Wallis Companies

WallisWallis Companies continues to grow and extend the legacy of founder Bill Wallis. By Alan Dorich

After nearly 50 years, Wallis Companies continues to thrive by maintaining the values that were held close by its late founder, Bill Wallis. “If my dad were alive today, he would say his success was directly related to three key components,” says Rachel Wallis Andreasson, his daughter.

“The first would be the great people that work at Wallis, the second being the focus on taking care of the customer, and the third reason is the company’s philosophy of growth and taking advantage of opportunities,” she describes. “Those same factors remain true today.”

Wallis, who died in 2001, also believed in creating an enjoyable workplace for employees. “In addition to his beliefs to always take care of your customers and family, he wanted everyone to have a lot of fun and laughter along the way,” Andreasson says. Wallis Companies Info

Based in Cuba, Mo., Wallis Companies is one of the largest petroleum marketers in the nation. “The history of our company is like a true American entrepreneurial story,” Andreasson says, noting that Bill Wallis began working in 1955, after his father died in a work accident.

Although the young Wallis was only 13 years old, he felt the need to support his family, which had lost a daughter the previous summer to leukemia. When his mother took a job at the local post office, Wallis began distributing flyers for Onondaga Cave, a local tourist attraction.

“Since it was close to the post office, his mom could drop him off and pick him up,” Andreasson explains. But when Wallis was old enough to get his driver’s license, he took a job at a local gas station.

“From that moment, he loved interacting with customers and loved the industry,” his daughter says. Wallis later bought two locations in Sullivan, Mo., after graduating from high school.

Building The Business

In 1966, Wallis sold his gas stations to enlist in the 101st Airborne of the U.S. Army. Two years later, he was honorably discharged and bought a Skelly distributorship located on Route 66, which included a bulk truck and small gas location that distributed 100,000 gallons a year.

“This building served as our home office until 1986 and was restored back to its original look as a Phillips 66 site,” Andreasson describes. “[It] still stands today with three murals that represent my dad’s life.”

Over the years, Wallis grew his business and his family. Although Wallis Companies started as a service station company, it evolved into the restaurant business with the purchase of The Hen House restaurant concept and convenience with the Pump Handle store chain.

The company also moved into energy in 1991 when it acquired a propane company and additional transport trucks. Since its modest start, Wallis Companies has come a long way, Andreasson says.

“Today, Wallis has over 1,000 team members distributing over 400 million gallons of fuel through our 61 retail sites, 168 dealer sites and three lubricant facilities,” she says. Wallis Companies also has its own car wash distribution company and hauls 80 percent of the fuel through its transport division.

A Perfect Fit

Andreasson officially joined Wallis Companies in October 1993 and has overseen its recent growth, including the purchase of the Taylor family assets in September 2016. “It was our ninth acquisition,” she states.

Although the Taylor family operated in the same market, none of their locations were in direct competition. “They created the Dirt Cheap and U-Gas convenience store brands as well as Gigi’s Commissary,” Andreasson describes, adding that Wallis Companies became a Gigi’s customer in July 2014.

“They were making our grab-and-go items and putting on our label,” she explains. “At the time of the acquisition, we were their largest customer, aside from their own stores.”

The businesses shared a mutual respect. “I had always admired Betty and Paul Taylor, who founded the company,” Andreasson explains, adding that she served on the board of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association with the Taylors’ son, Craig Taylor, who was CEO of their business at the time of the acquisition.

“Craig and I frequently talked about industry issues and we operated our companies very similarly with a focus on people and larger sites that offered food and car washes,” she recalls. This relationship proved especially beneficial in the month prior to closing the acquisition.

Andreasson held seven meetings with Paul Taylor and 478 of the family’s team members in person. “At the beginning of every meeting, right after the joke telling, Paul would unveil a sign that said, ‘Positive Attitude is Everything,’” she recalls.

“Having the founder’s message be heard by every employee was so critical,” Andreasson asserts. “It was an immediate start of trust and security.”

The Best of Both

After Wallis Companies closed the acquisition of the Taylor family holdings, it put together a “Dream Team” of managers to complete the merger. “We used a certified team consultant, Dina Readinger, and she interviewed all 34 of our managers and all 33 of their managers,” Andreasson recalls.

The company then selected seven legacy Wallis managers and another seven from U-Gas, Dirt Cheap and Gigi’s to serve on a team that operated for 90 days. “The objective was to bring together the best of both,” Andreasson says, noting that the team focused on reduction of waste, hiring and recruiting, uniform and store images, and key goals for the front line workers and managers.

The team was highly successful, but did encounter challenges with employee policies and technology integration along the way. “We knew on the day of conversion, all stores were going to be using our back office system, PDI, but where we ran into challenges was the price book integration and policies,” she says.

“We truly wanted to bring out the best of both and didn’t want to mess them up in the first 90 days relative to these areas,” she continues. “So for employee appearance policy, we said that from Oct. 1st until Dec. 31st, nothing would change with their existing uniform or employee appearance standards.”

Wallis Companies also maintained the Taylor family’s retail strategies “until we could ensure we understood their pricing strategies and what has made them successful,” she says. “Between the ‘Dream Team’ and our amazing IT staff and support staff in people services, accounting and facilities, we were able to overcome these challenges around six months after close.”

But the entire Wallis Companies team also was responsible for the successful integration, Andreasson asserts. “Our goal was to absorb as much into the existing Wallis team as possible, but not lose their success and ensure customers didn’t even know there was an ownership change,” she says.

“In total, we only hired six new FTEs of which five came from their company,” she recalls. “We also contracted with two of their other employees for a period of time, but even the Taylor [employees] that did not join our company continued to be helpful to Wallis for the sake of ensuring their team members were set up for success.”

Two tools also contributed to its success, Andreasson says. One is Wallis Companies’ balanced scorecard methodology (BSC), and the other is its intranet system, Pipeline, a Microsoft sharepoint module.

“The BSC helps us translate our strategy, measure our key goals and share in the success with our team,” she explains. “The Pipeline is our go-to for Wallis information and houses all electronic forms, contact information and access to each scorecard.”

The Next Steps

As Wallis Companies approaches the one-year anniversary of the Taylor acquisition, it is taking on three new projects. First, Andreasson says, the company will convert 13 of the U-Gas locations to On the Run format by the end of the year.

The company also will clarify the brand promise of Dirt Cheap and determine the next best site “to grow this fun and well known brand,” she says. “We have created a new look for our On the Way Café food program and because of the Dream Team’s work and the passionate team we have at the commissary, we are growing the food category.”

Wallis Companies also will address recruiting. “We need to get more visibility to the number of open positions we have and streamline our application and hiring process,” she says. “We have been doing video interviews with many of our front line team members so we can clearly define ‘Why Wallis?’”

The firm is hiring a recruiter for the first time in its history, Andreasson adds. “We look forward to the next step of promoting Wallis and having streamlined processes to increase our applicant funnel and hire amazing team members that will help us continue to grow our company,” she declares.

Continuing the Legacy

Wallis Companies’ initiatives also include changes to its leadership development platform. “In November 2014, our state association worked with a local survey company to create an industry retention and engagement survey,” Andreasson recalls. “In that first year, five c-store companies participated, of which two [belonged to] Wallis Companies and the Taylor family of companies.”

In November 2016, one month after the integration, Wallis Companies repeated the same survey. “Surprisingly on both sides, the results were consistent with the 2014 results which were well above industry average,” she recalls.

But one theme Wallis Companies noticed it needed to improve on was more effective leadership training. “We listened and took action,” she says. “In 2018, we will be rolling out a new leadership development platform, titled ‘Living the Legacy,’ that is exciting and will be super effective in growing our own leaders.

“We [also] updated the three core components that were most important to my Dad,” Andreasson says, noting that these now consist of Winning Teams, Brand Advocates, and Sustainable Growth. To bring these themes to life, the company is creating a TAG Team to focus on engagement and retention. Further, these strategic themes are the foundation of its strategy and together with its core values, will be the foundation of Living the Legacy.

The company, which will celebrate 50 years next year, also has more initiatives ahead, she notes. At the recent Leadership Retreat, the theme was “Our future is so bright, we have to wear shades!” and the focus was on culture and strategy for the next 50 years.

This year, she adds, marks what would have been Bill Wallis’ 75th birthday. “He had a charismatic personality and an uncanny feel for the business and people,” she says. “I know he is still with us and smiling down at how my Mom, my brothers and I have carried on his legacy and will work hard to pass on to the third generation, where he has been blessed with 10 grandchildren.” 

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