CEFCO’s New Center of Attention

Retailer discusses the first few months at its 10,000-square-foot travel center

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- The small town of Mt. Vernon, Texas (population 2,286 according to 2000 census data), saw that “small” reference lose some relevance when a Big Deal came to town in May.

It was the grand opening of a new travel center, a 10,000-square-foot gem that opened with lofty expectations by its owners, Temple, Texas-based CEFCO, a company with approximately 2,300 employees—or 14 more than Mt. Vernon’s official population. 

Brett Giesick, chief retail officer for CEFCO, is looking for big things in this northern Texas town, which sits just above U.S. Interstate 30 about two hours from Dallas. The raze and rebuild of the property, acquired in 2010, features a Huddle House restaurant, a trucker lounge and showers, laundry facilities, an 1,800-square-foot section filled with trucker merchandise, and diesel dispensers that co-dispense DEF additives.

Responsible for sales and marketing, operations, training and development and safety and security at the chain of 255 retail units, Giesick holds more than 20 years of senior leadership experience at 7-Eleven, White Hen Pantry and Speedway/SuperAmerica. He recently discussed with Convenience Store Products the early return on the new facility.

CSP: Can you tell us about the specific characteristics of the store and the breakout of space allocations to the categories?
Giesick: The store is laid out to accommodate the interstate traveler and over-the-road professionals. The professional driver can relax in a lounge that features big-screen TVs, recharging stations for laptops and free Internet. They can do laundry with state-of-the-art washers and dryers. We have a large shopping area developed for the driver to meet over-the-road demands. There are items essential to truck safety, comfort items for the driver and entertainment items.

Our food area caters to a traveler or over-the-road driver looking for a great, quick meal to go or eat in—relax and enjoy a home-cooked meal. The store is laid out for convenience and speed of service. A shopper can choose from a wide variety of snacks, prepared foods to go, a large beverage selection and general merchandise items.

CSP: Does the company implement any type of relationship-building techniques at the outset of a store opening to build loyalty?
Giesick: CEFCO utilizes a national trucker loyalty program and is considering other opportunities in this area, but our initial relationship building is steeped in an aggressive fuel-pricing strategy, excellent customer satisfaction and our owned and operated Huddle House.

CSP: Can you describe the level of competition that you face at this location—c-stores, sit-down restaurants, truck stops and big-box retailers?
Giesick: This location is an interstate location and is surrounded by several national travel center competitors, local and regional c-store competitors, and a wide variety of QSR and sit-down competitors.

CSP: What kind of daily interaction do you have with the Huddle House personnel—is there any back and forth on common types operational details, or are the two businesses separate?
Giesick: We have a separated Food Service Operations division that manages QSR, casual dining and [our] proprietary “Fresh Eats” concept. CEFCO is the franchisee for the Huddle House location in Mt. Vernon and our Food Service Operations team works closely with the Travel Center Team and our Support Center to ensure we provide a great dining experience for our customers. There is cross marketing in terms of communication platforms within each of the brands.

CSP: Can you talk about your expectations for amenities such as the laundry facility, lounge and satellite trucker supply store?
Giesick: We expect the professional driver will have an appreciation for the laundry room. The machinery is state of the art and the lounge is located adjacent to the laundry room for convenience and entertainment, while loads are washing and drying. The lounge is comfortable, spacious and has a large flat-screen TV for entertainment as well as numerous charging stations for laptops and cell phones.

CSP: Can you describe some specific details of your signature food offering, the Scooter sandwich?
Giesick: The Scooter is a product we’ve developed that has evolved over time to meet all three day-parts. The morning Scooters are sausage and gravy and bacon, egg and cheese. The lunch Scooter offering is a hamburger, cheeseburger, meatball and peperoni offering, and for dinner we add a brisket Scooter. The proteins are enclosed in a dough we bake fresh at the store to give customers a homemade taste.

CSP: How about a report card on other inside profit centers, such as coffee bar, packaged beer and other foodservice items?
Giesick: Our coffee has gained much traction this past year. We improved our blend and brewing equipment and improved our presentation. We use Bunn Soft Heat, which has improved our holding time and coffee quality to deliver a great cup of coffee. In our new stores, we utilize a center island chill well that offers a multiplicity of flavors the customer may add to the coffee. Customers like this touch as they can make it their own way just as they do at home.

Fresh-made sandwiches and salads made to company standards have added to foodservice sales at new locations. We consider the salads and sandwiches a value for the money. We offer some unique marketing techniques for our craft beers, and offer a great presentation for our cold beer in our vaults, which contribute to excellent sales within this category.

CSP: Based on past experience, does the company have goals and expectations with a store’s grand opening, such as sales velocity and results in the first 30, 60 or 90 days?
Giesick: Each store is different based on traffic, competition and CEFCO strategies. This store has financial hurdles as we do with all new builds/rebuilds and thus far we have exceeded those goals.