King Of The Hill

CSNews Top Tech Executive of the Year, Gabe Olives, leads Turkey Hill and the industry to new heights

After graduating from the University of Scranton with a Bachelor of Science degree, Gabe Olives decided to attend graduate school, and took a part-time job working the midnight shift at a local Turkey Hill Minit Market store. Little did he know that part-time job would turn into a career spanning more than 25-years with the company.

"I thought it was a part-time job when I started," said Olives, now vice president of IT (Information Technology) and petroleum at Turkey Hill Minit Markets, headquartered in Lancaster, Pa., and owned by The Kroger Co. "It was the longest part-time job in the history of mankind."

After a few months, Olives became assistant manager, and eventually store manager. Two years after starting in the store, he took a position as field merchandiser at the headquarters. "I thought it would be a one-or two-year gig when I got into it, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how it got under my skin," he explained.

Olives' work with c-store technology came about in a similar way. Once he started working in the main office, he found himself holding various positions in the marketing and construction departments — including remodel coordinator and special projects manager. But it was in 1990, during the Gulf War, that he started working with the gasoline side of the business just as pay-at-the-pump technology began to emerge.

"I always had a personal interest in technology," he said. "I had a computer at home when they first became available, and my personal and professional life merged with pay-at-the-pump and the advanced point-of-sale (POS) system that was required with it."

Over time, Olives left gasoline behind to dedicate his time to the creation of a store technology department at Turkey Hill, where he also held a number of titles including store technology manager, director of store services and director of technology.

"I think I've held the most titles for one employee in the history of Turkey Hill," he joked. "Over time, I picked up pieces of the petroleum side again, and in 2008 became vice president of IT and petroleum."

He believes starting from the bottom helped his evolution at the company.

"I'm a firm believer in knowing what it's like on the firing line, and in experiencing the store from a store associate and consumer level, in order to understand what initiatives you are delivering," he said.

Additionally, Olives is this year's recipient of the Convenience Store News Top Tech Executive award, given to a c-store retail executive who not only shows leadership within his company, but also in the industry as a whole.

Technology at Turkey Hill

Since starting at the company in 1985, Olives has played a major role in the evolution of technology at Turkey Hill Minit Markets, which now operates 250 convenience stores in Pennsylvania, eight stores in Columbus, Ohio, and one c-store in Martinsville, Ind.

"When I started we had push button phones where you had to wait for a line to become free in order to make a phone call," he recalled. The company did have a mainframe computer at headquarters, but the stores handled all paperwork manually, and district advisors picked it up and hand-delivered it to the headquarters.

"We had people here keying data into the mainframes to consolidate it into the accounting system," he said. "I actually remember discussing whether or not we were far along enough to get a fax machine."

When Olives first got involved with technology, the company used four different POS systems, but since incorporating PCATS (Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards) standards into the company, it was standardized down to one system across the chain.

"We rolled out back office computers where the POS up loads information and the managers review it before the information is consolidated centrally," he said. "Every sale, whether a cup of coffee, fountain drink or fresh sandwich, is stored using the PCATS' standard format."

And in April of this year, the c-store chain launched Turkey Hill Rewards, a proprietary loyalty program. Customers who enroll before July 31 receive 50 bonus points, and two points are given on qualified purchases to be redeemed for fuel.

"Customers are very, very receptive to it, and we are very pleased with it," Olives said. For every 100 points, customers can save 10 cents per gallon on up to 35 gallons of fuel, and earn double points for beverages, including coffee, cappuccino, fountain and slushy, according to the company Web site.

Getting Involved

Olives started working with PCATS in 2004, the year the alliance formed, and became more and more involved with each passing year. Four years ago, he became chairman of the Retailer Business Requirements Committee, then moved into the role of vice chair of PCATS in 2007, and chairman the following year.

"Last year was a year of transition for PCATS," Olives noted. "We saw John Hervey retire as executive director, and now we are reintegrating PCATS and NACS. We started with NACS as the Technology Standards Project and then separated, but I think there is a lot of future potential with us integrating again. We have a lot of smart people in the area of technology and standards in PCATS, but NACS can help us market the standards and the organization."

He and the staff at PCATS are also proud of the newly formed committee focused on data standards, run by Gray Taylor, who is now the new executive director of PCATS, and the alliance continues to work on the maintenance and development of standards for the industry.

"PCATS is important to the industry because by driving standards and the adoption of them, it frees companies and individuals to make truly competitive changes," he said. "Rather than spending time, effort and money developing the nuts and bolts, retailers can spend time, effort and money developing what could be the game changing idea/technology."

Another benefit to his involvement in PCATS and the industry is the connections. "You get to share new ideas and hear the ideas of others in the industry — both retailers and vendors, which is pretty unique to our industry," he noted.

In addition to his work with PCATS, where he is now serving as past chairman, Olives is part of the NACS Technology Committee, which started in 2007 to look into the future of technology as a whole. "It makes sure our industry is seeing what is on the horizon," said Olives.

And he believes technology will continue to play an important role in the convenience store industry in the future — particularly concerning social media and the mobile consumer.

These factors will also affect the employees of the future, as those young adults who have been using a cell phone since the age of 10, 11 or 12, enter the workforce, Olives noted. Not only will training be a challenge, but "how do you teach them to interact with a customer, when they don't even interact with their friends except on a mobile device?" he asked.

Looking back, Olives said his favorite thing about the c-store industry and working in it is the diversity offered. Not only has he met a variety of people through his work, but has also been exposed to a number of ideas, "from the outrageous to the everyday," and when it comes to working at Turkey Hill, he has been able to dabble in a bit of everything.

"A friend of mine always jokes that I've been at the same company for more than a quarter of a century, but really, I have had several careers within one company," he explained.

And working at Turkey Hill has given him the opportunity to work with something he enjoys — technology — which he believes has the power to reshape people's lives. "Look at the iPad. In just a few months, it has become mainstream in our lives, whereas a very similar product — the tablet PC — couldn't get off the ground a few years ago," he said, explaining technology will continue to evolve to meet the needs of consumers — and that includes c-store customers.

"The No. 1 challenge is to get employees to be customer focused, and I think in the future, technology is going to be one of the things that bridges the gap," he said.

For comments, please contact Tammy Mastroberte, Executive Editor, at tmas [email protected].

"I'm a firm believer in knowing what it's like on the firing line, and in experiencing the store from a store associate and consumer level, in order to understand what initiatives you are delivering." Gabe Olives

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds