The Golden Age of Convenience StoresFeb 02, 2022
Since they are a ubiquitous part of the U.S. landscape, it's easy to take convenience stores for granted. Whether it's a small, privately-owned store or one of the gleaming new mega-stores, we have access to fuel, healthy and unhealthy snacks, all manner of hot and cold beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and a variety of grocery items. Within Moore's city limits, it's nearly impossible to drive a mile in any direction and not pass one.
Talk about convenience? Moore's OnCue location at I-35 and 4th Street has a drive-through, so you don't have to go inside the store to shop!
But wait! There's more!
Most of these stores are open 24 hours, seven days a week!
At last count, the National Associate of Convenience stores said there are 148,026 convenience stores operating in our country today.
In 2023, that number will increase by at least one as Tulsa-based QuikTrip recently announced they intend to build a new store at the intersection of I-35 and 27th Street in Moore. The new store will sit on the site currently belonging to Pickles American Grill and Barnes Real Estate School. Kim Brown, President of the Moore Chamber of Commerce, said the addition of the popular business is excellent on many different levels.
"Number one, it's an economic boost for our community," said Brown. "But it also continues to send a message to the state of Oklahoma that Moore is a great place to do business and that we make it easy for folks to do business here."
QuikTrip's announcement of a store to be built in Moore is their second since the company revealed plans to move into the Oklahoma City market. The other location will be at the I-35 and Hefner Road, near Frontier City. Aisha Jefferson-Smith, QuikTrip's Corporate Communications manager, said the company is excited to be coming to Moore.
"We do a great deal of research before we enter any market," said Jefferson-Smith, "So we are fully aware of what a great and resilient community Moore is. After we announced that we would be coming to Moore, I received many phone calls from happy citizens stating how excited they were. That makes it even more exciting for us, knowing that folks are open and welcoming for us to be there."
Stillwater-based OnCue's President, Laura Aufleger, said they have loved being in Moore.
"The Moore community has just been one of my favorite places that we've been able to operate," said Aufleger. "We've just had such a great partnership with the community, and they've come out and supported us and embraced some of the different programs that we've done."
THE BIRTH OF A NEW BUSINESS MODEL
While some might scratch their heads over the thought of folks getting all that excited over plans to build a convenience store, there are a lot of others for whom this is a big deal. A huge deal.
Big, say, approaching the same level as which political party you support or whether you are an OU or an OSU fan. This is especially true when considering the three-way convenience store rivalry between OnCue, QuikTrip, and Love's. All three of those companies are Oklahoma-based. Love's headquarters is in Oklahoma City, OnCue's is in Stillwater, and QuikTrip's home is in Tulsa.
And when it comes to our passion for convenience stores in general, it seems inevitable that these familiar businesses would grow to hold a special place in the hearts of Americans.
Historians trace the birth of the modern convenience store back to 1927. A man named Jefferson "Uncle Johnny" Green ran the Southland Ice Dock in Dallas, Texas. Customers would drop by daily to pick up foot-long blocks of ice, using them to refrigerate their food at home. Green was said to have realized that he could make some extra money offering milk, bread, eggs, and the ice blocks. Since Southland Ice Dock was already open 16 hours a day, seven days a week, this gave Green a leg up over grocery stores.
The parent company of Southland Ice Dock saw the potential in Green's idea and merged all their operations in several locations in the Dallas area. They also extended the store hours: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. In 1946, they changed the names of these stores to 7-Eleven. The 24-hour schedule was adopted 36 years later, almost by accident. University of Texas football fans flooded a 7-Eleven store in Austin after a game to the point where the store stayed open all night.
The birth of the Oklahoma convenience stores came shortly afterward.
"QuikTrip was founded in 1958 by Chester Cadieux II and Bert Holmes," said Jefferson-Smith. "They were friends, and they met up with each other and decided to invest in a small Tulsa grocery store."
That small grocery store grew into a privately held corporation with 918 stores and 24,000 employees in about 13 states. The company started selling gasoline in 1971 and officially opened its stores 24-hours a day in 1976.
Shane Wharton, president of Love's, said the company traced its beginnings to 1964 when Tom and Judy Love opened their first location in Watonga, Oklahoma. Tom and Judy are still active in the company today.
"Since then, the company has grown into 580 locations in 41 states," said Wharton. "The company employs more than 34,000 team members across the country, with about 2,000 employees in Oklahoma City corporate offices."
Aufleger's connection to OnCue's origins is very personal. Her grandfather started the company in 1966 and then was purchased by her father in 1995. The first location was one of those classic full-service stations. Today, OnCue is in about 75 locations in Oklahoma and Texas, employing around 1,400 people.
UNIQUELY AMERICAN AND VERY CONVENIENT
Over the years, all three Oklahoma-based companies have either set or kept the pace of innovation and new customer-oriented services. Aufleger said her company is passionate about meeting customers' changing needs and desires.
"Customer service has been our focus since day one," said Aufleger. "It's always evolving for us and never stagnant. We're constantly looking at how the landscape is evolving, making changes to better serve our customers. One of the things we're really excited about is adding our OnCue Grills with custom made-to-order items."
Another thing that differentiates OnCue is its drive-through service. While most people consider this a more recent development, Aufleger said her father put the first drive-through in OnCue back in 1971.
"That was actually four years before McDonald's first drive-through," said Aufleger. "It's always been very popular with our customers, especially over the past year or so as we've all navigated the pandemic."
Customer service and innovation that changes with customers' needs and desires is also at the heart of QuikTrip's success. Jefferson-Smith said one of the more popular changes was their introduction of freshly-made food.
"In 2013, we introduced our QuikTrip kitchens," said Jefferson-Smith. "We offer fresh, made-to-order items in our foodservice kitchens and all of our locations now. Our customers have really responded well to that over the years, and we're always paying attention to other changes that serve them well."
Not surprisingly, Wharton says fresh and unique food items are at the top of the list for Love's customers. You'll find salads, sandwiches, snacks, and breakfast options made daily by Love's employees.
"Both professional drivers and four-wheel customers also seem to enjoy our fresh coffee options," said Wharton, "Including our bean-to-cup coffee and recent additions like cold brew and iced coffee options."
Love's has also become well-known for their Mobile to Go Zone, featuring a large selection of today's technology for the highway. That includes items like phone chargers and GPS devices.
When you drill down to the core of what makes each of Oklahoma's three convenience store titans favorites among customers, you find another consistent theme. Their employees buy into each company's corporate culture.
"Our employees are always happy to see our customers," said Jefferson-Smith. "They're smiling; they're asking you how your day was. They're eager to help. And those smiling faces always bring our customers back the next day because, at that point, they start to feel like they're part of our family here."
Aufleger said, "Customer service has always been our biggest focus, and we have wonderful employees. Since day one, that's been one of our biggest goals that everyone who walks through our door feels valued and cared for."
"Our customers are really what drives us to continue to grow in the number of locations we have and in what we offer them," said Wharton. "We love to get positive feedback from customers and turn their wants into a reality at our locations. I like to say that we grow where our customers want us to, and we hope that continues to drive the passion they have for us."
In addition to the Oklahoma-based companies, Moore is also home to several Dallas-based 7-Eleven stores and the new kid on the block, Casey's, based in Des Moines, Iowa. We reached out to both companies for more information about their stores but did not receive a response. It's evident that the push to serve fresh food is having a significant impact on 7-Eleven and Casey's, with both stores beginning to feature in-store grills that serve up everything from freshly-made pizza to tacos and wings. Casey's also acquired the local Circle-K stores and is upgrading some of those locations as well.
THE FUTURE OF CONVENIENCE
Kim Brown believes that businesses like Oklahoma's family-owned convenience store do a great job of elevating the quality of life in Moore.
"I think what they're doing is they're setting a standard not only for the state as a whole but also for local businesses," said Brown. "When you have people of this caliber investing in our community and building these beautiful and well-maintained facilities, Moore's a great thing. And it's always a great thing when our residents have a variety of choices. So, we're looking forward to adding QuikTrip to our community."
As for the leadership at QuikTrip, OnCue, and Love's, they pledge that they will constantly be looking to stay ahead of the curve on their customer's wants and needs.
"Everything we do is about being convenient," said QuikTrip's Jefferson-Smith. "We're now offering curbside pickup and a mobile app, and we intend to stay way ahead of our time."
Wharton said, "Our customer commitment is to get customers back on the road quickly and safely. We're all in a hurry to get to where we're going, and convenience stores play an important role in making that happen."
"We feel like we have a great formula for making our customers happy," said Aufleger. "We will always look to innovate, but we'll do it from our foundational principles of providing great customer experiences and serving our communities."