Loyalty to one convenience store is rare among consumers today with most of them out to find the cheapest gas pump or the best deal on sodas and snacks. To combat these changes from when the Lawrence family first opened Speedy Q Markets more than 50 years ago, the chain continues to add customer incentives that keep its doors revolving.
“The fuel market is always moving,” President Kyle Lawrence says. “It’s not an industry that all of a sudden one guy has got figured out and everyone will catch up. The guy that has it figured out today can’t be complacent because the fuel market is going to change drastically.”
Evolving with the market requires focusing on customer satisfaction, which has been the Michigan-based company’s goal since opening in 1962. While working as a refinery representative, Lawrence’s grandfather, Claude, leased his first two gas station and convenience store locations. White Rose – Speedy Q Markets’ first name – was born. The name of the business was later changed from White Rose to PDQ Market in 1977, and the company has been named Speedy Q Markets since 1983. The family owned business operates 18 locations in the “thumb” region of eastern Michigan.
“The thumb region of Michigan has been our footprint for so long, it’s a placeholder,” Lawrence says. “It’s prevented other brands from growing into the area too much. We are located on the furthest east side and the only place to go is west. That would be where we would like to go, eventually.”
When Lawrence’s grandfather opened his first convenience store, Speedy Q Markets was the place to go to replace a trip to the grocery store or a restaurant. Times have changed over the years as the convenience store has reduced their number of grocery items, which are considered dead space now. Consumers today expect quick shopping, to consume products immediately and to get in and out of the store fast.
“It’s moving more towards things that can be consumed within 30 minutes of their purchase as opposed to those stopping to get green beans and grocery items,” Lawrence says.
Speedy Q Markets has a variety of items to please customers on the go. Lawrence spotlights the self-serve milkshake kiosk that offers about a dozen flavors. The kiosk is currently piloted in one location. All locations offer a variety of food and beverage options – all but two stores include beer and wine selections.
Lawrence believes one of Speedy Q Markets’ competitive advantages is that the company is not branded. He adds that major oil companies enforce the use of certain credit card and pump software, but since the family owned company is not branded, Speedy Q Markets has the freedom to choose from which company it purchases fuel on a daily basis. Speedy Q Markets can choose the best cause allowing the customer to save at the pump, Lawrence says.
Because the majority of Speedy Q Markets’ offerings are the same as other convenience stores, Lawrence says prime real estate and customer service is a must in the industry.
“We don’t have anything where this is the only place you can get ‘X,’” Lawrence explains. “It’s based on location and differentiation of service. Is it on someone’s way to something? The real estate has to be positioned in a way that you are the first guy to satisfy the need. If you are third or fourth down the line, you have to operate on lower margins or have something that is unique to you. Our people then have to make the customer feel welcome to come back.”
Speedy Q Markets launched its own debit card in 2007. The cards allow consumers to attach the card to debit directly from their checking account and save at the pump. “It’s a way we saw to pass some savings on to the customer,” Lawrence says. “You also have a loyal customer, someone who took the time and effort to hook the card up to their bank account and continues to use it.”
To continue to find ways to benefit its customers, Speedy Q Markets in December 2012 rolled out its newest card called the Q-Rewards card. The Rewards Program allows the customer to build points with each purchase in the store and at the pump. Customers will receive discounts on gas and accrue points for each purchase, working towards free items or gas discounts. The rewards card and program is available in seven of the company’s 18 locations. All the locations will have the rewards program available in October, Lawrence says. About 19,500 customers have a rewards card.
“This is something in its infancy,” Lawrence adds. “There are just tons of features we can add. We are scratching our heads to include something that will make a difference to people. It’s a great tool.”
Marketing the cards is all about enticing the consumer. Instead of using loyalty in the name of the program, Speedy Q Markets opted to use rewards as a way to let the customer know they would be getting something out of joining.
“We were advised against calling it ‘loyalty’ because that attaches the stigma that you must make that retailer the only place you shop in order to receive a benefit,” Lawrence says. “Customers should take away that just having the card will save them money.”
Business closures continue to be a constant in today’s economy, but Lawrence says Speedy Q Markets will continue to prosper thanks to strategic planning. This allows the company to determine what can be accomplished, added and improved each year. “Strategic planning has kept upper management as a cohesive unit,” Lawrence adds. “We are working together and moving forward.”
Along with strategic planning, Lawrence says the company has created and is pursuing 27 action plans. Store managers are recruited to action plan teams to work with upper management in creating these objectives. In 2012, for example, store managers were involved in launching Q-Rewards, developing the fountain program and development of new employee training program. In 2013, store managers are helping with expanding the manager and assistant manager training program, creating videos for Customer Service Representative training and launching to Q-Rewards program company wide, to name a few.
“They like to be involved and they see more than upper management,” Lawrence says. Store managers and employees can help with the feasibility of a proposed idea, Lawrence added.
Keeping the employees happy and well trained allows the company to accomplish its main goal: keeping the customer happy. “We outline together what needs to get done and we work together to get it done,” Lawrence says. “The future is the consumer.”