By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Louie Sheetz gave an audience at the Valley Health Business at the Bloom Wednesday in Winchester a lesson about the importance of family values in forging the success of the convenience store chain that bears his name.
Sheetz, executive vice president of marketing for Sheetz, Inc., is one of five family members who serve on the executive committee of the company, which operates 412 stores in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina.
"We are very much a family-owned and operated business. We are private," he told the audience.
In reply to a later question from an audience member about the possibility of becoming publicly owned, Sheetz said he didn't foresee any changes in the ownership.
"We're control freaks," he said. "We would rather grow slowly, organically and open and manage (stores) one at a time."
Since Sheetz's brother, Robert, bought one of his father's five dairy stores in Altoona, Pa. in 1952, the company has risen to No. 58 on Forbes magazine's list of top private companies in the U.S. and employs 15,000, 75 percent of which are part-time employees.
The influence of Sheetz family members notwithstanding, Louie Sheetz said the company would not be what it is today had Robert Sheetz followed the advice of his father when he decided to buy the original dairy store.
"My dad tried desperately to talk him out of buying that store," Sheetz said of his brother. "He refused. He took the store over against the strong advice, 'This is no career, son. You'll never make any money.'"
Sheetz said family values "can be one of the greatest competitive advantages an owner can bring to his business."
He identified respect for others regardless of age, position in life, race and educational background as one of seven character markers he and his brothers grew up with in Altoona. The others include drive to win; dependability for customers, staying connected to the community and the people whom they hire; pioneering new and better ways of doing business and a high energy, unpretentious attitude toward the work.
"Unlike the health care business, this isn't that complicated," Sheetz said. "It's not rocket science. It's just a lot of hard work."
Sheetz said his company differentiates itself from its other competitors by offering restaurant quality, freshly made food to go with the less profitable gasoline that still constitutes 75 percent of its business.
The business has undergone "a huge change" as it evolved over the years from dairy stores, to a combination of gas stations and delicatessens to its current emphasis on food and gasoline, he said.
Sheetz said the business continues to change. He cited plans to install outlets to recharge batteries for electric cars at five stations in June. Four of the stations will be in Pennsylanvia and one in Hagerstown, Md., he said. The outlets will pack enough voltage to recharge electric car batteries to 80 percent capacity in 20 minutes, he said.