh eggs if someone wants them,” Shanks explained. “We also do breakfast casseroles and tornados.” Lunch is served early in the day as well, since many people are buying their roasted chicken as early as 8 a.m. — something the store is known for in the area. Other lunch options include burritos, fish, meatloaf, spaghetti, chili and corn dogs. “Historically, it’s a great profit center because the margins can be good, but you can also have a lot of waste if you’re not carful,” Shanks noted. “One of the main keys to our success is having enough workers out there, so a

0% of 4 r e v O ir say the s r e m u ces cons referen p e g a r e beve with th e g n a ch .1 seasons

customer doesn’t have to wait.” A NEW LOOK

One of Shanks’ main focuses in his business today is long-range planning. Over the next few months, he will be implementing a redesign to the interior of the store, including new graphics and an upgraded coffee and fountain section. “You always have to make an effort to update your building and premises, and we are in the process of reimaging the store now. We’ve been planning it for several months,” he said. Currently, the coffee area is in a corner of the store, and the plan is to move it to the center with a 5-foot by 8-foot island cabinet.

The store will also expand its fountain section and frozen beverage options. “We have a six-head fountain machine and a two-head slush machine, but we are looking to expand that quite a bit,” Shanks said. “We have four Bunn machines for coffee and about eight cappuccinos, but we want to move it away from the wall and across from the hot food to make it more visible.” He believes coffee and fountain beverages will remain important in the future, which is why he plans to expand both sections, along with more chewable, nugget ice. The store will also get new graphics above the cooler and in ■ other key areas.

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APRIL 2013 CONVENIENCE STORE NEWS FOR THE SINGLE STORE OWNER

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Altria Group Distribution Company www.insightsc3m.com

2 & 18

BIC USA

www.biclighter.com

Outsert

Blu Cigs/LOEC

www.blucigs.com

CB Distributors

www.21stCenturySmoke.com

CHS

www.chsinc.com

43

Ferrero USA Inc.

www.ferrerousa.com

41

General Mills

www.generalmillsconvenience.com 16-17

37 CV4

Growth Energy

www.ethanolretailer.com

25

Hunt Brothers Pizza

www.huntbrotherspizza.com

31

In-Zone Brands

www.inzonebrands.com

John Middleton

1.877-968-5323

9 & 11

CV3

JTI

www.jti-usa.com

34-35

Kellogg’s

www.kelloggsconvenience.com

Kohler Generators

www.kohlergenerators.com

Liggett Vector Brands

www.liggettvectorbrands.com

33

MarsUSA

www.mars24seven.com

39

21 7

National Restaurant Association www.restaurant.org

27

PetroClear

36

www.petroclear.com

R.J Reynolds Tobacco Company/American Snuff

www.engagerjrt.com

Smucker Foodservice

www.smuckerfoodservice.com

Swedish Match NS, Inc.

customerservice@smna.com 23a Regional

Whitewave

www.whitewavefoodservice.com

29

Wm Wrigley Jr. Company

www.wrigley.com

13

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Team Modern News - CFM 175 Recognized for Big Thinking Success  

Team Modern partner, CFM 175 located in Versailles, KY, has recently been recognized by the Kentucky Grocers Association/Kentucky Associatio...

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