For Casey’s General Store, the key to success is not always sales. Instead, the relationships the company forms are most important, Chairman and CEO Robert J. Myers says. “Our business is always about people,” he declares.
“That’s our total focus,” he says, noting that this is reflected in Casey’s relationships with customers, employees and the other firms it partners with. “[It translates] into the great performance of the company.”
Based in Ankeny, Iowa, with a presence in 14 states, Casey’s operates convenience stores that sell groceries, prepared food and fuel. The company’s history goes back to 1959, when co-founder Don Lamberti leased a store from his father in Des Moines, Iowa.
Nine years later, at the suggestion of his friend and Casey’s co-founder, Kurvin C. Fish, he purchased the Square Deal Oil Co., which operated a service station and three-bay garage in Boone, Iowa.
After remodeling the location into a convenience store, Lamberti named the store “Casey’s,” after Fish’s initials.
When the company enjoyed success, Casey’s built a third store in Waukee, Iowa, which at the time had a population of only 1,500.
However, the success that it encountered made Lamberti and Fish realize that the stores could be successful in communities with a population of 5,000 or less. Today, Casey’s has over 1,749 corporate-owned locations, and it plans to open many more, Myers says.
Last year, Casey’s modestly celebrated its 45th anniversary, Myers adds. “We came out with a 45th anniversary model truck that is very similar to our grocery trucks,” he says. “When we get to 50, we’ll make it a big deal.”
Casey’s focus on small, rural communities has distinguished it from its competitors, Senior Vice President and CFO Bill Walljasper says. By thinking smaller, “We have insulated ourselves quite a bit from the big-box retailers,” he says.
The firm also sets itself apart by self-distributing its products. “For some time, we were one of the very few that did that,” Myers recalls, noting that each and every week, it distributes its products through its own center.
This includes fuel, which it transports through its own fleet of tankers. “I can’t [overstate] the importance of that,” he asserts. “[It’s] been important to the success and efficiency of our operations.”
Casey’s also has prepared food offerings, including sub sandwiches and pizza, which make it a competitor outside its fuel market. “The fast-food market would consider us a threat,” he says, adding that this is largely due to its pizza.
“We make one of the best pizzas in the country,” he says, noting that prepared food sales comprise 8 percent of Casey’s total revenue stream and 32 percent of its gross profit.
He adds that Casey’s is also set apart by the discipline in its operations. For instance, “We don’t necessarily change quickly without a lot of study and thought,” he says.
Last year, Casey’s began to enjoy sales gains through the Fuel Saver program it developed with Hy-Vee Inc., a grocery store operator based in West Des Moines, Iowa. Myers explains that the retailer approached Casey’s about the program, which started in December 2012.
In the program, Walljasper explains, customers use their Fuel Saver cards when they buy special items that Hy-Vee’s stores are promoting. After the purchase, they earn points on their card that they can use to save money on gas at Casey’s or a Hy-Vee gas station.
Already, “We’re seeing some nice movement and traffic in the stores,” Walljasper explains, noting that Casey’s is enjoying significant gains in gallons from the program. “We think that will continue.”
Expanding Casey’s Presence
Casey’s is underway on initiatives to change its stores. One involves remodeling its locations and changing their footprints, Walljasper says. Although the remodeling process will update the look of the stores, “The big reason for that is to expand our prepared food presence,” he says.
He explains that the company wants to add new sections, including a coffee bar and a larger beer selection. With these additions, “We typically see a 20 percent lift in revenue inside the stores,” he predicts.
The company is also converting more of its stores to operate 24 hours. Until late last year, the majority of its stores opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 11 p.m., Myers recalls.
But after Casey’s acquired several stores that operated all day long, the company realized that it was missing an opportunity for more sales. Immediately, “We began to [keep] them open 24 hours,” Myers says.
Already, it has seen strong results, Myers reports. In the next year, “We’ll see continued expansion of 24-hour [schedules] to other stores,” he predicts.
Pride in Pizza
Casey’s recently tested a pizza delivery service from its stores. “The results were really significant,” Myers says, noting that in July, the company added pizza-delivery services to 57 locations.
He adds that Casey’s plans to grow that number further. “By the end of the fiscal year, we’ll have approximately 380 pizza-delivery locations,” he predicts.
Casey’s also has launched Pizza Express, a standalone concept where customers can order and pick up pizzas or have them delivered to their homes. As an added bonus, Myers explains, each location features a yogurt bar.
“You’ll likely see an expansion of that business,” he says, noting that Pizza Express locations are a good fit in strip malls or near college campuses. “We think there’s a wide potential for opportunity.”
The Right Culture
Casey’s enjoys longevity in its staff. Myers joined Casey’s in 1988, after spending 22 years in the U.S. Army, while Walljasper came to the company 24 years ago.
Additionally, its COO, Terry W. Handley, has 35 years with Casey’s. “It’s a very seasoned management team that knows the industry well,” Walljasper says, noting that people have stayed with the firm due to its working environment.
“Even though we’re over 27,000 employees in 14 states, it has a pretty small-company feel to it,” he says. “The corporate office is very tight-knit. I think that kind of culture resonates around the company.”
Casey’s constantly faces the hard task of being price competitive in the sales of gas and cigarettes. When it comes to gasoline, “We’re going to let the competition set the price,” Myers declares.
“But we’re not going to be undersold,” he asserts. “For that particular category, you’ll find us as competitive [as anyone] in the marketplace. The same thing could be said for cigarettes.”
However, that market is also heavily taxed and regulated, Walljasper adds. “The tobacco manufacturers will continually change their programs, which we have to react on a market-by-market basis,” he explains. “Managing that category continues to be challenging.”
Despite these challenges, Myers says the future looks good for Casey’s. “We have tremendous potential,” he says. “We are in the early stages of transforming from a regional-based company to a national-based company. We’re laying the foundation of the groundwork, if you will.”
Although Casey’s excels at developing five-year plans, “We’re in the process of taking that out to 20 years,” he says. “We’ll continue with the current business model as we’ll continue to refine that.”
For instance, Casey’s is now refining its plan to add a second distribution operation.