building a community

Assisting people in need customers and co-workers has become a fundamental part of KWIK TRIP’S culture.

by Bill Donahue, Editor

For many Kwik Trip co-workers, it’s never too cold to go swimming if it’s for a good cause. Kwik Trip is very active in its support of Special Olympics of Wisconsin. The company was instrumental in orchestrating the “Polar Bear Plunge” (right) in La Crosse. During the first weekend of March, no matter how cold it is, Kwik Trippers don their suits and take a dip to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics.


Wisconsin winters are famous—or perhaps infamous—for their bitter cold. But for Director of Marketing and Advertising Gary Gonczy and a brigade of fellow Kwik Trippers, it’s the perfect time to go swimming. A late-winter dip known as the “Polar Bear Plunge” is part of the company’s fund-raising support for Special Olympics of Wisconsin.

“Last year we raised $90,000 for the Plunge,” says Gonczy. “We did the first one eight years ago, and it’s always held on the first weekend of March. They’ve had plunges when it was 70 degrees and they’ve had them when it was 19 below. You’re usually in and out of the water in a total of seven seconds.”

In addition to “Freezin’ for a Reason,” the company supports the American Red Cross and the U.S. Armed Forces with various donations. Last year, for instance, Kwik Trip contributed more than $16,700 in phone cards to military troops and hospitalizedveterans through the VFW’s Operation Uplink program. Also, Kwik Trip took part in the “I Support Our Armed Forces” bumper sticker program, the proceeds of which go to assisting servicemen and women. The program raised more than $82,000, nearly 90% of which came from bumper sticker sales made in Kwik Trip stores.

For the Red Cross, Kwik Trip holds two blood drives each year, and co-workers are encouraged to donate. Again, this commitment starts at the top. At the company’s year-end SuperTrip meeting in San Francisco (see p. 46), LaVonne Zietlow told Kwik Trip co-workers that it was her personal goal for the year to get more of them to give blood.

Kwik Trip has supported many charitable initiatives to aid the U.S. military. This year, the company took part in the “I Support our Armed Forces” bumper sticker program (below), which raised more than $82,000.

Private-label charities
Kwik Trip also runs two charities of its own: Families Helping Families and Neighbors Helping Neighbors. The former is a charity function for Kwik Trip’s “internal community,” whereby the company collects money at store level for families of employees that have fallen on hard times. But the internal aid goes well beyond donating money; it’s a mindset.

“We had a situation here three years ago where we had a really bad flood, and a co-worker was about to lose his house,” says Director of Store Engineering Ed Stellner. “We took the whole crew out there and spent two days bagging sand and digging moats. That was the company’s time and money we spent, but [President Don Zietlow] called a couple of days later to say thanks for doing it—no questions asked. It takes awhile, but that mindset begins to trickle down. The guy really walks the talk.”

Neighbors Helping Neighbors is a similar program that benefits the community. Kwik Trip collects donations from co-workers and customers through countertop canisters in each store. The chain receives many requests from people seeking assistance each month. Store leaders pass nominations to a committee that meets once a month to discuss the requests, make decisions and determine the amount of money required to meet the need.

Kwik Trip also encourages customers to be community-minded. A part of the company’s credit card program-known as Kwik Rewards Fund-Raising Rebates enables customers to receive an additional 1% savings on purchases if they designate a specific charitable organization or group as a recipient of those dollars. The company distributes these funds to designated charities once per quarter.

“We have always had a humble side in terms of donating our time and our dollars,” says Gonczy. “Don believes that if we take care of our customers and our co-workers, the profits will take care of themselves.”

So far, he’s been right.

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