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Focus on Customers, Culture and Community, Says NACS Chairman Joe Sheetz

10/20/2017

​CHICAGO – Convenience retailer Sheetz Inc. succeeds today because of a focus on three critical areas: customers, culture and community, said Joe Sheetz, the new 2017-18 NACS Chairman, during a NACS Show general session today.

Even with a distinct focus, growth isn’t always easy. Sheetz said that the company had a lot of help along the way to grow from one store in Altoona, Pennsylvania, in 1952, to more than 500 stores today.

In fact, industry conventions were critical to growing the business, even before the 110-year old company opened its first convenience store. Originally Sheetz operated as a dairy company, and then one fateful conference did more than shape the company’s future—it changed the company’s name.

The original family name, spelled Sheets, was changed in the 1930s after Jerry Sheetz saw an attendee at a dairy convention with the last name “Sheetz.” Turns out, Jerry preferred the spelling so much that he convinced the family to adopt the new surname. The new name also became family’s convenience store brand.

“So, when you hear at the NACS Show that ‘one idea can change your business...or name,’ it's true,” joked Sheetz.

Being in a family business has also helped shape Sheetz’ business philosophy. He cited several family members who played a critical role, especially his father, as well as uncle Steve Sheetz and cousin Stan Sheetz, who both preceded him at Sheetz as CEO and as NACS chairman.

Fast forward to today where the mission at Sheetz is to provide fast, friendly service and quality products in clean and convenient locations.

“That’s harder than it sounds because there is no standard definition of convenience. It is whatever people think it should be at that moment,” said Sheetz, whether convenience means a great location, extended hours, one-stop shopping or a chance to slow down and enjoy a meal.

To succeed, Sheetz said the company’s first of three focus areas—the customer—is truly about understanding what people want, when they want it and how they want it. Ultimately, this focus is what drives innovation. 

“The bottom line is that we all have to continue to reinvent ourselves and bring innovation to the industry. In fact, our vision is to create the business that will put Sheetz, as we know it today, out of business,” said Sheetz.

He then stressed that innovation will not happen without the company’s second focus area: culture.

“All of us sell a lot of the same products. The big difference is how you sell them,” said Sheetz, stressing that a strong culture is that differentiator. “Everything happens because of our people,” he said.

With increasing challenges related to attracting and retaining the best talent, people today have more options in determining where they want to work.

“We all have to be more attractive than the competition. And to use a term from  Silicon Valley, everyone is trying to ‘disrupt’ the model for how you use your people. The focus of these disruptors is how to take costs out of the system or redefine convenience, but it’s not about culture. And it needs to be,” Sheetz stressed.

“I truly believe that customers come to your stores because they like the experience. They like you. And that comes from a healthy company culture,” he said.

In addition to changing the family name, Joe’s grandfather Jerry Sheetz also instilled in the family the importance of giving back and truly serving the community through charitable work. This third focus area at the company—community—is so contagious that 25 years ago, Sheetz employees created their own employee-run charity, and they have contributed more than $20 million to buy toys, clothes and other necessities for local children in need during the holiday season.

“Our industry's commitment to the communities we serve is truly amazing. We collectively contribute $1 billion a year to charities,” said Sheetz. “But it's not about just stroking checks. It's about volunteering time, donating product and supporting first-responders. There is no industry more grounded in their communities than we are.”