Like most establishments, The Linn Companies started out slow and steady. Standard Oil, now known as BP, handed the keys to one of its stations to its manager, Clarence Linn, in 1964. The trusted former employee became a business owner and, in 1972, Standard Oil offered him ownership of another station. The success of the two Minnesota stations set Linn Companies up for significant growth, and in the ’80s and ’90s the company began diversifying into other channels related to the automotive market.
Convenience stores began accompanying the service stations and the company partnered with auto repair and auto parts brands to develop stores in Minnesota. Today, The Linn Companies owns and operates gasoline convenience stores supplied by BP fuel wholesalers and Holiday, convenience stores, Goodyear Tire and Auto Service Dealerships and NAPA Auto Parts stores. And, as of two-and-a-half years ago, it’s also in the coin-operated Laundromat industry, operating under its own trademarked name Tumble Fresh Coin Laundry
This newest revenue stream was actually born out of another business division. The Linn Companies owns and manages 26 commercial properties, which host internal and external retailers. In 2008, when commercial retailers took a hit from the economic crash, The Linn Companies found itself with a number of vacancies and needed a way to fill the empty space. In 2009 it opened its first Tumble Fresh Coin Laundry in Fridley, Minn It opened a second in August in Cottage Grove, Minn. Between its gasoline convenience stores, Goodyear Dealerships, NAPA Auto Parts Stores and Laundromats, The Linn Companies operates 18 retail locations, all on company-owned property.
“We own all of our facilities primarily because we have very high standards in what we want from our facilities,” explains Stephen Linn, CEO and second-generation owner. “We want very top-end professional, well-kept pieces of real estate and our concern was that without control of the real estate, we were at the mercy of landlords to keep the property to our standard. With us as the owner, we are constantly remodeling properties, adding on to properties. As markets change and as businesses change, so, too, does the real estate need to change. If we’re not in control or don’t have the ability to make those changes, it really restricts our business model.”
With total control of its facilities, the Linn Companies has been able to invest and reinvest to keep its business on an upward trend. In addition to the new Tumble Fresh Laundry, the company is opening a new multi-tenant retail building in Golden Valley, Minn. The company recently signed two tenants, Papa Murphy’s Pizza and Which Wich Superior Sandwiches.
By the end of this year it will have completed three renovations. In June it completed the renovation of one of its Goodyear locations in Woodbury, Minn. Its Holiday Station store location in Oakdale, Minn, is undergoing a $1 million renovation that will finish this September. The Linn Cos. is adding 650 square feet to the convenience store, and putting on an entirely new façade that will be raised to give the building a more architectural feel rather than a flat square box. The interior is also going through an extensive remodel with new restrooms, floor tile, sales counters, ceiling and an all new foodservice area. The parking lot and pump islands are getting new asphalt and concrete, as well as new pumps and pump island forms.
“It’s remaining open during construction so we are doing it in stages,” Linn says. “There have been a few periods of time when we’ve had to close the entire facility but it would only be for maybe six or eight hours and then reopen. When it’s done, it will feel as though it’s a brand-new facility.”
The same goes for its Golden Valley BP station. The company began an even larger renovation project there in August. In addition to convenience store and gas pump renovations, this project will add a brand-new tunnel car wash system. The construction is phased so the station can continue operating and it will be completed toward the end of the year.
Linn says a typical year for the company includes one or two new builds and one or two renovations. But with two new builds and three renovations this year, the company has been a bit more aggressive in its facilities planning.
“We’ve done more expansions, remodels and rebuilds in the last four or five years than typical and it’s primarily due to low interest rates,” Linn says. “There is a lot of opportunity with what we believe to be competitive pricing on the construction side, as well. It’s my belief that as the economy picks up – which it is picking up now – that we’ll start to see inflation and costs of material and labor increase drastically and so will interest rates. So we are trying to get a little ahead of that.”