“We converted service stations into convenience stores and also built new locations from the ground up,” President Charles Taylor Jr. adds.
The majority of Chuckles’ locations are in small towns ranging in size from 1,500 to 22,000 people. It does have a presence in Evansville, Ind., which is the third-largest community in the state at more than 100,000 people.
“We also have a presence in a few Kentucky communities that have populations around 60,000, and we’re growing in some slightly larger communities,” Taylor says.
“However, our stores are mostly located in rural areas that are farming, manufacturing and mining communities scattered around Kentucky and Indiana,” Taylor adds.
Chuckles has foodservice offerings in most of its stores. This includes branded food service like Noble Roman’s pizza and Subway.
In all of its stores, Chuckles is focused on providing a clean operation that is well run by smiling people. It has invested in modernizing most of its stores and has become the market-leading option in many of its communities.
Chuckles continues to look for ways to incorporate new items into its offerings and find ways to appeal to consumers. It has focused on expanding its healthy food options, and it has also worked on growing its own brand of proprietary foodservice.
“Branded fast food can be tough to grow because of market saturation, so we are working on developing our own proprietary foodservice so we can put that out in locations where it makes sense,” Taylor says.
All of this helps in environment where margins have been squeezed on traditional items like cigarettes, which have traditionally been a big part of the business.
Avenues for Growth
To continue its growth, the company works to establish strong partnerships with vendors and suppliers. Part of this effort involves participating in industry events and attending seminars.
Chuckles believes it is important to network with peers from across the country. This helps the company to learn about what is working and what is not in the industry.
“We work very closely with vendors and distributors to keep on top of high-moving SKUs, and we are also always looking at the regional and national numbers on items,” Stuckey says.
Another key to the company’s plans is continuing to expand its footprint. Chuckles recently purchased seven full-service fuel sites, which it plans to build on and convert into convenience stores, expanding its footprint to 36 operating sites.
“We looked at the locations of the acquisitions because they were in similar towns to our current footprint, and they were on good-size lots in good locations with good traffic,” Stuckey says.
In addition, the company is working with Paragon Design Group to create a new Chuckles prototype store, which will be rolled out at the acquired sites, as well as at any new ground-up expansion efforts.
Enhancing the presence of the Chuckles brand is also a focus for the company. That is why the company has focused on de-branding its fuel operations.
Most of its competition offers unbranded fuel, while Chuckles has previously had brands such as Shell and BP. The company decided to de-brand its fuel operations across all stores because it makes sense within its markets.
“Financially, we are better off that way,” Taylor says.
“The consumer is looking for the best price, and we can do that as an unbranded marketer,” he continues. “Also, when you look at potential expansion opportunities, your growth is impacted because of saturation of established brands in the area.”
Chuckles believed it was important to build its own brand because the company would be able to take it wherever it wants to go. But the ultimate key to the brand’s success will be the service and product selection it offers.
Chuckles has almost 50 years of experience serving rural Midwest markets. That experience helps the company to better understand that service can be a differentiating factor in the end.
“People are the greatest challenge in this industry, and they are the greatest reward,” Taylor says.
“Finding the right people and developing them is always the challenge, but it can also be fun and rewarding,” he adds. “Our programs and facilities all revolve around people. We know that to be well received by consumers and to operate our facilities right, everything comes back to people.”