The U.S. Marine Corps’ Parris Island facility is roughly a five-hour drive southeast from Bountyland Quick Stop’s Westminster, S.C., headquarters.
That said, new suppliers en route to one of Bountyland’s 11 stores might want to drop by the Marine boot camp and let a drill instructor toss them around for a bit. It’ll spare the convenience chain from helping them forget everything they know about the world.
“When somebody new comes in from the chip company, we say to ‘em, ‘Forget everything that you’re thinking,’” said Jack O’Malley, director of operations at Bountyland Quick Stop. “We sell the big bags of chips, not the small stuff.”
If it weren’t for his southern charm and easy laugh, O’Malley could just as easily be a drill instructor for those c-store suppliers throughout the Carolinas. “We have to train ‘em on what to put on the set,” he said. “It’s kind of funny. Back when (c-store) people were talking about getting out of groceries, we said, ‘No, we’re in the grocery business.’”
More specifically, Bountyland Quick Stop stores are in the business of volume.
The chain started in 1976 as a corner store owned by Rudolph Land, the father of the current owner, David Land, and has since grown to include nine stores in South Carolina and two in North Carolina.
It’s a convenience chain, no doubt, offering all the quick consumables and grab-and-go items expected of such: the energy drinks, cigarettes, coffee and snacks. Every store sells Exxon-branded fuel, and there’s also the spinoff jobber business, Bountyland Petroleum, which supplies fuel to more than 80 other retailers.
Close and Friendly
Most of the stores are uniquely positioned in rural, back-road communities where the nearest grocery store is five or more miles away. “Around here, five miles away is a long way away,” O’Malley said.
There are two key demographics driving Bountyland’s business: The indigenous locals and the seasonal tourists headed to the area’s lakes. Conveniently, both groups are usually in the market for the same thing: bulk items and groceries. It’s a concept O’Malley suspects only works in his market because of the rural residents and tourists.
“When we see momma come into the store with the children and she gets a thing of cereal and a gallon of milk, we know we’ve done it,” O’Malley said. “Not only do we want the people getting the coffee, getting the drinks and getting the beer, we want momma to feel comfortable enough to shop here.”
O’Malley started at Bountyland 12 years ago when he jumped from the wholesale grocery business to convenience retailing. His college roommate was Land, the current owner.
“As he grew to three or four stores, he kept wanting me to work for him,” O’Malley said. “I said, ‘You don’t have enough stores yet.’”
When O’Malley finally agreed to join the Bountyland team—an enterprise that now employs 200 chain-wide—Land made him business cards listing his title as “Director of North American Operations.”
“I said, ‘You all got stores in South America?’” O’Malley laughed. “He said, ‘You can name yourself whatever you want.’”
Now director of operations for a chain that measures sales by the truckload, O’Malley can hardly fathom why he didn’t jump into convenience retailing earlier. “It’s kind of funny, when I was in the grocery business I said I’d never, never get on the other side. Now I tell people it’s the only place I’ll go.”
O’Malley’s experience in wholesale grocery, though, has reaped great benefits for Bountyland’s voluminous offerings. “We sell a lot of cases, and we work on low margins for stuff like that,” he said. “For a 32-ounce jar of mayo, we make about 15%. What we’re looking for is a lady to tell her husband to go down to the convenience store and grab some mayonnaise.”
Same story with other products. The chain pushes about 600 gallons of milk each month, with productive stores selling 150 gallons a week. Rotating Pepsi and Coke promotions scarcely apply to individual servings.
“We always low-ball our 12-packs and two-liters to compete with the grocery stores,” O’Malley said. “Sometimes we’re less, and sometimes we’re more. We want somebody to stop into Bountyland and get some Coke and a big bag of chips, or this and that, and feel that they don’t have to go to the grocery store.”
Three years ago, the chain laid out 100-case displays of Gatorade, a move that earned it the highest per-store sales volume for that beverage in a three-state area.
The chain doesn’t price check any other c-stores in its markets, other than prices on cigarettes and OTP, a wildly popular category in South Carolina, where cigarettes taxes are a mere seven cents per pack, the lowest in the nation.
Here, too, O’Malley’s familiarity with the supply side has reaped benefits, particularly with OTP. He knows wholesalers receive fresh items on Monday, so he asks them to deliver moist smokeless tobacco products on Tuesday.
“What we’ve developed here, is these guys that buy this stuff are now super-sensitive about it,” he said. “If they know it’s fresh, they’ll be the most loyal customers you have.”
Low prices take a new meaning in the chain’s coffee category, where an eight-ounce cup of brew from a local supplier, Red Diamond Coffee, goes for 10 cents. The 12-ounce version fetches 25 cents.
“We sell a ton of them,” O’Malley said. One of the 11 stores offers free coffee, a marketing tool to keep the regulars coming back. “The only trouble with that is some of the stores are like the McDonald’s of the world. They have their own little coffee club with people standing around.”
Not a bad problem from Bountyland’s standpoint, as O’Malley and Land have sought to make the store a hometown staple where folks can be known and recognized. The hyper-local consciousness at the chain permeates into an old-school format rarely seen at bigger chains. Customers, for instance, can still have checks cashed at Bountyland. Even if the check bounces, “they come back and make good on it,” O’Malley said.
“Our saying is, if he’s a regular customer and you see him all the time, there are no rules,” he said. “We go out of our way to make him happy. It’s worked fantastic.”