-- Please provide a brief history of your business. I own and operate two newly built gas stations from the ground up in the City of Thousand Oaks, Town of Newbury Park, California. The two major brands are Chevron with Extramile Convenience Store with a touchless carwash; and Arco with Arco AmPm convenience store.
-- How did you get your start in the convenience/petroleum retailing industry? It was my dream to own the real estate of the business I establish. I researched for five years before deciding to purchase the gas station properties.
-- What was/were your previous job(s) before getting into this business? I work as a Statistician part time in the medical research industry and had helped my spouse with 7-11 convenience stores on a limited basis.
-- Describe the first c-store you opened (what did it look like, what did it stock, etc.)? The first C-store I personally opened was with the Chevron Extramile Store franchise. It is a 2,000 square foot facility offering hot foods, energy drinks, sodas, Icee, coffee, candies, newspapers, ice and so much more.
-- What was the greatest opportunity you found in operating a single store? Since I built the station from the ground up with my husband, the greatest opportunity was to establish from the beginning was convenience to include the floor plan, product placement and design of the circulation/flow of the store itself.
-- What was the greatest challenge you faced when operating a single store? The greatest challenge was to establish a business when the economy began to lag. When the recession hit, our projections were based on pre-recession numbers. It was a very tough ride. The property loans and financials were difficult to meet but we were able to keep afloat with hard work, great employees, marketing, and sacrifices.
-- Why did you decide to open a second store, third store, and so on? We decided to build the second gas station from the ground up, also in the tough economic times of 2010-11, to provide a name brand that is not available to our neighborhood for miles. In Newbury Park, there were no Arco AmPm’s within a 15-mile radius of our location, which brings a value brand of gasoline to our community at the lowest competitive price possible.
-- What’s been the most important lesson and/or best practice you have learned going from a single store to a multi-store operation? It is crucial to get financial projections that would work if the income reduced by up to 20%. If planned right, multi-store operations allows for diversification in a lagging economy providing a financial cushion and constant income base.
-- What’s been your best idea yet? The best part of our endeavor has been to seek SBA financing for both projects. Although with stringent qualifications and criteria for SBA loans, we found that it is the best financial product for new businesses with property.
What’s been your worst mistake yet? Undertaking large construction projects with basic financial cushion. When we projected to build our new station, we set a cushion of ten percent of the funds as extra. However, so many unknowns surfaced such as environmental fees, environmental requirements and upgrades, equipment upgrades, new equipment not in the original scope and contractor change orders. When one does a large project, a critical piece in the equation is the change order contractors elicit. They know you have to open and they will do everything that is not specifically mentioned in the contract to become a change order. We had to be so very diligent in this matter and even then we had issues. Furthermore, we didn’t project that the recession would hit while we were building the site. The projections of the income and sales were lower than anticipated due to the recession. It was a challenge for the first two years to make all the payments of all the obligations, but we did it with a lot of hard work.
-- How is your company/business/stores unique compared to your competitors? We operate two name brands across from each other and are able to offer customers both a value brand and a premium brand at an every day fair price possible. We operate the stations in a small community known as the town of Newbury Park in the City of Thousand Oaks. We are a family owned business and we strive to give excellent customer service, excellent state of the art stations, clean and well stocked stores, tremendous variety of products, strategic location with easy access off the 101 freeway and best prices possible. We have achieved 100% scores with Chevron Customer first program and 100% score for the Top Performing Extramile store in the network. Each year we have grown our business since we opened, thanks to the support of our customers and the community.
-- What advice can you offer a single-store owner today who’s considering expanding? Expansion from single store to multi-store is successful with good financial planning, experience with all facets of daily store operation, ability to recognize when change is needed in any aspect of operation, marketing skills and organized infrastructure for management of employees.
-- What are the growth goals for your current operation? If opportunity arises we would expand with additional locations.
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