The fast-growing chain also continues to test its Sheetz Bros. Creamery concept
With a "total customer focus," Sheetz Inc. is a vertically integrated machine composed of more than 400 stores; a fleet of gasoline tankers; a 10-year-old distribution center; and the $46 million, 140,000-square-foot Sheetz Bros. Kitchen, which produces sub rolls and buns, Shweetz baked goods, packaged sandwiches and other perishables such as prepackaged fresh salads and parfaits, for daily delivery to every store, as far as 300 miles away.
Recognized in November as the 58th largest private company in the United States on Forbes' annual list of the top private companies, Sheetz has more than $5 billion in annual sales and 14,000 employees across six states. The company moved up 21 spots in the 2011 listing compared to 2010.
In the last year-plus, the retailer has moved forward on plans to grow to 500 stores during the next few years. For the last two years, the chain has ventured into new markets as far from its Altoona, Pa., base as Ohio and North Carolina, all offering the signature Sheetz brands.
Its ever-evolving 24-hour menu includes made-to-order (branded MTO) hot and cold subs; breakfast sandwiches (Shmuffins, Shmiscuitz or Shmagels); deli sandwiches; Saladz, Wrapz, Burgerz and Hot Dogz; Nachoz; grilled chicken sandwiches; Pretzel Meltz; Fajitaz and burritos and more, including fried foods. The four-year-old Sheetz Bros. Coffeez program includes lattes, espresso, mochas, steamers and hot chocolate, as well as iced and frozen coffee drinks, fruit smoothers and Creamz, a blend of cream, flavoring and ice.
A growing footprint and growing demand for its food items has the Sheetz team moving forward with new support elements, including plans to open a second Sheetz Bros. Kitchen by 2014. The facility will be located in southern Virginia or North Carolina's Triangle and Triad areas, where most of Sheetz's stores in the state are being built. Indeed, some 40 percent of the chain's new stores are planned for North Carolina. The new kitchen facility will serve southern Virginia and West Virginia stores as well.
The retailer also has been hard at work advancing new menu items and engaging in one-of-a-kind marketing and promotion strategies. The chain's test of Sheetz Bros. Creamery, a soft-serve-and-topping concept developed at the Sheetz restaurant, continues. "During the winter of [2010/2011], the Creamery did surprising well during a time when many area ice cream outlets are closed," said Louie Sheetz, executive vice president of marketing. "It kept a steady level of business."
In the spring, the chain added the Sheetz Bros. Creamery concept to two more conventional stores in Richmond, Va., and western Pennsylvania. "We're taking this slowly," Louie Sheetz said. "We studied it over the summer season, looking at what impact local marketing played; how placement and merchandising in the store worked. This would mean a major refurbishing of the stores if we roll it out. It needs a footprint of about 60 square feet."
Additionally, the chain is considering upgrades to its fountain, hot drink and fixings areas. "We're trying to 'package up' a project so that when we do the refurbishing, all of the new elements will be added at once," Louie Sheetz said. "But we haven't made the call on the Sheetz Bros. Creamery yet. If it goes in, it will go in every store. But with that size of an impact on the store, the rollout would be a two- or three-year project like [the] Sheetz Bros. Coffeez program was. We'd be deliberate and take our time before we start marketing it chainwide."
Meanwhile, a made-to-order, whole-pie pizza program is now available in every store. "We've been promoting it since April and it's done very well," he said.
Complementing Sheetz's expanding food program is the addition of drive-thru windows to certain locations. The chain opened its sixth drive-thru store in July.
In an effort to further engage customers, Sheetz reworked its card-swipe gasoline discount program, which allowed customers to earn cents off per gallon for making foodservice purchases. The company's new My Sheetz Card, modeled on a more traditional frequency program, was in every store by July, after an eight-week point-of-sale upgrade. The card has been available in Ohio and North Carolina stores for a few years.
My Sheetz Card debuted quietly through point-of-purchase signage and customer sign-ups. Store employees now swipe a customer's driver's license, then swipe a dormant loyalty card through the POS and hand over the live card to the customer. Customers are encouraged to use the card with purchases of products in the frequency program, including specialty coffee, bakery items and other signature Sheetz products. The more purchased, the more free items are awarded.
Cardholders also receive discounts on snacks, beverages and other limited-time featured products, plus they automatically earn 3 cents off per gallon at the pump.
Outside the stores, the company is building a new health and wellness center at its distribution facility in Claysburg, Pa. Scheduled to open this fall, the center will include fitness equipment, a quarter-mile exercise track and provide health assessments, lifestyle coaching and disease management services for employees and their families. The 2,200-square-foot health and fitness center will be part of a larger LEED-certified 10,000-square-foot facility that will also include a conference center.
"Providing ways for our employees to learn how to have healthier lifestyles by giving them the tools they need to achieve and maintain good health supports a culture of 'Shwellness' in our company, where people want to get healthy," said Bill Young, Sheetz's director of compensation, benefits and risk management. "Like many companies across the country, we recognize that having healthier employees helps us manage our health care costs, improves our productivity and sets Sheetz apart as a great place to work."
The retail innovator has also made a splash on the screen â big and small. The chain and its management team had a six-minute role in director Morgan Spurlock's "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2011. The documentary, which opened in Altoona in May, looked at the effects of product placement in films. The film's entire $1.5 million budget was paid for by sponsors.
In the film, Spurlock visits the Sheetz corporate office and has a meeting with executives Stan, Louie and Joe Sheetz. During the meeting, Stan Sheetz asks Spurlock, "Is there a plot or is it all shameless marketing?"
Coinciding with the sponsorship and release of the documentary, Sheetz invited its customers to "sell out." Customers submitted pictures or videos of themselves "selling out for Sheetz" with product placement on Facebook. In June, Facebook followers voted for their favorite submissions. The top 10 vote getters received free lunch for a year (one lunch per week for 52 weeks). The grand-prize winner received a $1,000 Sheetz gift card.
Meanwhile, in another product-placement program, fans of "The Office" on NBC often see the employees of fictional Scranton, Pa.-based Dunder-Mifflin surrounded by Sheetz items. Character Dwight Schrute has sipped Sheetz coffee while plotting against co-worker Jim Halpert, while former branch manager Michael Scott stood in the office kitchenette complaining about a co-worker in front of a refrigerator with a Sheetz magnet. Pens and other Sheetz-logoed items have also made their way onto the set.
For comments, please contact Barbara Grondin Francella, Contributing Editor, at [email protected].
"We're trying to 'package up' a project so that when we do the refurbishing, all of the new elements will be added at once."
â Louie Sheetz, Sheetz Inc.
"Like many companies across the country, we recognize that having healthier employees helps us manage our health care costs, improves our productivity and sets Sheetz apart as a great place to work."
â Bill Young, Sheetz Inc.