McKenzie Oil

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McKenzie Oil’s stores create a ‘friendly, down-home environment’ for their customers.

By Alan Dorich

McKenzie Oil may be a modestly sized company, but that does not prevent it from providing ideal retail experiences for customers, Vice President Martha McKenzie says. “We attribute our company’s success to giving excellent customer service, competitive pricing and having products in our stores that customers want,” she declares.

Eufaula, Ala.-based McKenzie Oil operates a chain of convenience stores in Alabama and Florida. McKenzie’s father-in-law, Robert McKenzie, started the company in 1950 as a Gulf Oil distributor. “They had tires, gasoline and oil lubricants,” she describes, adding that her husband, Dan McKenzie, took over the business in 1975.

But at the time, the industry was changing. Although many companies still delivered gasoline to farmers with trucks, “We knew that would not be feasible,” Martha McKenzie recalls. “Dan decided to change the business and basically start working on convenience stores.”

Today, McKenzie Oil operates nine stores. The company recently opened a location in Tallahassee, Fla., that covers 5,700 square feet and features a car wash and 18 vacuums. “We like to put a convenience store and car wash together where it’s feasible,” she says. “I was always told that success in the retail business was location, location, location. Now, it’s customer service, customer service, customer service.”

Its stores offer a diverse selection of products, McKenzie adds. “We include local vendors as part of our diversity, such as purchasing from local wineries, organic farmers, local candy and jerky makers,” she says.

The locations also strive to get to know their customers and make sure they carry items they look for. “This level of attention has earned our stores the reputation of a friendly, down-home environment that makes people want to come back to shop with us, because it shows we value their business,” McKenzie says.

An Easy Transition
McKenzie has taken part in her husband’s business since 1975. “I’ve been in the office and I’ve gotten my hands in everything,” she says and notes that six months ago, she decided to focus her efforts on day-to-day store operations.

Prior to this move, she found success by inventing products such as the Hanger Holder, which holds and organizes up to 30 clothing hangers, and Sportz Bloc, a flesh-toned, all-natural sun block. But making the transition to managing the stores, she notes, was rather easy.

“When you’re inventing, you’re finding a need and fulfilling that need,” she says. “I’m doing the same with stores: I am constantly changing and adapting my services to what the customers need. They go hand-in-hand.”

McKenzie also had experience working in her parents’ Western Auto dealership and has applied their sales philosophy to her stores. “My parents taught me that if a customer buys a cap gun, make sure they also buy a hat, vest, holster, boots and sheriff’s badge,” she says.

Moving Quickly
McKenzie Oil operates with a simpler structure than some of its large competitors, which has been a major advantage, McKenzie says. “When you’re dealing with big companies, you can’t get things done as quickly,” she says.

At McKenzie Oil, “You don’t have to [go through] a chain of command,” she says, noting that this allows the company to adjust its stores more efficiently to serve local customers.

“Our managers can call us at any time and have a direct impact on the changes made in their stores,” she says. “Managers contribute to our plans, and because of this, they fully support the constant changes that are made.”

The structure also enables McKenzie Oil to implement new technologies more easily. “That’s one of the greatest things about Dan’s work ethics,” Martha McKenzie says about her husband. “He doesn’t wait until it’s mandatory. When he finds out something’s important, he goes ahead and gets the job done.”

With this philosophy, McKenzie Oil implemented pen tablets ahead of its competitors. The company also implemented back office software accounting systems and convenience store register systems, the latter of which allows it “better access to our product information, such as purchasing habits of customers and product fluidity,” she says.

“The ability to track individual items has helped to streamline product selection for each location and tailor vendor purchases to individual store needs,” she says. “Advancement in price book programming [also] has allowed better control over sales and specials to maximize profitability.”

McKenzie Oil is upgrading its register systems to the Verifone Commander that will allow a real-time, web-based view of the day-to-day operations of each store. “The new system will allow us centralized programming that will reduce the need for outside technicians, thus minimizing repair and maintenance expenses,” McKenzie says.

A Quality Team
McKenzie Oil’s strong reputation enables it to hire quality employees who work in a drug-free environment, McKenzie says. “We have people filling out applications who have heard what a great, clean company McKenzie Oil is to work for,” she says. “Honest and hard-working people will apply with companies with good reputations.”

Once the company has found those employees, it works hard to keep them. “It is expensive to solicit and train new employees,” McKenzie says. “We have been fortunate to retain the majority of our managers for many years, as well as our full-time and part-time staff.”

McKenzie Oil has retained them through incentive programs. “The incentives are based on performance to include increases in sales, a low inventory storage to sales [ratio] and keeping within allocated store hours and overtime,” she says.

“We also ask that employees give us input as to what products are needed in their stores and how we can make the stores better,” McKenzie says. “We want employees to feel store ownership.”

Making Work Easier
McKenzie Oil also values its longtime relationships with vendors. “These relationships work both ways,” McKenzie says. “We must desire to work closely with them, and they must be willing to work with us so that we will have the products and prices that are needed in our stores.”

The company has enjoyed strong relationships with vendors such as its grocery wholesaler, Petrey Wholesale. Under the leadership of Manager Anne Strickland, “Petrey always gets me whatever I need,” McKenzie says. “Even if they don’t supply it, they will find it.”

Several of Petrey’s employees, she adds, have been with the company for 60 years. “That speaks so highly of a company to me when employees are so dedicated,” she says, noting that many of McKenzie Oil’s employees have good relationships with the wholesaler. “It is a win-win for both sides.”

She also praises Marathon Petroleum. "When BP sold to Marathon, we were pleasantly surprised on how smooth and easy the transition went when we reimaged our locations,” McKenzie recalls. "We have a great relationship with Marathon Petroleum."

McKenzie Oil’s employees also have strong relationships with other vendors, including The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo. “If they have a wonderful rapport with those [companies], it makes their work easier and it makes the vendors’ work easier.”

Room to Improve
One of the greatest challenges McKenzie Oil faces is keeping its margins up in a competitive environment. “With the competitive nature of fuel pricing, one challenge is to set yourself apart from others by offering specialized services,” McKenzie says.

Some recent additions, she notes, have included high-capacity, double-filtered crushed ice machines to compete with freestanding icehouses. McKenzie Oil also added non-ethanol gas and bait houses at its stores near lakes.

“Still, the most important part of our plan is customer service,” she assets. “Without great customer service, none of our projects or plans will work. When you strive for the best possible customer service, you don’t have to have the cheapest price on gas.”

McKenzie sees a strong future for McKenzie Oil. “What we plan to do is we’re trying to focus on what can be done to improve the company and embrace new concepts,” she says, noting that McKenzie Oil continues to look for places where it can put new stores.

It is also renovating several locations with new register systems, fuel dispensers and camera systems. “With all the new technologies, now we can be in [another country] and I can watch my camera systems,” she says. “There is always room for improvement.”

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