KGOU listener Nick Jungman heard a rumor that an old agreement between business owners is keeping the Oklahoma-based QuikTrip out of the state’s capital city. He asked How Curious: Is this story true?
“One of my colleagues captured this perfectly. She said, ‘QuikTrip is the Disneyland of convenience stores,’” said Jungman, director of Student Media at the University of Oklahoma.
The Tulsa-based company operates nearly 800 locations across 11 states. But QuikTrip has zero locations in Oklahoma City.
“[The] story I’ve always heard about this is that there is a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between the owners of QuikTrip and the owners of Love’s [Travel Stops & Country Stores] that they would not invade each others’ territory,” Jungman said.
Alternate rumors suggest the pact is between QuikTrip and another company, like 7-Eleven or Stillwater-based OnCue Express.
Pizza, Kolaches, Taquitos, Oh My
QuikTrip sells gas, but it may be best known for its food and beverage selection The chain’s Oklahoma locations sell smoothies; roller grill foods like taquitos and corn dogs; and made-to-order items like personal pizzas and flatbreads.
This expansion into food service is a nationwide trend among convenience stores, according to Don Longo, editorial director of Convenience Store News. Longo said the switch started during the past decade.
“Fuel and cigarettes and beer and soft drinks [were] not going to drive their business in the future,” Longo said. “Those products became commoditized very rapidly and profit margins were dying in those categories.”
Longo said breakfast and lunch foods now contribute significantly to many convenience stores’ revenue and he expects more stores will join them.
“They’re not going to be able to survive if they don’t get better at food service in the future,” Longo said.
A Store Is Born
QuikTrip started in 1957 when a man named Burt Holmes traveled from Tulsa to Dallas for the annual Red River Showdown football game between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas.
Holmes was impressed by a store in Dallas, now known as 7-Eleven, and decided to start a similar company in Tulsa. Holmes recruited former classmate Chester Cadieux as his business partner, and the first Tulsa QuikTrip opened the following year.
According to QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh, the initial shop was more like a mini grocery store, rather than a modern-day convenience store.
The location did not sell gasoline and its shelves were crammed with products.
“You drove right up to the front door. And it was a very, very small building[...] The logic was [to] save people 15 to 20 steps,” Thornbrugh said.
Cadieux and Holmes did not have money to advertise, so Cadieux walked through neighborhoods introducing himself to potential customers and eventually built up a following.
“The construction workers would come in and they’d buy a loaf of bread and they’d buy these these big chunks of bologna and these big packs of cheese,” Thornbrugh said.
Cadieux saw workers assembling sandwiches outside the store and realized there was a demand for food to-go. QuikTrip slowly started changing its business.
The company started selling gas in the 1970s and grew into the business it is today.
Back to our original question: Does QuikTrip have an agreement with another Oklahoma convenience store chain?
According to Thornbrugh, QuikTrip co-founder Chester Cadieux and a 7-Eleven businessman in Oklahoma City had a mentor-mentee relationship in QuikTrip’s early days.
“Chester used to drive over and ask the guy questions because he [Chester] didn’t know how to run [his] business,” Thornbrugh said.
But a handshake? Or a gentleman’s pact?
“It’s just not true. It was just really old school respect,” Thornbrugh said.
7-Eleven did not respond to an interview request. Love’s declined to be interviewed.
OnCue CEO Jim Griffith wrote in an email that the company has no agreements, formal or informal, with other convenience stores about where it can operate.
So if there is no agreement keeping QuikTrip from operating in Oklahoma City, why aren’t there stores in the capital?
Thornbrugh said the city’s convenience store market is “pretty saturated,” and it is better for a company like QuikTrip to go somewhere with less competition.
According to a 2018 Nielsen-TD Linx Census of Convenience Stores, Oklahoma has 2,614 stores, though the data are not city-specific. States with similar 2010 Census population densities--Arizona, Arkansas and Iowa--have between 1,700 and 2,200 convenience stores.
Thornbrugh said he doesn’t know if or when QuikTrip will expand to Oklahoma City.
But How Curious question asker Nick Jungman said he’s hopeful.
“Surely, they’re running trucks between Tulsa and Dallas and coming right through Oklahoma City,” Jungman said, sighing. “Surely, eventually, they [QuikTrip] are going to see the light.”
Jungman said, in the meantime, he will keep making trips to Tulsa, Dallas and Wichita for his favorite QuikTrip treat, a fruit-flavored energy drink called Rooster Booster.
How Curious is a production of KGOU Radio. It’s produced by Claire Donnelly and this episode was edited by Caroline Halter. David Graey composed the theme music.Email your questions about Oklahoma to firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to the How Curious podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.
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