LA CROSSE, Wis. — Kwik Trip Inc.’s conversion of all its Tobacco Outlet Plus (TOP) adult-only stores to new “express” versions of its 450-plus traditional Kwik Trip and Kwik Star convenience stores is not the only major initiative the retailer has on its drawing board for completion in the next five years.
Also within that five-year span, the La Crosse-based convenience store operator expects to expand the new express venture — dubbed Kwik Trip Express in Wisconsin and Kwik Star Express in Iowa — beyond just the conversion of its 39 TOP stores, Terry Schmitz, zone leader for TOP and the new Kwik Trip/Kwik Star Express stores, told Convenience Store News in an exclusive interview.
More specifically, the company plans to have a total of 100 Kwik Trip Express and Kwik Star Express stores in operation. These stores will definitely be in the states of Wisconsin and Iowa, and possibly even extending into the state of Minnesota, according to Schmitz.
As CSNews Online exclusively reported Tuesday, Kwik Trip in March completed the transition of its first five TOP stores and officially debuted the Kwik Trip Express and Kwik Star Express banners.
These former TOP stores, four of which are in Wisconsin and one in Iowa, were chosen to be part of the first conversion phase because they were already equipped with gas operations and therefore made for the smoothest transition and evaluation. The majority of TOP stores do not sell gas.
These first express stores (which unlike the former TOP stores are no longer age-restricted) continue to offer the full selection of tobacco products. The products are now sold in a non-self-serve fashion with the exception of premium cigars, which are sold out of a walk-in humidor.
In addition, the initial five converted express stores contain a two-door fresh food case, a meat cooler, fresh bakery case, bread endcap, coffee counter, fountain soda display, enlarged area of cooler doors, beer cave, and an inline freezer section that is similar to what is found in the company’s full-size convenience stores, only on a reduced scale.
As the “express” name suggests, the in-store footprint of the express stores is much smaller than the retailer’s traditional Kwik Trip and Kwik Star convenience stores — approximately 2,500 square feet of selling space vs. approximately 5,500 square feet, respectively.
One area the express stores have not borrowed thus far from the larger c-stores is hot food. Instead, Kwik Trip Express and Kwik Star Express currently carry fresh grab-and-go meal items. This includes fresh sandwiches, fresh salads (think noodle and potato salads), yogurt and cheese.
In conjunction with the smaller in-store footprint, the express stores likewise have a smaller forecourt operation. Express gas operations feature about six fuel dispensers vs. the typical 18.
With the first phase of conversions completed, the plan is to move all remaining TOP stores out of strip malls and relocate them to sites with gas operations, or build fueling stations on existing TOP properties that will allow for that.
The big idea behind the conversion, according to Schmitz, is to increase business and work on better margins than a tobacco-only business produces, such as the 6-percent gross profit on cigarettes it was making in Wisconsin TOP stores and 8-percent gross profit on cigarettes in Iowa TOP stores.