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Knecht’s Auto Parts believes in empowering its managers to make decisions, which encourages employee retention and benefits customers.

By Jim Harris

Knecht’s Auto Parts has been a household name for car enthusiasts and motorists throughout Oregon for nearly 70 years. “We’d had a path beaten to our stores for decades,” says Kevin Sabbato, president of the Springfield, Ore.-based retailer. “We’re the neighborhood auto parts store that’s been there for decades; for our customers, we’re the place they remember because they went there with their dad. That familiarity is a big positive.”

Founded in 1947, the company today operates 21 locations in Oregon. Knecht Auto Parts’ longevity has not only earned it loyalty from its customers, but also many of its employees. “We are still family owned and operated, and that carries some weight,” Sabbato says. “Several of our management-level employees have been here a long time – we have someone on our counter who’s been here for 37 years, and 5 who’s been here for 15-20 years.”

Sabbato represents the third generation of family ownership in the company, as he is the son-in-law of Wally Knecht, the son of company founder Nate Knecht. He credits the company’s retention of longtime employees to its family based culture. “We’re just super-straight with people and treat them fairly,” he says. “We expect a lot out of them, and reciprocate their loyalty – when something comes up, we take care of our staff with time off or other support.”

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LiptonMart’s history with the communities it serves help differentiate it from its competitors.

By Jim Harris

The Lipton family’s close connections to the communities it serves in western Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont have made its convenience stores and other businesses go-to destinations.

“We’re a fourth-generation business with strong ties to the area,” says Mike Lipton, vice president of Pittsfield, Mass.-based LiptonMart, the family’s convenience store chain. “We also give a lot back to the community and people know us for that, which gives us an advantage over our big-box competitors.”

Lipton Energy was founded in 1910 by Mike Lipton’s great-grandfather Samuel Lipton as an iron works and coal supply company. During the 1940s, the company started distributing home heating oil, and purchased gas stations throughout the 1950s and 1960s. LiptonMart opened in the early 1980s when Lipton Energy began converting several of its gas stations into convenience stores.

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Mar-Val Food Stores stays innovative and offers its customers the highest-quality products to be the go-to grocery store in its communities.

By Janice Hoppe

Mar-Val Food Stores isn’t considered the local grocery store for nine small towns of California’s Central Valley because of proximity, but because of the connection it has developed with its customers that make them proud to call the store their own. “The Mar-Val Food Stores staff takes pride in bringing you the best in product selection, competitive pricing and customer satisfaction,” the company says. “We work hard to earn the privilege of being your ‘super market.’”

The Lodi, Calif.-based company was named after Mardee and Val Kidd, who in 1952 decided to open a small food store. Mar-Val Food Stores was born and grew over the years to four stores and 180 employees. Under the leadership of the family’s second generation, the company expanded, adding five more stores under three different banners and more than doubling its workforce.

Today, Mar-Val Food Stores operates a chain of eight grocery stores and one convenience store in Clements, Escalon, Georgetown, Groveland, Prather, Valley Springs, Nice, Pleasanton and Colfax, Calif. “Many changes over the years were made to allow us to arrive at the point we are today,” the company says. “We are truly excited about our company and its growth. We are dedicated to delivering a variety of services to the community in the manner that reflects its way of life.”

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Montreal-based CCM Hockey is positioned as one of the largest hockey equipment manufacturers in the world.

By Stephanie Crets

CCM Hockey is a company and a brand completely dedicated to hockey. Not only is it one of the largest hockey equipment manufacturers in the world, but all the employees – no matter what their position in the company – live and breathe hockey every day. “Everyone plays or just enjoys being a fan of hockey,” President Philippe Dube says. “I started a bit too late in my life to be a good hockey player, but I play in a league in Montreal every Wednesday night. I’m not going to be pro anytime soon.”

Up until five years ago, the company’s sales were dominated by the Reebok brand. But, according to Dube, it’s now almost 100 percent CCM. CCM was founded in 1899 and originally known as Canada Cycle & Motor Company. But the market for bicycles in Canada began to rapidly decline in 1905 thanks to market saturation and seasonal issues. At the same time, ice hockey was growing rapidly in popularity. CCM decided to dedicate its business to the sport, launching CCM Automobile Skate and dominating the hockey skate business for 30 years.

Since the split from the Reebok brand, Dube has tripled CCM’s profits in three-and-a-half years. Now, the company is investing in a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to link all CCM businesses globally. Because everyone has different product codes, it won’t go live until January 2017 to ensure complete success. The new system will generate efficiency gains, consolidate procurements and allow for easier vendor management. 

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A diverse range of lawn and garden products have made Strader’s Garden Centers the go-to retailer in Columbus, Ohio.

By Tim O’Connor

Alfred Barnett worked part-time for Columbus, Ohio’s Strader’s Garden Centers in the mid-1960s when we joined the military. He didn’t return to Ohio until 1968, but left enough of an impression from his time with the company that owner Jack Strader called him up to ask Barnett to come back to work full time.

In the 48 years since, Barnett, now the general manager, has seen Strader’s grow from a company with two small garden centers to a major player in the Columbus garden market. The business now operates two wholesale centers and six large stores whose 300-vehicle parking lots are still not large enough to handle the massive numbers of weekend customers.

Jack and Ruth Strader founded their namesake garden center business in 1956. Strader’s remains a family business even after 60 years. Each of the couple’s four children have been a part of the company as it has grown throughout central Ohio – a sign of its longevity and roots in the community.

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Burns’ Family Neighborhood Markets opens three new locations this year to continue meeting its customers’ demands.

By Janice Hoppe

Patrick Burns, president and CEO of Burns’ Family Neighborhood Markets, has had a lifelong passion for the supermarket industry. His dedication shows as his markets are welcomed with open arms by their communities. The company prides itself on this acceptance, which is achieved through steady growth. “There’s no goal that I have to open one, two or three stores per year,” Burns says. “It has to make sense, fit our culture, the community and our company.”

Burns and his late partner, Michael Rinnier, developed The Fresh Grocer brand in 1996. In 2013, Burns became the 50th member of the Wakefern Food Corp, one of the largest retailer-owned cooperatives in the United States. “I joined Wakefern as their 50th member and brought The Fresh Grocer brand to the cooperative,” Burns says. “The Fresh Grocer is owned by Wakefern and now any one of the members can open one.”

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Jimmy G’s convenience stores don’t just sell gasoline and merchandise – they give a smile away every day.

When Jimmy “G” Garrell says he operates convenience stores, he means it – customers don’t even have to get out of their cars. Several of Jimmy G’s convenience stores have drive-up windows where employees will bring customers’ purchases to the window. One store even has two such windows, or what Jimmy G calls a double drive-up. One store only operates through the window – customers cannot enter the store but they can walk or drive up to the window and receive service.

Customers and employees both benefit from the drive-up windows, maintains Garrell, president of Jimmy G Stores Inc. As anyone with small children knows, getting them out of a car and into a store can be a major operation. But with the drive-up window, an employee can get all of the parent’s convenience store purchases and bring them to the window for her while the children sleep peacefully in their car seats in the back.

Drive-up windows also have advantages for employees. “We found that putting employees in a drive-thru is safer,” Garrell declares. “We have   an advantage of getting good employees by doing that. The customers don’t have to get out and our employees are inside. It’s a little safer situation.”

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United Refining Company and its Kwik Fill branded gasoline outlets and convenience stores illustrate how independent companies can compete against industry giants.

By Eric Slack

Founded in 1902 in the cradle of the world petroleum industry, United Refining Company still stands out for its many years of successful operations as an independent refiner and marketer of petroleum products. Since the 1980s, the organization has also flourished through the expansion of its network of 282 Kwik Fill and Red Apple convenience stores and the acquisition of 75 Country Fair locations that are located in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Today, United Refining owns and operates a modern, fully equipped refinery in northwestern Pennsylvania that produces a full range of petroleum products. They include unleaded, midgrade and premium gasoline, Kerosene, premium diesel, No. 2 home heating oil, industrial fuels, liquefied petroleum gas, propane and several grades of asphalts.

Operating 24 hours per day and seven days a week, the refinery averages up to 70,000 barrels of crude per day through its Warren, Pa refinery. United’s retail, wholesale and asphalt marketing teams promote the products in the company’s market area, and the efforts of its teams - combined with its diverse modern refinery - has the company positioned as a leading energy provider.

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