Not a Fleeting Opportunity

Kwik Trip Inc. is so pleased with sales at its compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling locations that it is considering nearly doubling its current location count in the near future.

The La Crosse, Wis.-based convenience store chain opened 11 CNG sites in 2014, with three more set to open this year. Kwik Trip currently offers CNG at a total of 32 locations, but the operator of more than 450 c-stores believes that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Kwik Trip is researching the viability of the alternative fuel at an additional 30-plus locations. All would be located within its upper Midwest operating region of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, according to Joel Hirschboeck, its superintendent of commercial and alternative fuels.

“We’re actively expanding,” Hirschboeck told Convenience Store News. “We built 45 c-stores last year and 50 are on the books [to open] this year. Quite a few of them are truck accessible; those are good-opportunity stores for compressed natural gas.”

Fuel sales as a whole have been on the rise since Kwik Trip first opened natural gas fueling stations. “We don’t just talk to a fleet about natural gas and ignore the fact they are using diesel and gasoline today,” Hirschboeck said. “So, we’ve actually grown in sales of diesel quite a bit due to conversations about natural gas. It’s an opportunity to really showcase your knowledge in the industry and leverage you-expertise so you become a strategic advisor to a lot of fleet customers.”

Selling an alternative fuel produced in America and purported to be more environmentally friendly and cheaper than traditional gasoline has also piqued the interest of community groups, according to the Kwik Trip exec. “We’ve received a lot of interest from local business councils regarding what alternative fuels bring to that specific market,” he said. “It makes them feel special because they have something to offer in their community that others don’t have.”

To garner even more interest in CNG, Hirschboeck has taken to the speaking engagement route, delivering speeches at events sanctioned by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, SIGMA: America’s Leading Fuel Marketers and the NGV Infrastructure USA 2015 event, which took place in Atlanta in June.

Kwik Trip’s alternative fuel efforts also have been recognized by the industry. The chain won Convenience Store News’ inaugural Fuels Innovator of the Year award last year.

Consumer use of CNG vehicles is still quite limited, Hirschboeck acknowledged, primarily because the fuel can only be used in the Honda Civic NG and a couple of pickup trucks. Nearly 90 percent of Kwik Trip’s sales of CNG are to commercial fleets.

“There are not a lot of vehicle options for individuals to use,” he said. “Also, there is an upcharge to buy a CNG vehicle. If it costs $8,000 more to buy that vehicle, consumers weigh whether they will get that money back [by purchasing cheaper fuel at the pump] during the life of the vehicle, or if they instead should spend that money on leather seats and a premium sound system on a gasoline vehicle.”

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