As a convenience store chain, L&L Food Stores may not have reinvented the wheel, but it has made sure to keep it working to its fullest capability. Founded in 1973 by Wayne Land, the North Carolina operation has grown to 14 stores located in rural but well-populated cities. The company is currently planning a new 4,500-square-foot location to open in either Wilson or Bailey, N.C., by the end of the year. The strategy for success for the new store is the same tried-and-true, simple-but-effective rule the company employs in its current stores: Give the customers what they want.
“One of the things we do get more comments on than anything is how well we keep our stores stocked,” Land says. “We keep them stocked with items that people want to buy and change the items and increase items depending on the customers’ needs. The new customers we have gained have different habits of buying different things, so we make sure to put those items in and pay special attention to the desire of customers that we have.”
A recent trend that L&L has wholeheartedly embraced is the move to healthier options. As customers have requested fresh and wholesome foods, L&L has responded with fresh fruit such as bananas and watermelon and cantaloupe cut and packaged in the stores daily. The chain has also added nuts in convenient packs for quick and healthy snacks on the go.
Within these new categories, L&L has maintained its long-standing commitment to fair prices. The chain’s prices are below the average convenience store pricing in almost every category, and although this is a major draw to customers, it is far from its only calling card.
“We have a lot of things that we do that others do not do that we consider to be a niche in our business,” Land says. “Offering produce is one area but another thing is that we offer our employees superior benefits. We have long-term employees, some that have been around for 30 years and some nearly 40 years. We have many employees in the 15-year bracket and some in the 20-year bracket. Our turnover rate is much lower than the average convenience store and the reason for that is because we consider the employees, naturally, our best asset, and we have programs set up for their benefit such as a place to stay and transportation to and from work. We treat them as our No. 1 priority, which is illustrated to the customer through better customer service. Because our employees are comfortable in what they are doing, they offer much better service.”
Depending on store size, each location is operated by two to four employees at one time to ensure quick service and employee safety. A supervisor visits each location three times a week to ensure employees have the resources they need to keep stores running.
The meticulous attention given to store employees is also shown to the physical locations. Far from the common perception of rural convenience stores as being neglected by their owners, L&L Food Stores boast a clean and well-lit environment where safety is prioritized. The company holds agreements with contractors who regularly maintain the store’s exterior appearance with power washing and painting and a store assessment is done every three months to identify areas of improvement. Two years ago, L&L Food Stores upgraded the surveillance system at each of its 14 locations.
“We have the most updated surveillance system there is available in every location,” Land says. “We have a minimum of 16 cameras in every location to ensure the protection of our employees, customers and our business. And we always have two people open and two people close the stores. The surveillance systems are integrated into an alarm system that alerts the company if a store has not been closed or opened within an hour of the designated open or closing time. Since we’ve put in this latest updated surveillance system, we haven’t had a break-in or robbery at any of our locations.”
This is a comfort to L&L Food Stores’ employees and patrons as well as third-party businesses operating on site. Many sites have attached fast-food restaurants such as Subway, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Italian Pizzeria. Also, every location has a gas station on site. Seven of the stores sell BP gasoline, five sites sell Exxon Mobil gasoline and two sites sell unbranded gasoline. As it makes plans for a new ground-up location, Land says the 4,500-square-foot store will include a 2,000-square-foot and a 1,500-square-foot space for two fast food operators. The new store will also operate by the same strategy laid out by its predecessors – giving the customers what they want.
“Our success has been hard-won,” Land says. “But we have a lot of good, loyal customers and they continue to return to our stores day after day – the same customers. So that tells us we’re doing something right.”