At Mach 1 innovation is key, and Alan Meyer, chief operations officer for the company, said he is always willing to try something new, even if it ultimately fails.
“People don’t realize that not changing is a conscious decision. Your competition is changing, so you can either go with it or not, but you can’t stop innovation,” Meyer said.
That willingness to adapt has allowed the family-run business to thrive, and today it operates 18 locations.
The business’s roots date back to 1949 when Meyer’s grandfather worked with Standard Oil. “My father and uncle came into the business in 1972, and that is really when we became our own business,” Meyer said.
It started with a little retail shop, and it was Meyer’s father who, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, determined the business either needed to grow rapidly or they should pursue another venture. He chose to grow, and built the company’s first ground-up retail store in a little town in Illinois in 1988. In the 90s Standard Oil was selling of locations, and Mach 1 grew through acquisitions.
By 2008, Mach 1 was operating 15 stores, but made a strategic business decision to sell of the mediocre locations. “I think that is one of the best things we ever did as a company. I think companies hold onto marginal assets for way to long,” Meyer said, adding that the company went down to 12 stores, but has built six more since then.
Mach 1 got into the diesel business in 2011. “For us it is all about profit centers. We’re trying to figure out all of the different profit centers we can bring in,” Meyer said. “If you’re not trying to find additional sources of revenue, then you just need to get out of the game.”
Today, five locations offer diesel fuel. “We’re building four more locations currently and three of those will have truck diesel,” he said.
Meyer told Stop Watch he is a big fan of innovation. He helped create the company’s loyalty program and smartphone app. He also researched the right point-of-sale system and said Mach 1’s new system has provided vast amounts of data analysis the company can use to shape its operations.
Mach 1 features 10-inch screens at the pumps. They play videos management can control and can charge vendors for. There are also televisions inside the store for digital advertising.
Since 2011, Mach 1 has worked with the design from Paragon Solutions. The company was building a location in Champaign, Illinois, but Meyer hadn’t uncovered the ‘wow factor’ he was hoping for. “I drove around St. Louis and looked at every gas station I could find,” he said.
Once he found the one that wow’ed him, he learned that it was designed by Paragon. He reached out to the company and has been working with it ever since. “It completely changed how we come to market with a new store,” he said. “How could I ever get the expertise or knowledge they’ve got when they build thousands of stores and I do one or two a year?”
Meyer said Mach 1 has focused on increase profits from its car washes, alcohol sales and video gaming. He’d like to work on growing food sales next but is taking his time to choose the right food concept for the locations. “You can’t halfway food,” he said. “Until we figure out the best way to handle it in our market we’ll just keep looking.”
Being organized allows locations to run smoothly, Meyer said. There are daily meetings for those at the site manager level and up. Everyone says what they’re doing for the day and makes sure everyone is aware of outstanding problems from the day before.
“The only way you’re going to be good at your job is organization. You can be the most skilled, most intelligent person in the world, but if you’re not organized how do you know what problems you need to fix,” Meyer said.
Mach 1 uses an electronic reporting tool that managers check of each day. It takes about 10 minutes, and if there is a problem with any of the line items, the manager takes a photo, prints out the information and shares it with whoever is responsible.
There is a longer checklist that takes about 30 minutes that is reviewed periodically. “If you give people organization and structure and give them a guide on how to do their job, that is the best way to do it,” Meyer said. “You have to make sure you stay on top of everything because it is literally an ocean wave coming at you that you have to beat back.”
Creating attractive, successful locations is an expensive endeavor, but Meyer said it is a worthwhile investment. “People will ask how we can spend so much money on a location,” he said. “I ask, how can you not? This is the way the industry is going.”
Today’s customers want an experience, he said. “What people don’t want is a marginal presentation,” Meyer explained.
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