Joe Sheetz Takes Charge

Joe Sheetz

Joe Sheetz

In addition to being named president of the family-owned convenience store chain, Sheetz was named vice chairman of the NACS Research Committee.

By John Lofstock, Editor

While all retailers maintain a busy work schedule, Joe Sheetz has had a whirlwind six months.  In October, Sheetz formally advanced into the position of president and CEO for Sheetz Inc., replacing Stan Sheetz.

Just two weeks later, Sheetz was named the vice chairman of the National Association of Convenience Stores’ (NACS) Research Committee, which directs the group’s research and development initiatives and programs to promote the ongoing competitive viability of the channel.

But Sheetz was more than ready for the challenge. “I am honored to be entrusted with the leadership of my family’s company,” said Joe Sheetz. “The vision of my uncles Bob and Steve fueled Sheetz for more than 60 years, not only to stay in business, but to help move the entire industry forward. Add to that the drive and focus Stan brought to this position and I suddenly find myself with quite a legacy to preserve.”

Sheetz Inc., which operates more than 460 locations throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina, is regarded as one of the industry’s best. Whether its foodservice or its workplace culture, Sheetz serves as a model to which many chains aspire. And others have taken notice. In 2013, the chain was voted as a top place to work in all of Pennsylvania for the 12th consecutive year—something only one other large company has done.

As the only retailer, restaurant, grocery or convenience store chain included on the list, Sheetz stands out among industrial, financial, health service corporations and other businesses. It’s an accomplishment Sheetz has achieved in three other states where it operates, currently holding spots in similar competitions in North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio.

“This kind of recognition is priceless to us because our associates volunteer to provide their opinions of Sheetz,” Joe Sheetz said. “The feedback we get through these
surveys is valuable because it helps us identify ways we can improve as an employer. Our employees are the most important assets we have and it feels great to know they enjoy coming to work every day.”

Sheetz sat down with Convenience Store Decisions to discuss the convenience store industry, legislative issues and the family business.

CSD: From mandatory healthcare to crackdowns on e-cigarettes, convenience store retailers seem to be under attack from many different angles. What are the issues retailers need to be aware of on a national level that could potentially impact their businesses over the next few years?
JS: I don’t pretend to be an expert on all of the national issues and certainly depend on NACS to keep me informed through their regular communications to members and by participating in the NACS annual day on Capitol Hill. The three big issues facing the industry as a whole right now are menu labeling standards, data
security and renewable fuels standards. Each of these impact everyone’s business in some way.

CSD: The industry seems to be facing an unprecedented amount of legislative activity that is both costly and time consuming. How important is retailer advocacy for NACS? What kind of a difference can retailers make at the local, state and federal levels?
JS: Retailer advocacy is crucial if we want to protect ourselves from onerous regulations, especially the kinds that disproportionately affect our industry as compared to other types of retailers we compete with. Every time I visit a state capitol or Capitol Hill, I realize how powerful those face to face visits can be. Many of these elected officials truly do not understand the real world impact of proposed laws or even just the nuances of the language in those resolutions. I have seen many congressmen and senators get energized to support or oppose legislation based on retailer visits. Without that personal interaction, they most likely would have remained neutral and would have voted without understanding how the outcome could potentially affect businesses in their districts or states.

CSD: On a local level, Sheetz and other Pennsylvania retailers have been instrumental in lobbying lawmakers to allow beer sales in convenience stores. Do you think the grassroots effort will eventually be effective in allowing retailers in the state to sell beer? What have you learned from this process?
JS: The beer ‘process’ in Pennsylvania is probably no
different than the hundreds of other issues we all have in our states. However, it is magnified by the strong opinions on both sides, public and private. The biggest lesson to take from this is the importance of education. Both the public and the elected officials need to truly understand the details before forming an opinion. The grassroots efforts give the public a real chance to let their representatives know where they stand on the issue so they can truly vote based on the best interests of their overall constituent base rather than in the best interests of the group making the most noise.

CSD: There has been a rise in private-label products over the past five years. Everything from bottled water and snacks to energy shots and candy. In an industry where the retailers and manufacturers are so closely aligned as partners, can you see this becoming a problem long term in the way the two sides do business together?
JS: For me, it all comes down to what the consumer wants. If they do not see the value in buying a brand name item, we need to be prepared to satisfy them with a private label alternative where it makes sense. It is the job of the  vendor to prove to the consumer why their brand is better and to build brand loyalty—just like we need to do in all of our companies as we compete with other convenience retailers for consumer dollars. The best retailers are always going to carry what the customers want.

CSD: With foodservice becoming such an important part of the industry and technology impacting every aspect of our lives, what do you think the convenience store of the future will look like 10 years from now?
JS: If I knew the answer to that, we would already be building one! I do feel strongly that the traffic drivers—those items that really drive people into our stores—will continue to change over time, and we all need to pay attention to that. This may lead more people into foodservice, but it may lead others into completely new areas in an effort to drive traffic. There is no single silver bullet that will work for all companies or work in all geographies. This could lead to more diversity in store design, product offerings and service offerings within the industry. As a result, everybody will need to focus on their brand, not just on the products they sell.

CSD:  Sheetz has a long, storied history in convenience retailing and has literally shaped the convenience store as we know it today. What advice do you have for the next generation of c-store operators still finding their way in this industry?
JS: Remember we are a convenience industry. We essentially sell people time. We need to listen to the customers and let them tell us what would make their lives easier. If we try to satisfy the next generation with the exact same product offer, store design, etc., that was successful for us in the past, we will most likely struggle in the future.

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