New Sheetz CEO Plans to Stay the Course


ALTOONA, Pa. -- Joe Sheetz' first week as CEO of Sheetz Inc. wasn't much different than the previous week when he was executive vice president of finance and store development.

"The running joke around here is that the only difference is now [as CEO], I have the three groups that I didn’t have reporting to me before," he told CSNews Online. In his former role, he directly oversaw finance, accounting, information technology, risk management, real estate and construction. As chief executive, he adds marketing, distribution, store operations and petroleum.

"Coming to work now really doesn't feel any different," said Joe, who took the helm from his cousin Stan Sheetz on Oct. 1. "Most of the change in my day, aside from a few new faces reporting to me, is that I'm a lot less [involved] in the day to day. Someone has to be big picture."

Joe Sheetz

While the leadership transition was announced publicly in November, the new company chief said internally, the decision was known about a year earlier. Joe, who joined the family business in 1995 as director of personnel -- coincidentally, the same time Stan became CEO -- said he was not surprised to learn he had been chosen, although it had never been his goal.

"If you had asked me 10 years before then, I would have had a different reaction," he said.

With so much lead time, the transition has been "a long, slow change," subtle to the people inside the organization. Over the last year and a half, Joe said he slowly turned over his previous responsibilities to various employees -- indicative of Sheetz Inc.'s commitment to promoting from within -- as he picked up new responsibilities. The process came easily to him.

"I am not a micro-manage type of guy," he said. "It's built into my DNA to delegate things."

Now that he's finally in the CEO role, Joe doesn’t have any plans for a shake-up. He noted that to his predecessor's credit, Stan made sure the company was run strategically as a group, and he intends to stay the course. A planning committee of 14 members guides the strategic direction and planning for the Altoona-based convenience store chain.

"Everyone in that room pretty much has an equal voice," said Joe, a member of the committee for several years now. "People have been asking me what I'm dying to change and I tell them that if I haven't been able to change it yet, I'm not going to be able to change it now."

Game Plan

As for where he hopes to take Sheetz Inc. during his tenure, Joe said there are several initiatives underway that he wants to see through to successful completion. No. 1 on his list is growth in fresh food and beverage sales, specifically becoming a quick-service contender.

"We've started the transformation from convenience store to convenience restaurant, but we aren't there yet," he explained. "In the minds of our customers, we want to be right there in that consideration set [when they're choosing where to dine]. Let's not just be the best convenience store at food. Let's get right in there with the QSR [quick-service restaurant] crowd."

Second on the new CEO's list is building a more formal structure around the Sheetz family's involvement in the business. Currently, the retailer is creating an outside board of directors that will be comprised of five "insiders" and four "independents." A separate Family Council is also being established that will allow family owners and shareholders to have a voice, even if they opt not to work in the family business. Steve Sheetz left his chairman seat to fill the newly created position of Family Council Chairman, with Stan now filling the chairman role.

"This is huge for us. We'll be running the company more as a public company," said Joe, noting that the timing of this couldn't be better since he represents the first CEO who's a minority shareholder. Previous CEOs Stan, Steve and Bob Sheetz are all majority shareholders.

"Every CEO from this point on will be a minority shareholder," he continued. "We want this thing to stay in the family forever, so we need to create a structure that can live on in perpetuity.

The first meeting of the board of directors is expected to take place in January.

The third and final item on Joe's list is continued new store growth. Over the last several years, Sheetz Inc. has been building between 28 and 30 new stores each year, and doing another eight to 10 raze-and-rebuilds. The chain currently operates 450-plus locations.

The new chief exec admitted that in the past, they've had a tendency to move on to new markets before they finished building out current markets. The strategy now, however, is to concentrate on building out each existing market to its full potential.

"We feel we have a lot of opportunity in the geography we're in. From my perspective, if you drew a circle (more like an amoeba) around where we are today, our plan over the next five years is to not leave those borders aside from a few miles," he said. "There's a number for every market of how many Sheetz stores there should be. We're focused on getting to that optimal number in every market."

As part of this continued new store growth, the retailer is also rethinking its store design -- something it does every 10 years or so. The current Sheetz prototype, which spans 6,500 to 7,000 square feet, was designed to take the best features of the chain's 10,000-square-foot flagship convenience restaurant in Altoona and deliver it in a smaller footprint. The biggest change of late is that seating is now a mandatory feature in every new build and rebuild.

"We think where we are right now has been a great leap for us," Joe said.

The time has come, though, to develop the Sheetz "store of the future." The company is currently interviewing design firms to assist, with the idea of debuting a new look in 2015.

"I don't know that we will strive to make it look that different from the outside. But for the first time, we want to design it from a food perspective," Joe said, adding that previous prototypes split the focus between food, fuel and tobacco. "We're asking ourselves, 'What would we look like if we were going to be more like a QSR that happened to sell these other things?'"

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