This audio interview provides plenty of insight into Chester Cadieux and the history of QuikTrip. There are many lessons to be learned
- [Chapter 4] - We didn’t understand what we were getting into, absolutely. We stocked it like a grocery store. Which was not atypical then because we were filling grocery stores because grocery store hours were short they were 8am – 8pm or they were open 16 hours a day they weren’t open early, they weren’t open late, and so your fill-in business was kind of what you lived on because we kind of really just had groceries. Git-n-Go started just a few weeks before we got our first store opened. And when I went to it to see what it first looked like, they had brought a guy from Texas. He knew what he was doing. He was the best C-store guy you could imagine. He just talked fast and moved fast and had a feather duster in his back pocket and he’d run around and worked all the time and he knew the business. And when I walked into that store I thought, “Oh … shoot.” (Laughter) We’ve done everything wrong and we did. We did everything wrong. And that became our company motto was “We always do everything wrong the first time.” And we did. We lost money you know and we were on the edge for two or three years.
- [Chapter 5] - It was a whole different world. Mom still worked at home. It was classic 1940s, 1950s and it was a whole different world. We didn’t hire women because they had to work nights by themselves, cause these stores didn’t run a lot of volume. The business model was cheap and high price. And that’s what they all were and there were about 3,000 convenience stores in the United States when we started and they were in Dallas and Atlanta and some in Florida. And now there are 146,000. So, you know we stumbled into a growth business. Just good luck, and so, you know, we said it’s better to be lucky than smart cause we kept doing dumb things. But we were lucky because the business grew and there was a need for convenience that nobody even recognized convenience. If you think, there are no fastfeeders. It was just a vacuum that wasn’t identified.
- [Chapter 9] - JE: The QuikTrip Kitchens idea, how was that born? CC: That came with Chet. JE: Your son Chet.
- CC: My son Chet because when he became CEO–and we knew we were weak in food and that’s the driving force that we’re pushing right now. We’re still not very good at it. But we have commissaries and we have bakeries in all but one of our markets and we’re under construction there and that’s Dallas. But we’re serving all of our stores except the Dallas stores with bakery (items) and with fresh sandwiches every day. And that’s been a $30 million investment to get that lined up. And then losing money in those things until we get enough volume and enough trained people to really get good at it.
JE: And so the concept of letting somebody else supply that to you wouldn’t work? You wanted to control it yourself?
- CC: Yes. We learned a long time ago that if somebody else is doing it, we won’t get the quality. They’re going to cut on cheese, or they’re going to cut on whatever the good ingredients are. They’re going to not start out that way and you know we’ve got them squeezed down and they’re trying to make money and so we just have to be the ones that lose money to get up to volume to make it work. And the bakeries make money now. Not a lot, but the bakeries are doing okay. But the sandwich part of it is still losing money. And we work through that, I mean it’s just one of those things. We have to be a destination for gasoline, for pop, for cigarettes, for a lot of things. We have to be really good at it, and we have to get better at food.
- [Chapter 10] - John Erling: Let’s talk about the people you refer to them as being important– Chester Cadieux: Oh, that’s the whole thing. That’s the whole thing.
JE: What was the formula for selecting the right people?
- CC: Well, the whole thing about people came from being in the Air Force and having responsibilities and working with non-commissioned officers. And the old guys from WWII were not easy for an ROTC Lieutenant to deal with. But the Staff Sergeants, the young guys who wanted to be career guys and were Staff Sergeants and they were my age. And we learned whom we could work with, and how important people were. And so when I started, we paid better. We didn’t have competition but we paid what assistant managers made in super markets for store managers and they made a little less and whatever. And they made almost as much as I did. $10 a week was what I made then because we were trying to get quality people, cause we needed them if we were going to grow. So I would interview 10 people to hire one. And that was my discipline, which used to drive me crazy. And now we hire probably one out of 30. Because we have psychological testing, we have mental testing. If you get to an interview, you’ve got 1 chance in 3 of getting hired because you’ve already been screened, so we’re really careful with whom we hire.
- On training:
- The training of these people is very, very important. We were terrible trainers to begin with. I mean we’d have somebody in the back there to bail a guy out if he got in trouble, but we didn’t train very well. And over time, see we do all this interviewing with employees every year. We used to spend a third of our time just talking to employees and customers. And the employees were the important part because they knew the customers. And they knew where the problems were. And they had good enough training and they knew that they didn’t feel safe on the night shift and we needed better security and all that sort of thing. We talked to everybody. We talked to secretaries, and we talked to people that worked in the warehouses and people that were in the maintenance department. I mean, we talked to everybody. Hiring good people and listening to good people is the success of this company.
- JE: What was the formula for selecting the right people?
- [Chapter 18] - At one point they were thinking about going public, but decided not to.
- Chester: "They [Wall Street] are crooks. Well … they wanted to know about our P&L and our information and they were interested. And we were going into two new markets and we felt like it would be great to have some more capital in the company. They said, “So you’re going to these new markets and that’s going to increase sales and that’s going to create profits and so forth.” And I said, “No, when we go to new markets, we lose money for 5, 6, 7 years.” They said, “You can’t say that.”
- We think long term. We’ve always have thought long term. So if you’re 77, it’s fairly depressing. We’ve always thought long term because short-term decisions have long tales. You just want to think long term.
- [Chapter 19] - JE: In the end it was the employees that have made you what you are today.
- Chester Cadieux: Absolutely, and I learned that in the United States Air Force. People are everything.
JE: Charles Darwin, you subscribe to something he said: Leaders never accomplish great things alone. It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
- CC: Yeah, I love that. I love that and it’s true.
- It's better to be lucky than smart.
- Chet could take over as President at a young age because he had all of our guys who had been there for the long road. And they’ve got people behind him. Our bench strength is so strong, you know, the bench is deep.
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