At Wedge Community Co-op, a large percentage of its shoppers are not only customers, but also the store’s owners, CEO Josh Resnik says. “Seventy-eight percent of our sales are to people who are members of the co-op,” he says.

This has motivated the store’s employees to make sure they are providing its customers with top service. “They really help guide you through the shopping process,” Resnik continues. 

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Most convenience store chains focus all of their energies on little more than convenience, offering customers packaged snacks and sandwiches aimed at getting them in and out of the stores quickly. Tiger Fuel Company, on the other hand, had the notion of giving customers more than food made with speed in mind. The company introduced its Gourmet-to-Go program nearly 22 years ago at its Bellair Market location in Charlottesville, Va., and its selection of freshly-made deli sandwiches have earned it the distinction of being “America’s first gourmet gas station,” according to District Manager Gordon Sutton. 

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When State Oil Co. is training its area managers, store managers and customer representatives to operate its Marathon and Phillips 66 gas station/c-stores in Illinois, the company knows it wants “friendly faces and good service.”

“We emphasize always saying ‘hello’ when someone enters the store,” President Pete Anest says. “It is important to make sure you acknowledge the customer so they are noticed and feel appreciated. We want to make sure [employees] have nametags on and are learning the names of frequent customers. That’s really important. We want them to stay upbeat and positive, even if they have a complaint, because that will keep getting them coming back.”

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Customers judge convenience stores by their appearance on a daily basis when they decide whether to stop at one over the other. Knowing outdated looks don’t lure customers, Orton Oil is remodeling its older sites and coming up with fresh marketing ideas to rival competitors.

Founded in 1958 by Leland and Maude Orton, Orton Oil remains family owned and headquartered in Walker, Minn. Fourth-generation owner and Vice President Frank Orton says over the past 55 years the company has grown significantly from where it started as a single oil service station and Ford dealership. 

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When Hess Corp. announced earlier this year that it was exiting the oil and gas retail market to focus wholly on its exploration and production operations, it was simply a continuation of a trend that has been happening for nearly a decade. Oil exploration and production companies have been divesting their retail assets and instead choosing to sell to jobbers who market the product to end-customers. For oil and gas retailers already in the market, the industry trend has created ample opportunity for growth. 

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A slice of “Seacoast Pizza,” a “Boathouse Bacon Burger” and a “Rockland Roast Beef” sandwich sound like menu items from a restaurant somewhere on the coast. It’s partly true – the location is in coastal Rockland, Maine – but the food is from the menu of a local convenience store deli. 

Maritime Farms offers customers a change from the typical convenience store selections, says Charon Curtis, operations manager. Lighthouse Delis inside each of the convenience stores are decorated with farm and water themes, including harbor images. “The graphics and décor in our stores are unique,” Curtis says. “We are always adding new items to our deli. Recently we added the macaroni & cheese pizza.” The delis offer a range of freshly made items including specialty pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and breakfast items.

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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. 

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“We look for associates who have a passion for serving customers,” says Mark Hasting, COO of the West Des Moines, Iowa-based company. “We hope that they’ll connect with our customers and get to know their favorite brands and buying habits.”

This sort of relationship building is enhanced by the physical design of each new store, as checkout counters are placed at the front of every 5,000-square-foot model, making it easy for employees to greet customers as they walk in. “Our associates enjoy building relationships with customers because, in many cases, they’re seeing the same person multiple times a week,” he adds. “Kum & Go is often a part of our customer’s daily routine, so we want them to feel like a special guest in our store.”

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