As the company continued to spread its service stations throughout northeastern Michigan, Forward Corp. continued to add new services to its portfolio. The company added hospitality to its services with hotels in the 1980s and 1990s, and a 1987 merger with McTaggart Wholesale added warehousing and distribution of sundry items. Today, Forward Corp. operates 28 c-stores, 22 Subway restaurant locations, three hotels, full-service screenprint and embroidery company T.R. McTaggart, Kristin & Co. Candle Company, in addition to its fuel delivery services known as Forward Energy.
In everything the company does, Mallory says Forward Corp. benefits from its family ownership and relatively flat organizational structure, especially in the convenience store segment where the product mix may need to change on a weekly basis. With Mallory handling marketing, her sister handling operations and their semi-retired father overseeing the entire company, Forward Corp. has the ability to make changes at the speed of customer demand. “You can be very quick and nimble when making decisions when we need to,” Mallory says. “You can rally everyone around a central idea.”
Mallory says her family is very close-knit, which means the company has a strong base of values and general principles that guide its decisions. The family connection also makes it easier for the company to move forward because the decision-makers share the same perspective, which helps speed up the decision making process. Important company programs, such as its Continuous Process Improvement program (CPI) and its safety committee initiative have helped drive continued success and delivered efficiencies that would not be possible without continuity amongst the owners.
That close-knit environment extends beyond the immediate family leadership of the company, as well. Forward Corp.’s convenience stores boast long-term employees who have extensive experience in the industry and therefore exhibit good judgment when dealing with customers. The average manager at a Forward Corp. convenience store has more than 15 years of experience with the company. Forward has also been fortunate enough to retain a senior level management team that averages over 22 years of experience with the company.
“Because we have such longevity with our employees, it becomes much more of a family oriented environment,” Mallory says, adding that the company seeks to establish a good work life balance that stresses employee health and safety above all.
She notes that Forward also works closely with its insurance broker, Collins & Assoc., to create a safety culture for its employees that has resulted in a 40% reduction in the number of accident claims over the last six years.
Maintaining a strong connection to the communities it serves is a vital part of Forward Corp.’s mission, and the company has worked to strengthen that connection in recent years through an extensive rebranding effort across most of its c-store locations.
According to Mallory, the company’s locations had not substantially updated their look in many years and it wanted to create a new feeling that expressed the company’s connection to northeastern Michigan.
“We went through the rebranding because we realized our stores were looking a little stale,” she says.
As part of the major overhaul Forward Corp. gave to each of its stores, they were redecorated to reflect the theme of living in Michigan and the state’s great outdoors. Mallory says this not only makes Forward Corp.’s stores stand out among other convenience stores, but it solidifies the company’s status as a locally owned and family oriented chain. “It was very important to us to try to capture the love we have for Michigan, the importance of families and traditions and having fun in nature and all of the different things Michigan has to offer,” she says.
Forward Corp. has done its best to keep up with technology, and Mallory says it has given the company a competitive advantage. The company’s use of technology is one of its greatest strengths, and Forward Corp. utilizes the most advanced information platforms, such as their recent install of the new back office software suite, PDI, to provide it with the most complete overview of its stores possible. For example, the company uses item-level scanning and inventory to provide it with precise metrics about its product mix, which allows it to stock each store to match the exact demographics it serves. “I am able to easily pull and analyze data in order to quickly identify trends or potential problems in the stores,” Mallory says.
That level of control will help Forward Corp. stay ahead of the emerging trends that continue to impact the convenience store market, especially the emergence of loyalty programs. Throughout the c-store industry, loyalty programs have proven to be an effective tool in building long-lasting relationships with customers. Forward Corp. recently introduced a loyalty program that has had a substantial positive impact on the number of customers who stop into Forward locations on a regular basis by offering them discounts and other rewards. According to Mallory, Forward believes strongly in providing its customers with as many reasons to shop at its stores as possible, and it has created a program that has resonated with its customers.
“It is very important to Forward that we are continually rewarding our customers,” Mallory says. “We implemented our loyalty program through Outsite Networks in 2006 and have seen increased customer counts and loyalty basket transaction increases.”
Mallory notes Forward is growing and expanding in northeastern Michigan, whether by building new stores or expanding existing locations. Through it all, the company is mindful of the connections it has in the region.
“Any opportunities we have to potentially buy competitors or make some strategic buys to fill in our territory, that’s always top of mind,” she explains.