Connecting with the Community

Four PS Food Mart stores feature a drive-through window where customers can order cigarettes, milk and other products without leaving their car.

For convenience store operators, being a good corporate citizen isn’t something they can take lightly. In fact giving back to the community should be considered the cost of doing business, and it should be part of a company’s long-term mission.

Giving back is something Folk Oil Co. takes seriously. This fall, the company’s PS Food Mart stores in 17 communities across south central Michigan and Toledo, Ohio, inspired their customers to purchase and donate some 28,000 Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts, which were sent to 24 different food pantries, homeless shelters, after school programs and churches in the communities where PS Food Mart stores operate.

“We wanted to do something as a corporation that would directly benefit our small communities,” said Dick Folk, president and CEO of Folk Oil Co., which operates 30 PS Food Mart locations—eight in Toledo and 22 in Michigan.

As the Pop-Tart promotion got underway, customers were invited to buy two Pop-Tarts for $1 and donate the treats to charity and community groups identified by PS Food Mart store managers. Each store had its own benefactor in terms of a local food pantry or organization that received the products.

Companywide, the chain engages its managers and challenges them to make a difference in the lives of their customers. “There aren’t that many family-owned and operated businesses like ours left in our industry. A lot of them are being bought up by the big conglomerates, so one of the things we’re focused on is our locally-owned and operated advantage,” Folk said.

Giving back to the community is nothing new for PS Food Mart. Last spring the chain raised more than $50,000 in just 16 days, during its “Fight Hunger. Give Hope” Campaign, with funds going to support two leading local food pantries: the Food Bank of South Central Michigan and the Toledo Northwest Ohio Food Bank.

“To raise $50,000 in 16 days, that is one of the greatest things this corporation has ever done. Customers bought into fighting hunger, and felt good about giving,” Folk noted.

Employees Motivated
When the stores began running a buy-one-get-one Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats promotion a few months later, some managers, inspired from the Fight Hunger promotion, suggested giving customers the option to donate the free treat to a local cause. A new fundraising initiative was born and customers responded, with many donating both treats to the cause.

“We want customers to recognize PS Food Mart in the local community as the local go-to store,” said Jim Linton, project manager for PS Food Mart.

When the Pop-Tarts promotion came along, the company knew it wanted to again use it as a chance to help the community. It drew on its Rice Krispies promotion and followed a similar model, reaching out to the food banks in Michigan and Toledo to help identify local food banks in each of the chain’s towns that would benefit from a donation.

“During the Rice Krispies Treats promotion, we were the third highest in the nation and our stores were No. 1 for throughput. The two chains that beat us were much bigger than we are,” Folk said. “Our customers really responded because they knew their gift was going to help people locally. I don’t think when we started this we thought we would raise 28,000 Pop-Tarts. It just goes to show the power of our organization.”

Acting as a community steward and good corporate citizen continues to be a priority at PS Food Marts which plans to again kick off its “Fight Hunger. Give Hope” Campaign this spring.

90 Years in Business
Folk Oil also reaches a milestone this year, celebrating its 90th anniversary operating in Michigan. “We have four generations involved in this business,” said Folk, who represents the third generation. Linton is part of the fourth generation. At the corporate level, the company has two senior members who have been with the company for 25 years, as well as several employees who have worked with the chain for more than 15 years.

Folk Oil’s roots began in 1921 when Folk’s grandfather L.H. Folk came to Homer, Mich., as a Standard Oil agent. After Folk’s father Robert Folk graduated from high school and returned from WWII in 1945, he joined the family business and in the mid-1960s became a Mobil distributor. Dick Folk joined the business in 1973 around the time the company was beginning to open tire stores, as well as its first convenience store called Pop Shop.

In the mid-80s the company name changed from Pop Shop to PS Food Mart. Today the company focuses solely on operating c-stores, having sold its oil division in the 1980s.

The Ohio stores offer Sunoco-branded gasoline, while 20 of the Michigan stores are branded CITGO and two offer PS Food Mart brand gasoline due to a conflict with a

competing CITGO in the area. The chain also offers E85 fuel at three locations. Eight of the stores are co-branded with a Subway, while one features a Caribou Coffee. The company also runs three car washes and a standalone Denny’s that sits adjacent to one of its c-store properties.

PS Food Mart continues to focus on renovation and expansion. In 2008, it completed a raise and rebuild on two stores in Michigan. In 2010 the chain acquired a store in Perry, Mich., which includes a Subway franchise. Also in 2010, the chain rebuilt a store in the Toledo market and purchased a store in Williamson, Mich., which is scheduled to be remodeled in January 2011, bringing the chain’s total store count to 31.

Four PS Food Mart locations also feature drive-through windows. “Customers primarily use the drive through for milk, coffee, fountain drinks and cigarettes. They have been quite successful. We went with the drive-throughs in locations that don’t have a QSR,” Folk said.

One of the chain’s Subway restaurants also features a drive-through. “It’s had mixed results—we’re doing 16-18% of our Subway sales at that  site through our drive-through,” Folk said.

New technology makes the drive-though especially convenient. When customers pay with a credit card, the system remembers their order and the next time they return asks if they’d like to repeat that order again. “We were the first Subway store in Michigan to feature that technology,” Linton said.

Driving the Business
PS Food Mart is known for its Java Peak coffee program. “My personal freshness guarantee is on the back of every cup,” Folk said. “I believe this to be the finest cup of coffee you will find in your travels. If you don’t agree, the coffee is on us.” The guarantee shows associates coffee is a high priority and must be kept fresh, while the coffee area must be kept clean.

Going forward, PS Food Mart remains open to new growth opportunities in Michigan and Ohio. “We are actively soliciting new brokers, but we want to keep it in a manageable area,” said Folk, adding his goal is to grow to about 35 stores within the next three years. “We don’t want to be the largest chain; we just want to be the best.”

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