By John Green,
A new convenience store chain has moved into Kansas by buying up most of the stores in a 51-year-old Hutchinson family business.
Yesway, headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, last week acquired five of Hutchinson’s six Pic Quik locations.
Longtime Pic Quik owners Dan and Debbie Fast retained ownership of a single location at 800 S. Main St., which they will rebrand South End PQ, and extend, for at least a little while, their third-generation family operation.
Yesway – an affiliate of Massachusetts-based private equity firm Brookwood Financial Partners, and operating under the umbrella of BW Gas & Convenience – announced the purchase Thursday as part of seven stores it recently acquired, including two in Iowa.
Starting in 2015 with the purchase of 10 Iowan County Stores, and then expanding last year with the acquisition of 21 Kum & Go stores in the state, the company has aggressive plans to acquire and rebrand at least 500 stores in small to medium markets in the Midwest over the next several years, according to a company news release.
“We’ll be updating and rebranding the stores to Yesway, making improvements to the exterior and interior of the stores as well as the food service equipment,” said Brian Trout, Yesway’s senior vice president of operations, in an email. “You’ll see this work taking place soon.”
“We’re also developing a new and improved Yesway food service offering that will be rolled out later this year,” Trout stated.
Cenex, already affiliated with Pic Quik, will also be Yesway’s gasoline partner in Hutchinson.
Trout told the Des Moines Register last summer that there are a number of “mom-and-pop” convenience stores in the 2,000-square-foot range that aging owners are looking to sell, and which provide a good opportunity for redevelopment.
That’s exactly what occurred with Pic Quik.
Recognizing that their adult children – both educators, one living in Kansas City and the other in California, and raising their own children – had no interest in continuing the family business, Dan Fast, 67, and his wife, Debbie, 65, approached the larger company about an acquisition.
“This represented an exit for us,” said Dan, who heard about the growing company through industry gatherings. “We’d be able to keep stores open in this town and keep our employees employed.”
At the time of the sale, which closed Thursday, Pic Quik employed 30 people, Fast said.
“Close to 100 percent will be retained by Yesway, which was happy to take them,” he said.
He first started talks with them in April or May of last year, Fast said.
He declined to reveal the sale price.
Gene Fitzgerald, Debbie Fast’s grandfather, originally started the Hutchinson business in 1966.
“He had Fitzgerald’s Market at Eighth and Plum,” Dan said. “He’d been in the grocery business a long time in Hutchinson, along with his father before him, when he decided he’d like to enter the convenience store business. It was around that time the industry was evolving and becoming a thing.”
His first store was at 1901 E. Fourth Ave.
In 1968, Gene’s son, Ed Fitzgerald, and his wife, Lewella “Dickie” Fitzgerald, bought the business from Gene. Dickie ran the store on East Fourth “for a long time,” Debbie recalled, until moving into the business office in 1984.
Debbie started working for the family while a junior in high school.
Sally Saldana, now a company vice president who will continue to act as general manager for the Main Street store, joined the company in 1973, when she was 15.
Dan and Debbie married in 1970, and he joined the business in 1982. The couple took over when Ed Fitzgerald retired.
“We have a board meeting every day – around our lunch table,” Dan said.
“Twenty minutes max,” joked Saldana.
“The nice thing about being small and local is we can sit down and talk about something we may want to do, to sit down at lunch and say, ‘Let’s give this a try.’ With a big company you can’t do that.”
“And he would sometimes get his way,” Debbie quipped.
“Pic Quik was always about hometown,” Dan Fast said. “It was always about local. People in this community supported our efforts all these years. Without them as loyal customers we would not have existed. We’re very grateful for all their support for all these years.”
“We’ve been thrilled to death to be a part of this community for 51 years,” Debbie said.
The couple also credited their success to loyal, hardworking employees, including at least three outside of the office who’ve worked there in excess of 25 years and three more with at least 10 years.
“We’re happy to still have that store left on South Main,” Fast said. “We think we can serve the community that resides down there.”
They plan to make changes in some product lines to specifically serve the customers who live in the area, Debbie said.
“We always knew things about the different neighborhoods we served,” she said. “Each had a distinct market for the distinct community, and they came to us for what they needed. But this will give us a chance to become ever more acquainted, to see what we can provide for them. Sally is all about finding out that information.”
That community flavor, as well as their habit of giving back to the community through donations of time and money to local organizations, helped them to succeed in an oft-challenging market, competing with another once-local chain that started in 1961 – and was eventually absorbed by a large national grocery corporation.
“It’s been our battle to battle, but we survived,” Debbie said. “The competition has been good. We’ve been here 50 years. We’ve seen a lot of change, a lot of things come and go, in both the industry and the community. We feel so blessed to still be here.”
“Customers will enjoy redesigned stores that are true to our brand principles, which are to be efficient, inviting and user-friendly,” Yesway’s Trout stated in a release. “We are grateful to the previous owners for building a base of loyal and reliable customers, and look forward to continuing to serve them in their respective local communities.”
Dan Fast declined to go into detail about expectations for investment by the new company, other than to say it will upgrade technology in the stores and make some cosmetic changes to introduce its brand.
“I can tell they are a very, very community-oriented type of organization,” Dan said. “We were very impressed. We encourage folks in town who used to shop with us to give them a good try. I think they’re a good company, or else I wouldn’t have pursued this.”
The company, meanwhile, “has a robust acquisition pipeline” and is “always willing to consider new opportunities to add to our growing convenience store chain,” Trout’s email stated.