When Pat Gilligan graduated from college, he started out in BP’s management trainee program. He spent five years in the company’s retail training program, working in many different functions, and in “total happenstance,” he says, he had the opportunity to take over a couple of stores from BP in Ohio, where he was from. Wanting to stay in the business and not move around, he jumped at this opportunity. Two years later, Gilligan bought a third store, and has continued to grow his business.
“Retail was where I was trained and I knew I had the ability to grow and manage a business,” he says. “The fuel business is such high volume because it is needed by every consumer, and the fuel provided an opportunity to grow the retail side of the business. At this time, however, we are beginning the transition of the fuel business into more of a focus on retail.”
Gilligan got started in 1993 and now – as president and CEO of Gilligan Oil Co. – owns and operates approximately 30 convenience stores under the Shell, Exxon and Sunoco banners, and it owns and operates Gills Car Washes.
The company’s distribution and transportation division – Gilligan Oil Services – is southwest Ohio’s largest distributor of Shell-branded gasoline. Additionally, Gilligan Oil is the regional franchise developer for the Exxon/Mobil On the Run convenience store franchise system.
The company, however, also does major business in foodservice. Gilligan’s operates several Subway, Popeyes and Dunkin’ Donuts locations, which it has been able to do through franchising. Gilligan explains the transition into foodservice was natural because it already owned and operated co-located gas stations and convenience stores. The company isn’t large enough to develop its own foodservice operation, he believes, so he saw franchising as a smart investment.
“We are good at owning real estate, picking good real estate, operating the stores and picking good employees and providing training, and all of that is important in developing a successful franchise,” he explains. “Our food franchise sales are more than double what some top quartile sales of the convenience stores would be. Our Subway sales are 30 percent higher than the traditional Subway store average. Subway is going well, but our goal is to have 25 or more Dunkin’ Donuts stores by 2018; we have five now.”
Looking for Leadership
To keep all of its operations running smoothly, Gilligan Oil “substantially uses technology,” according to Gilligan. He says the company is in the process of implementing back-office systems to ensure “the right data goes to the right people in a very timely manner.” It will provide promotional information on how sales are doing, unit sales for key items sold in one location versus the rest of its stores, and inventory and out-of-stock reports.
“With these systems, our store managers can make accommodates based on what they see in that data,” Gilligan says. “It will be a seamless data flow.”
At the same time, Gilligan realizes that operational strength also comes from a strong workforce, so employee development is important to the company. Gilligan Oil has one human resources manager for its approximately 700 employees, as well as 30 convenience store managers and 30 quick-service restaurant, who are in charge of their own locations’ human resources functions. Additionally, a district manager signs off on all new hires.
Gilligan Oil provides specialized training to all employees when they are hired, and to all of the managers. As an incentive for managers to maintain the company’s high standards, Gilligan Oil offers bonuses based on feedback on the managers’ success in areas like customer service, sales and labor control. Gilligan notes that he likes to promote from within because it helps to make the culture stronger.
“What I look for in managers is strong leadership skills, good communication and successful management of inventory,” he says. “The most important aspect, however, is leadership skills. Their main responsibility is to hire and retain people and lead their crews. Good communication goes along with leadership skills.
The next most important thing is inventory control,” he adds. “We don’t look for people with a specific background, it’s just important that they excel in those three areas.”
Gilligan explains he is proud that the store managers have such a good work ethic, and their dedication has become a key part of the company’s overall culture. “Like many places, we have fewer people doing more things, but our people don’t feel overworked because everything they do is effective and efficient,” he says.
He tries to push some of the decision-making down to the store managers, which “allows an entrepreneurial environment to thrive,” he says. By respecting the managers and employees, he works to ensure the company offers an environment that people enjoy and appreciate working in.
“I am a goal setter and provide my three main direct-reports with the resources necessary to meet the goals,” Gilligan says. “We set specific benchmarks and measurements, and then I am hands-off in terms of making the day-to-day decisions of the stores. This allows for an entrepreneurial environment with increased accountability, and it allows people to use their individual skills.”
This will be key as the company continues to transition to do more food business instead of primarily fuel. The fuel business is growing more difficult, Gilligan notes, because cars’ efficiency is outstripping the growth in demand for gas, and grocery stores are increasing their presence in the fuel business with loyalty programs, which cuts into Gilligan Oil’s market share.
“We haven’t found a place to do that on our own, in terms of scale and technology,” he says.
But the foodservice operations continue to grow, he says, as does the beverage category, so Gilligan Oil is expanding the offering at its locations in those two categories.
“Right now we are finishing rebuilding all of our initial locations,” Gilligan explains. “We’ve done about two to three each year - adding new retail and new fueling operations - and we have about four to five more to do. From there, we will continue to expand the same strong offering in the new locations. Of course, none of these plans can happen without really strong employees, and we are lucky to have the people we do.”