Using its founder as an inspiration, this c-store and foodservice retailer continues to innovate. Carl Bolch, Sr. opened Carl Bolch Trackside Stations in 1934 with one thing in mind: to offer consistently lower-priced gasoline to the public. More than 75 years later, his legacy lives on in the more than 525 retail gasoline and convenience stores spread across 12 Southeastern states that make up RaceTrac Petroleum’s footprint. Under the guidance of his son Carl Bolch, Jr., who is chairman and CEO, and his granddaughter Allison Moran, who is a senior vice president, this family-owned company is now one of the larger c-store and foodservice retailers in the country.
Part of the company’s ongoing success and ambitious growth strategy (30 new stores will have been opened by the end of 2010) comes from the family’s ability to see an opportunity where others might not. “Our growth plans for this year are typical of what we’ve had historically,” said Moran. “We’re seeing opportunities with good real estate out there and continuing growth opportunities in the markets we serve.”
Another part comes from the family’s innovative heritage, which started with Moran’s grandfather and continues with her father. “Innovation is naturally a part of my father’s personality, and it’s what’s driven RaceTrac throughout the years,” she said. “We’re not afraid to try anything new, and we’re willing to take risks.”
But it’s not just about finding success through innovation. Moran said a successful test run is worth the effort, but if something doesn’t work, it’s also important to admit it, find the problem, and try again. One example of how RaceTrac learned from an opportunity came when it began partnering with food franchises to bring a full-service food complement to its locations.
“We’ve recognized our strengths in having the shopper self-serve versus the complexities in the other offer,” said Moran. “We tried numerous other platforms and have learned to make it simple for the guests to get them what they want so they can be on their way. Being innovative helps you figure out what is and what isn’t possible.”
Since it began in 1934 under its founder’s name, RaceTrac has evolved beyond being simply a gasoline retailer, although its strengths remain rooted in the gasoline industry. As a result of partly being a commodities player, the company is challenged with handling the volatile gasoline market.
“We have benefited from how it can fluctuate, having a not so strong quarter followed by a time where we could have a record year in one month because of the changes that occur with the price of gasoline at cost purchase,” said Moran.
“With that being said, strategically, we’re trying to gain more stability through those volatile times on convenience offers by giving people a reason to want to shop at RaceTrac beyond just that low price value with the gasoline.”
With a branding strategy focused on a value offer supported by RaceTrac’s history of offering low-price, high-quality fuel, the hope is that consumers feel confident the other products they buy live up to the same standard. But value does not only mean low price; it also means charging a fair price and providing a real benefit to the customer. So as the company has grown, its new locations have been strategically picked to ensure customers can get in, get what they want, and get out without any hassle.
RaceTrac’s five core values of honesty, positive attitude, efficiency, teamwork, and respect help the company build a culture that gives it a competitive advantage. “When it comes to respect, positive attitude, and teamwork, our store teams demonstrate that every day,” said Moran. “It’s not an easy job. In all of the tasks our team members have to do to meet the needs of our guests, they do it with a smile, and they enjoy it because engaging with the guest makes their day just a little bit easier.”
To maintain streamlined operations, honesty and efficiency play a role in management’s day-to-day workings. “We work to keep our costs as low as we can so we can pass savings on to the consumer. It’s trended through everything we do every single day,” Moran said. “In the shopper’s mind, honesty is demonstrated when we deliver on what we say. They’re getting that value of a quality product with speed of service.”
In addition to the historic benefits of being a family-owned company, Moran said there are strategic benefits. “Being privately held is beneficial because we are not driven by our quarterly performance,” she said. “We can make key decisions for the long-term growth of the organization versus a short-term win decision for the moment.”
The success at RaceTrac comes down to being mindful of the corporation’s values at all times, and it also includes having a culture based on positive change. “Our foundation is built on positive attitudes, teamwork, and respect,” Moran said. “We have an engaging group of people that share our family’s passion for the business and for serving the consumer. It makes it a very enjoyable place to work every day.”
RaceTrac employees push that positive attitude into the communities they work in as well. In December, employees in the Atlanta region partnered with an organization called Camp Sunshine, which provides summer camp opportunities for children fighting cancer. “Our guests bought the cups of coffee, and we donated the proceeds to Camp Sunshine,” said Moran.
Activities such as this not only give employees a place to share their positive attitudes, they also place RaceTrac at the top of consumers’ minds when they think of their community. “That regular consumer tends to look at you as being a part of their everyday life and being a part of the community, which we believe is critical,” Moran said. “Those are the folks who come back to shop every single day.”