Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip convenience stores boast an aesthetic all their own, built on high-quality products, programs and employees.

All convenience stores are not created equal, but at QuikTrip, every one’s alike … and that’s a good thing.

“All of our stores are identical,” says Chet Cadieux, chairman, president and ceo of the Tulsa, Okla.-based 24-hour convenience chain. “If we remodel one store, we remodel them all.”

The QuikTrip identify is exemplified both inside and out, from its linear product lineup (SNICKERS bars are displayed in exactly the same spot in St. Louis as they are in Tulsa, for example) to its recognizable red awning.

Another factor that’s consistent no matter where customers shop is the staff.

“They’re friendly, they’re efficient, they’re smart, they’re extroverts,” Cadieux describes. “They have a strong work ethic. They want to be a hero to every customer who comes through the door. They’re ambitious. They want to work hard.”

To find all those qualities in one person is difficult, he says. So how does QuikTrip do it?

“We pay them a bunch to make sure we get great candidates,” Cadieux candidly remarks. In fact, according toFortune magazine (see sidebar), QuikTrip’s average salaried store manager takes home $62,936 a year, and the average hourly “relief assistant” makes $40,080. In the last year alone, QuikTrip hired close to 1,500 employees for new positions. When the economy was booming, it gave jobs to just 1% of those who applied, Cadieux notes. As reported byFortune, the chain has seen more than 160,000 applicants in the last 12 months.

Superior employees make the difference at QuikTrip, says CEO Chet Cadieux. According to Fortune magazine, the company has received job applications from more than 160,000 people in the last year alone.

“Turnover’s next to nothing,” Cadieux states, adding that there’s generally a waiting list for new hires. Perhaps that’s because employees are not only well-paid, but promoted.

“We don’t have a management training program,” he explains. You start at entry level, period.”

If anyone should know, it’s Cadieux. The QuikTrip chair has been with the company since age 16, starting out as a part-time clerk and working the graveyard shift after graduating college. He made his way through the stores, serving in various positions before eventually landing at the top.

“It’s typical for people to move up that way at QuikTrip,” Cadieux says.

Well, not entirely. After all, it was Cadieux’s father who founded the company his son now runs. That said, the executive has paid his dues and fully understands the business he operates, carrying on the culture his father first established in 1958. It’s an atmosphere that’s been carefully cultivated, with proven results.

National name brands such as Airheads and Baby Bottle Pop Candy share shelf space with other confections at QuikTrip.

Back then, there were only 300 c-stores in the entire United States, Cadieux points out, and thus, not a lot of competition. Today, there are more than 180,000.

“Timing is everything,” he says.

A lot has changed at QuikTrip over the years. For starters, the company currently has more than 500 locations. The stores used to be 2,400 sq. ft; they’re now twice that size. A single fuel stop used to offer two or three gas pumps (if any); it now houses at least six. And the inside of the c-store used to feature basic offerings; today, it is a complete food and drink retailer, marketing everything from candy and snacks to fresh baked goods.

Baked goods from QT Kitchens compete with candy and snacks for share of stomach at QuikTrip, where friendly employees are always on hand.

QT Consumption

“Candy is about 12% of the linear feet, which is the way we measure it,” Chet says. This includes aisles, pegs, premium, novelty and checkout. Most confections are located up front.

Salty snacks such as chips, nuts and crackers take up 17% of the space; meat snacks represent about 11% of that.

When it comes to new products, “we adjust our offering accordingly,” Cadieux says. “If there’s something that’s really hot, then we’ll get it into the stores as quickly as we can get our hands on it.” In addition, QuikTrip does one major merchandise reset per year.

The biggest competition for candy products right now isn’t other candies, but energy products, he comments: “Both categories compete for share of space and caffeine and sugar.

“If you look back 20 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago, there was not nearly the competition, not within the category, but from other categories, for share of stomach,” Cadieux continues. For example, almost all snacks, sweet or salty, used to be packaged. Today, he notes, “there are just a lot more choices our there for consumers to get their treat,” whether it’s a cupcake, milkshake or cup of gourmet coffee.

“They’re replacing those purchase occasions that used to be dominated by candy,” Cadiuex says.

The new QuikTrip Rewards program saves users five cents per gallon on gas for the first 90 days and two cents per gallon after that; it also earns shoppers points for the dollars they spend on non-fuel purchases in the store.

QuikTrip’s own QT Kitchens offer alternatives in the form of frozen carbonated drinks and smoothies. The concept, which was test-marketed in Tulsa and is coming soon to Dallas/Fort Worth, addresses different dayparts with everything from fresh sandwiches, wraps and salads to muffins, brownies and cookies.

“We’re selling gobs of doughnuts and pastries,” Cadieux says. At the convenience store level, “it’s all about immediate consumption.”

That’s especially true of the typical QuikTrip shopper, which includes men and women of various ages with one thing in common.

“Our core customer is a mobile worker who’s shopping four, five, six times a day,” Cadieux says. “Construction workers, landscapers, postal workers. Someone who’s in their car. … We’re like their office, where they’re moving around town.” (See sidebar.)

And although those people often are in a hurry, they’re still getting more than gas every time they stop at QuikTrip.

All QuikTrip locations feature the company's easily recognized red awning and at least six fuel pumps.

QT Expansion

“An economic downturn’s a terrible thing to waste,” Cadieux says, quoting a motto that’s jokingly made around the QuikTrip corporate office. “There’s no question that we’re growing at a greater rate than we have in the past.”

In a down economy, people become pickier in their shopping behavior, he asserts: “They get very interested in value and convenience, and the middle ground gets left behind.”

QuikTrip takes advantage of both.

“We’re in a very high growth mode from a store count standpoint … but we aren’t bent on world conquest,” Cadieux says.

Even when gas prices were at their peak, the company still turned a profit.

“Transactions didn’t dip much,” he reflects, “but the market basket did.” In short, consumers didn’t have any money left after filling up their cars. However, they started making more fuel stops per week, “so what we lost in market basket, we made up for in transactions,” Cadieux concludes.

How else does QuikTrip compete in today’s turbulent economic environment?

“We offer a very, very, very strong value proposition,” Cadieux sums up.

It also chooses the best markets in which to build its brand. The states with the most QuikTrip stores are Missouri (home to St. Louis and Kansas City) and Georgia.

Atlanta is an enormous market for us, Cadieux asserts, adding that “there’s a lot of room for stores there.”

QuikTrip’s two newest markets, Dallas/Fort Worth and Phoenix, also are its fastest growing.

“We haven’t hit the saturation point yet,” Cadieux says.

In fact, the average storefront is just eight years old, a statistic that further enables the chain to spread its distinctive culture. As stated on its Web site, “QuikTrip is more than just another convenience store or fuel stop.” It’s also “a great place to work.”

Editor’s Note: QuikTrip Chairman, President and CEO Chet Cadieux will speak at the NACS Show in Las Vegas on Thursday, Oct. 22. Turn to “Westward Bound” in this month’s issue of Retail Confectioner for more information.

Making its 'Fortune'

Just how successful of a corporation is QuikTrip? Well, for seven years running, the chain has been named one ofFortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.” This year, QuikTrip moved up one spot from No. 28 to No. 27, with a reported 33% job growth posted.

“What makes it so great?”Fortune asks. Last year, the company was cited for its incentives: part-time workers receive a bonus of $1.55 for every hour they’ve worked after one full year of employment.

This year,Fortune noted that more than 200 of the chain’s staff members have been with QuikTrip for more then 20 years.

According to Chairman, President and CEO Chet Cadieux, QuikTrip makesFortune’s list every year for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is benefits and pay. Random employee interviews also contribute to the annual recognition.

For more information, visitmoney.cnn.com/magazines/fortune.