The company’s distinctive name started in 1936 when founder Farris Lind was called a “stinker” in the industry for undercutting the gasoline prices of national petroleum distributors. After acquiring the company in 2002, the new management, including long-term employee Shawn Davis who retired in 2012, first considered changing the name. However, branding experts consulting the company advised against it, saying the name is unique and that it would be preferable to restore an existing name rather than starting from scratch.
The novelty of the name is not lost on Jones, who says that whenever anyone asks him what he does, “I have to repeat the name twice. It is a pretty unusual name for a convenience store.” He explains after that, he never needs to remind anyone of it again, as the moniker and its associated skunk logo are so easy to remember.
When Jones took the helm in 2002, “the brand had deteriorated and there was not much reinvestment,” he explains. “It was a highly leveraged transaction and we didn’t have much money to rebrand, build new stores or relocate existing ones. What we did was clean those stores, paint them and greet every customer.”
In 2002, Stinker had 43 stores. Of those, 13 have been closed and others rebuilt. The company continually looks to expand its retail presence. Ten Stinker locations operate car washes. Most stations sell t-shirts and mugs with its skunk brands. Two stores have Subway restaurants and two sell state fishing licenses.
Since 2002, Stinker Stores has provided all employees with health insurance. “Our level of employee engagement is superior to most of our competitors,” Jones says. When the U.S. Affordable Care Act was approved, most convenience stores viewed it is a looming crisis, but Stinker already has those provisions in place. In addition, its companywide profit sharing plan consistently offers two large bonuses per year.
“We are about relationships, not transactions,” Jones says. “When customers come in they are greeted by name. The people in the store know you and how to serve you.”
Store employees develop social skills greeting customers and continuing relationships with them. “My competitors put someone behind the cash register and their job is to scan items, ring up the sale and go on to the next customer,” Jones says. “We have expanded beyond that. The transaction is less important than the relationship that is established to bring someone back to our stores.”
There are about 2 million people in the Idaho market, with about 600,000 clustered around Boise, which is where 30 Stinker Stores are located. Others serve small and medium-sized towns. This translates into larger margins and less competition for Stinker, but also lower volume. There is good separation between stations in these smaller markets as well, Jones says.
In the early 2000s, grocery stores in Idaho began selling gasoline. Years later, however, many have thrown in the towel. In 2011, Stinker purchased many gas stations from Albertson Supervalu. “They just realized it was not sustainable to sell gas below cost,” Jones says.
Stinker has been supplying eco-friendly green fuels such as E-85 and E-10 ethanol for decades but one challenge for the company is declining gasoline sales. “As cars become more fuel-efficient, overall volume is declining,” Jones says. This is triggering consolidation in the market. “I believe there are too many pumps for the number of customers we have in Idaho.” Therefore, Stinker Stores might purchase independent gas stations over time that can’t compete against the lower prices it offers with its integration and wholesale prices it pays directly from refineries.
Stinker is branded with three fuel suppliers – Sinclair, Chevron and Tesoro. Most stores are branded with Sinclair, four stores are branded with Tesoro and one store is branded with Chevron. Stinker buys fuel exclusively from these suppliers at its branded locations.
Cigarettes, soft drinks and alcohol are top categories for Stinker. Energy drinks have been a recent hot seller, as well. But it is Stinker Stores’ service that keeps customers coming back.
“It is like the show ‘Cheers,” Jones says. “People want to go where everybody knows their name.”