Based in Altoona, Pa., the family owned Sheetz Inc. operates convenience stores in its home state, as well as in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and North Carolina. Bob Sheetz founded the company in 1952 when he purchased one of his father’s dairy stores.
By 1972, Sheetz Inc. had grown to 14 stores and one year later it introduced self-serve gasoline to central Pennsylvania. Today, the company operates approximately 475 stores that sell gas and feature menus that include burgers, chicken sandwiches, pizza and subs.
“We’ve changed so much as a business over the last 60 years,” Travis Sheetz says. “We introduce new foodservice items every quarter. We have a menu variety that’s much bigger than any QSR or fast-casual restaurant would have.”
Leaders in Technology
Sheetz Inc. distinguishes itself in its market through innovation, which has included the implementation of touch screens for ordering meals in its stores. “We were the first to integrate [those] points that allow customization,” Sheetz recalls, adding the company plans to update this feature.
That consists of an option where guests can scan their Sheetz loyalty cards, prompting a menu of their favorites to appear on the screens. “We want to be the leaders of the consumer digital interface within our industry,” Sheetz says. “We want to make sure we have technology that’s relevant to the millennial.”
The company also is installing digital menu boards in its stores and systems that will allow customers to place orders as they fuel up their vehicles. “We are installing some pumps with digital screens,” Sheetz says.
Filling the Gaps
Sheetz Inc.’s entrance into foodservice has helped it cope with drops in some market segments. “The tobacco industry is not growing or doing very well,” Sheetz says, noting that cigarettes are declining due to health concerns, regulation and heavy taxation.
“That business made up almost 40 percent of sales not only in our world but the convenience store world a few years ago,” he says. “Because tobacco is being taxed so much, we’re finding we have to have other ways to make up sales and those dollars.”
The gasoline industry is challenging for Sheetz Inc., as well. “Demand has been down for about six years in a row,” he says. “That’s why everyone in our business is running towards food and beverage to make up those sales.”
With this focus, Sheetz Inc. is developing a new building design that will better showcase its food. Its current locations feature indoor seating and drive-thru service, but this new model will be built without parking spaces and cater to walk-up traffic.
“We’re testing that to see if we can survive [without] gasoline,” he says, noting that the first location will open at West Virginia University in January. Sheetz Inc. plans to follow it up with additional locations at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pittsburgh.
“If that format would work, we could open up a lot of these,” Sheetz describes. “It would allow us to put our brand in locations that are much smaller.”
Looking for Millennials
Sheetz Inc.’s marketing strategy has changed in recent years, Sheetz says. Previously, “Our main marketing strategy was to put up a really low gas price,” he recalls. “It worked very well and convenience stores relied on gas prices to drive sales.”
However, “In the foodservice world, people aren’t looking at just price, [but] they’re looking for quality food and a great environment,” he says. “It’s forced us to compete more in the advertising world.”
Sheetz Inc. largely targets millennials through its current campaign, advertising at sports events and concerts, as well as through social media. “We’re involved in Facebook and Twitter,” he says. “We’re looking for that 16- to 25-year-old.”
Aiming for Growth
Sheetz has worked at his family’s business full-time for 20 years. He is proud of the company, which Fortune named one of the 100 best places to work earlier this year. “[That] was just something we didn’t know we’d obtain,” he says. “There aren’t as many retailers on the list.”
Going forward, “Our biggest challenge is going to be generating the next great group of leaders to take over the new stores that we open,” he says. “You have to develop great people so that you can [grow] this company.”