A Trip Down Memory Lane With Chester Cadieux

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A Trip Down Memory Lane With Chester Cadieux

By Linda Lisanti, Convenience Store News - 12/12/2011

CSNews' first Hall of Famer says it would be very hard to start out in the c-store industry today

On Sept. 25, 1958, Chester Cadieux founded QuikTrip Corp. when he and a business partner opened their first convenience store in Tulsa, Okla. Twenty-nine years and four days later, on Sept. 29, 1987, the man behind one of the most-respected and admired companies in the c-store industry became the first inductee into the new Convenience Store News Industry Hall of Fame.

Today, as the CSNews Hall of Fame marks its 25th year, Cadieux's startup is a $9 billion company operating more 580 convenience stores in 10 states; the retailer expanded into South Carolina just this October. QuikTrip consistently appears on Forbes' annual ranking of the largest privately held U.S. companies and on Fortune's Top 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Although Cadieux has since retired — and his son Chet is now at the company's helm — the founder's philosophy of continuous evolution and a commitment to hiring good people and promoting from within remains an integral part of QuikTrip's continued success.

In honor of this shared 25-year milestone, CSNews took a trip down memory lane with Cadieux, reflecting on his Hall of Fame induction, industry memories and more.

What did it mean to you to be the first-ever Convenience Store News Hall of Famer?

I've always said that it is better to be lucky than smart, and boy that was certainly the case with my induction.

What do you remember most about being inducted into the Hall of Fame?

Mostly, I remember that it is the best picture I ever took. We still use that photo all the time. It was a really good time, and I had a lot of fun.

What would you say has had the greatest positive impact on the industry in the last 25 years?

I think the biggest thing that has happened over that span is that our whole industry became really serious about the gasoline business. That meant everyone had to raise their game to compete. The end result is that our industry is now seen in a much more favorable light by the consumer than it was back then.

What has had the greatest negative impact on the industry in the last 25 years?

The regulatory environment has just gotten out of control over that period of time. There are so many things that our industry now has to do in their installations that cost so much money that is wasted. It's just sad because that means the customer ends up paying more for everything.

How has your company, QuikTrip, evolved over the last 25 years?

We've evolved so much over 25 years that it is almost indescribable. I could point to how we've gotten better at selling gasoline; the progress we've made in selling food; or even that our people seem to get better every year. But really, the evolution of our company is all about past generations retiring and new generations coming up from the bottom to run this place. It is like a constant process of rebirth.

What is the most remarkable thing you've experienced, seen or learned while in the industry?

That the entire business depends on the people who work in the stores. For us, those guys and gals ARE the company. The rest of us are just here to support them and help them become successful.

If you were to jump into the convenience store business today, what would be your greatest concern, and what would you see as your greatest opportunity?

Ha! My greatest concern would be that I would go broke! When I started QT in 1958, no one knew what they were doing — neither us nor our competitors. The business was being invented. But today, there are so many companies in this industry that are incredibly good at what they do. I think that it would be very hard to start today.

What do you foresee for the industry, and QuikTrip, over the next 25 years?

Well, the silly answer is that I'm retired and that's someone else's problem now. Seriously, I don't think about it anymore, but I trust that both QuikTrip and the industry will figure it out. There are a lot of people in this business now who are a lot smarter than I ever was.