The top executive at The Hartley Co. credits its more than 140 years of success in business to one factor. “First and foremost, I think we’ve had a long line of leaders that have maintained a high level of integrity throughout our years of business, and that’s what’s kept us in good relations with vendors and suppliers,” President Doug Hartley says. “Integrity is the most important thing to us; we’ve made it this long being honest, having integrity and doing what we say we’re going to do.”
Hartley represents the fifth generation of leadership at the Cambridge, Ohio-based company. The Hartley Co. owns, operates or supplies 49 gas stations and convenience stores in southeastern Ohio under the Starfire, Shell, BP and Gulf brands.
The family first established itself in the region in 1870 as a roofing company, W.H. Hartley and Sons, In the early 1900’s, the roofing company transformed into a hardware store as well. Gasoline became a part of the Hartleys’ offerings soon afterward, with the family’s first filling station opening somewhere between 1900 and 1910. W.H. Hartley incorporated as a jobbership for Shell Oil Company in 1925, operating 10 stations.
One major growth period for The Hartley Co. was the 1960s, when the family purchased several pieces of property near the locations of interstate highways then being built near Cambridge. The company opened its first convenience stores under the Starfire name in the 1970s. Its evolution continued after 2000, when it purchased a number of BP stations.
Hartley’s stores continue to evolve and change to keep up with strong retail and gasoline competition as well as to adjust to the volatility of gas prices. “Trying to get a profit margin in gasoline is increasingly difficult today because of gas prices and the overall market,” Hartley says. “We’re focused on inside sales, because we know we can control that and know what our margins are going to look like.”
The Hartley Co. emphasizes the basics of cleanliness, friendliness and competitive pricing to bring in new customers and retain existing ones. “Our most effective marketing is making sure you have good products and good equipment,” he adds. “When we started replacing our gas pumps a few years go, sales went right up; doing the basics really gets people in.”
Pump replacement remains a high priority for the company. “Replacing equipment is very expensive but necessary,” Hartley says. “Almost all of our locations need a little extra TLC.”
The Starfire chain recently completed a number of “store resets,” which focused on the placement of items on shelves. “We’re making sure our most popular items are in proper places and that the flow of foot traffic in our stores is consistent,” he adds. Stores also enhance sales of certain items through store associates’ suggestive selling at the counter.
Another recent change to Starfire’s offerings is the addition of beer sales for the first time in its history. “Adding beer to our stores has already been huge for us,” Hartley says.
The company rewards loyal customers through its Starfire Rewards clubs programs, which offer free food and drink items when a certain amount of the same item is purchased. Customers can also earn cents off per gallon on gasoline purchases. All rewards clubs are free to join.
The Hartley Co.’s executive team meets regularly to discuss significant company issues and make major decisions. “We deal with all aspect of the company and get input from all department heads. This makes for very dynamic discussions and gets opinions of all the different areas of the company,” Hartley says. “These people are the decision makers for our company. This group has made and saved our company millions of dollars.”
In addition to Hartley, this team includes Senior Vice President of Dealer Sales Eric Johnson; Vice President of Dealer Sales Kenny Adams; Category Manager Scott Lojas; Maintenance Supervisor Rick St. Clair; Director of Operations Lora Christman and Office Administrator Robin Tobicyck.
This team’s work, as well as Hartley Co.’s attention to the basics of retail sales, is vitally important to its bottom line. But the stores’ status as a longstanding, friendly family business is its greatest strength and biggest attraction to customers and employees alike.
“We’ve become more and more recognized as being a family owned business,” Hartley says. “Most of our markets are smaller towns, and people really recognize and identify with family owned, local businesses. The tradition and small-town attitude we embody is a major reason why we’re still around.”
The company promotes a culture of positivity and camaraderie among its employees. “We want to have a place where people like to work and can have fun, but get things accomplished,” he adds.
Starfire stores support a number of community events and organizations through fundraising efforts including raffles, in-store “donate your change” months and an annual golf outing.
Charities supported by the company include the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) and the Children’s Craniofacial Association (CCA). A recent paper balloon campaign for the LLS raised more than $17,000 for the LLS, and last year’s golf outing raised more than $27,000 for the CCA. Ongoing fundraising efforts include donating one cent per gallon sold to a county sheriff’s department.
“At Starfire, charity at the local level is very important to us,” the company says. “It gives us a chance to give something back to the communities that have helped to make us a success.”