CoGo’s Co.

CoGos Store Front

CoGo’s continues to distinguish itself from other convenience store chains and its locations have become staples of their communities.

By Alan Dorich

After more than 50 years, CoGo’s Co. continues to distinguish itself from other convenience store chains with its “corner store-type product mix, including some of the core grocery store items,” Chief Financial Officer Wayne Unks says.

These include items such as cereal, soups, condiments, bread, milk and pet foods, all with prices below those found at traditional convenience store retailers. “That differentiates us,” he says.

Based in Pittsburgh, CoGo’s has locations in Maryland and western Pennsylvania. The company’s history goes back to the 1870s when William Colteryahn, a native of Hamburg, Germany, came to Pittsburgh with his family.

In 1893, he founded Colteryahn Dairy, the oldest existing dairy in Pittsburgh. At the time, milk was distributed in large containers on wagons and customers came to the wagon with kettles and pans to purchase it.

In 1917, Colteryahn’s son, Carl, moved the dairy to its current location in Carrick, Pa. In the years that followed, home delivery became the main business activity, with milk trucks replacing horses and wagons. The dairy grew to sell its fresh milk to retailers.

In 1962, it expanded its business to convenience stores, which adopted the CoGo’s name in 1986. Colteryahn Dairy is the only dairy in Pittsburgh today. CoGo’s is an independent company from the dairy but is still owned by the Colteryahn family and distributes all of the Colteryahn Dairy products. CoGo’s currently has 39 company-operated stores and 12 franchise locations.

Unks credits CoGo’s success to a culture that focuses on staying close to its community. “We are, in our greatest concentration, in the greater Pittsburgh area,” he says.

President and CEO John C. Eby III agrees. “We’ve been entrenched in some of the neighborhoods so we’ve got some history here,” he says. “That appeals to consumers.”

Director of Marketing Ray Kostrzycki adds that the company’s culture has nurtured loyalty among its staff. “When you don’t have that conversion of people going in and out, you’re able to keep some continuity,” he says. “We’ve been able to keep our management staff and key administrative staff in place, which is helpful.”

The company holds on to them by simply treating them well, Kostrzycki says. “We work with them, we coach them and we train them,” he says. “They like working with us.”

A Giant Leap

CoGo’s is underway on several projects, including improvements on the IT side, Eby says. These include the implementation of Ceridian Inc.’s Dayforce HCM, a cloud-based application for multiple items including payroll processes and recruiting and scheduling for human resources.

The company also is adding a new infrastructure via PDI’s Enterprise software. “We’ve been a PDI customer since the late ‘90s,” Unks says. “A slogan that PDI came out with a few years ago was ‘do business electronically, focus on what matters.’ That sums up a lot of what we’re doing in both projects.

“Both of these are very powerful, complex systems that automate a lot of the functions,” he says. “They’ll flag stuff that is outside the norm and let you resolve those.”

These also will enable CoGo’s to free up manpower so they can take a close look at analytics. “We can get into the numbers, do more benchmarking and learn what the numbers are showing us,” Unks says. “We’re taking a giant leap.”

Partners in Phases

CoGo’s recently formed a partnership with Eby-Brown, a Naperville, Ill.-based wholesale distributor that serves the convenience industry. Eby explains that his company has a relationship with Liberty USA, a distributor that Eby-Brown acquired earlier this year.

“They came in and met with me to look at the areas of leveraging the larger organization and to also help them understand some of the unique offerings that we were utilizing from Liberty,” Eby recalls. “We’re working together to take advantage of some utilities that Eby-Brown has and leverage their experience.”

During this process, Kostrzycki says, CoGo’s identified three key areas to focus on. One, he notes, involved using Eby-Brown’s SmartProcess, “a pretty robust category management tool,” he says. “The SmartProcess analyzes our sales and purchase data and compares it to IRI and other market data to determine any distribution gaps.

“Those results are often then used to update planograms to remove and add the suggested SKUs,” he says. “The end result will optimize the allocated space and increase sales and profits. We are testing the process on our candy and confection category.”

The second phase involves creating a beta test store that CoGo’s can use to improve its foodservice operation by testing services and a new menu. “We will try a lot of different things out,” Eby says.

“From there, we will harvest the features that we believe will be most beneficial to our organization and deploy those [to other stores],” he says. Both Eby-Brown and Liberty USA have brought their expertise to this process.

“[They] are helping us work on things like menus and creative marketing ideas,” he says. “We’re partnering with them on creating some unique solutions in foodservice.”

CoGo’s also has partnered with b2b Solutions LLC, a convenience store consulting firm based in Lake Forest, Ill. “I’ve hired them to bring in their expertise and facilitate the creation and execution of this beta site,” Eby explains.

The third phase, Kostrzycki says, will find the company working with wholesalers to evaluate and improve efficiencies in how they communicate with each other. “We can improve those efficiencies and drive costs out so we can not only improve ours, but their overall margin dollars,” he says.

Going Digital

CoGo’s recent marketing initiatives include the launch of a mobile app through which it provides special deals and coupons to customers. It is also “an avenue for [customers] to provide input to us,” Kostrzycki notes.

“Earlier this year, we launched a preference page where customers can identify what their favorite brands are,” he describes. “We then direct coupons to them based on what their preferences are. If their preference is Pepsi, we guide more Pepsi deals to them versus Coke deals.”

The company also rebuilt its entire website and is focused on social media efforts. “Our strategy right now is focused on our digital platform,” he says. “We’re running contests to draw folks in to our Facebook and Twitter accounts and our mobile app, which is essentially where we want to communicate with them.” 

A Pleasant Place

CoGo’s operates with a family style work environment, Kostrzycki says. “Everybody gets along with each other,” he says. “It’s a pleasant place to work. We use that same model when we meet with managers and store employees.”

The company also takes that approach when working with vendors, Unks says. “Our culture is collaborative and that flows out of the family nature,” he says. “We are friendly, we talk to each other, work together, and we know that we have a common purpose in mind.”

Eby sees a strong future for CoGo’s. The company plans to expand its digital platform, and “We are looking toward the beta site to form the foundation of [our] new footprints,” he says. “We want to do some expansion.”

The Top Seller

CoGo’s Co. sells many food items in its stores, but its most popular item is its pepperoni roll. “It’s made fresh every day,” Director of Marketing Ray Kostrzycki says.

The stores take pizza dough, pepperoni and cheese, roll them together and then bake the rolls until they are golden brown. “We have been told our pepperoni rolls are the best in the Burgh,” the company says, noting that it serves marinara sauce on the side.

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