Truenorth retails fuel and convenience items to customers at 110 locations. It also distributes fuel to an additional 200-plus dealers. From a convenience store perspective, the company has kept a close eye on the way the marketplace and customer base has evolved in recent times.
“So much has changed in relation to the c-store. Areas such as the cold vault, foodservice and restrooms have expanded.” Lyden says. “We look at those types of offerings and put them around the perimeter of the stores, freeing up the interior of the store for items like candy and snacks. Foodservice offerings and the cold vault, with items like cold beer, have become a considerable amount of our sales. We have also put a lot of emphasis on the quality of the restrooms, and we have focused on making sure all segments of the stores are meeting customer evolving expectations.”
The company works with organizations such as Eby-Brown in the distribution space, which helps Truenorth make sure it has the right product mix in place. The company is also taking advantage of a wide range of data to help it make the right decisions about the products it places on its shelves.
“We combine our own data with available national and regional data to ensure we optimize our product mix,” Lyden says. “When we work with Eby-Brown, or other companies like Miller-Coors, we can look at our own scan data and match it up with regional and national data. With foodservice, we have a great partnership with Lipari Foods, and they work with us when we bring our ideas to them on the kinds of products we think we should have.”
Truenorth also keeps track of all customer suggestions. That information is tracked and ends up at corporate headquarters in the merchandising department. “We look at all the requests customers make, especially if we start to get similar requests or inquiries about popular seasonal items,” Lyden says. “We always take suggestions seriously, and everything gets back to our merchandising department.”
The dealer end of Truenorth’s operations is another fairly sizable portion of its business. It works with many independent operators, which are in a part of the industry that is both growing nationwide and under pressure because of tightening margins and operational efficiency issues.
“The independent operators struggle with operational efficiency whereas we are able to buy better and operate more efficiently because we have the staff,” Lyden says. “Single operators don’t have that, so we have developed a licensing agreement called Pop-N, which allows us to take our in-house expertise and bring it to the dealer.”
As part of these agreements, Truenorth can bring buying power to its independent dealers. It also includes them in monthly manager meetings to increase their exposure to various operational, merchandising, HR, environmental and other issues. The independent dealers appreciate the autonomy of the licensing agreement when compared to a franchise, as there are no additional fees and their entrepreneurial freedom is preserved. The program provides them tools to be better retailers and make more money, without the franchising company trying to take a cut.
“When we put a Pop-N agreement in place, we help them with issues like exterior and interior graphics, cabinetry, ceilings, lights and more,” Lyden says. “We help them refresh their stores, buy better and give them tools to help them with operational efficiency so they can see an uptick in sales.”
Truenorth is growing organically, and tries to position its stores in first-class locations while investing in improving facilities. “We are building seven or eight locations a year as well as undergoing major transformations at eight existing stores per year,” Lyden says. “That is refreshing our system quickly. We also don’t bypass acquisitions, but look for the right opportunities when they fit our geographical footprint. For example, we are looking at Chicago because that is a market where we think we can develop more.”
As Truenorth looks ahead, the company is excited about the future. The younger generations of the Lyden family are now influencing the company’s direction, and that youthful perspective is energized and focused on achieving results. “We are always adapting to change and staying innovative with technology as we work to stay ahead of the competition,” Lyden says.