Are convenience stores convenient enough?

Stan Sheetz talks about high-tech refueling--your car and your stomach.

Is there a cooler name in business than Stan Sheetz?

On top of that, the president and CEO of the fueling/convenience store chain founded by his father in 1952 is just as much fun to interview as he was in 2000--when he told me their touch-screen ordering was so easy you could do it drunk. Today, Sheetz has 368 locations in the Mid-Atlantic, and the company is ranked 82nd on Forbes’ list of largest private companies.

I talked to Sheetz recently about the stores’ latest use of technology, why he doesn’t want managers counting money and what he does when he stops at a Sheetz.

Last time we talked, in 2000, you were very excited about the touch screen to order sandwiches. What technologies are you excited about now?

We’re in the process of working on an app for the iPhone. It would tell the customer where the closest Sheetz location is, the price of gas and God forbid market something to them. Potentially, it would allow them to order a sandwich so it’s waiting when they drive up. Although you probably shouldn’t do all this when you’re driving.

So even though the stores are fast and convenient, you’re trying to make them faster?

Hopefully customers don’t have to wait very long now. But yes, people want things faster. I’m that way. I’m the guy at the supermarket who gets behind someone with a discount card and 83 coupons, and then after all that, they write a check. Drives me crazy.

What else are you doing with wireless?

Wireless has really opened up all kinds of possibilities. The last thing I read is that maybe 12 percent of the market is a smart phone. That’s not anywhere near the majority of phones, but the way technology is moving, it could be universal by May.

Do you have drive-throughs?

We keep screwing around with drive-throughs. We have three drive-throughs--one is really great, one really sucks, and one’s in the middle. So I don’t know any more than when I started.

How else is technology helping your business?

It’s all about taking out the human element. We have automatic replenishment on 99 percent of what we sell, so you scan something, and it goes in the order for the next day, and humans don’t have to look at it. That way, the humans can do the most difficult part of the job, which is dealing with other humans.

We also are trying something new with counting money. You have the highest-paid person in the store, the manager, counting money. Last estimate I saw, it cost us $3 million a year to count the money. So we’re using that money to justify the cost of a new safe. When you get a $20 bill, you put it in the safe—like you’d insert it in a vending machine—and the bank will immediately give us credit for the deposit of $20. And every other day a guy takes a can of money from the safe and puts an empty can in there, so we don’t have to handle the money, which can be a real plain. Plus, it’s dirty.

What do you pick up when you stop at a Sheetz?

A bottle of water with some gas. I empty my bladder as well. In Pennsylvania, I’d like to pick up beer, but that’s illegal. We have 201 stores in Pennsylvania and we can’t sell beer in any of them.

What’s your biggest seller?

20oz Mountain Dew. We sell about 1,000 beverages per store per day. We might sell 80 Mountain Dews a day but there are 399 other beverage selections.

Ten years from now, what does Sheetz look like?

I hope I’m retired then. What kind of fuel will America be running on then? That could affect the business. If I have to sell electricity for people who want to plug in their Winnebago, that’s a new business. I gotta buy electricity wholesale, and that makes it complicated.

When you talk to customers, what do they say they want?

When we talk to people, they say they want more Sheetz stores. I take that as a compliment. I think a lot of customers don’t know what they want until we give it to them.

I want more health food in the stores.

We have a complete line of health food. Our menu is so big--we have salads, packaged fruit, grapes, cheeses, hummus.

You have hummus?

Yes! Hummus would be right up your alley. We put all that stuff in, because people say their want it. But we sell more donuts.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com