Duskiewicz recalls how in the early 2000s, the problem of Native American tribes selling gasoline and cigarettes exacerbated, with one tribe moving from operating only on established reservation land to buying c-stores outside of those boundaries and still claiming tax-exempt status.
“We’d see the evidence of its effect when [a tribe] would close operations for a while, and we’d see sales of cigarettes in Syracuse double or triple,” Duskiewicz says. “And that effect would ripple out 100 miles. That’s how far people were driving to get cigarettes.”
Making Foodservice Work
Nice N Easy’s foodservice story began in the mid-1990s with the hiring of industry veteran Glenn White as director of foodservice. Cushman arrived in 1999 as senior vice president of foodservice.
Over time, the company developed a branded image, Easy Street Eatery, and brought its different foodservice offers—including pizza, subs and coffee—under one umbrella.
The decision to do this in the mid-2000s even extended to the pump, with the chain forgoing its major oil history to become unbranded. Nice N Easy decided it would be in the company’s best interest to “have our brand be represented from the road to the store,” Duskiewicz says. “So we took down our branded signs, paid back the marketing dollars they gave us and had our own brand.”
The result on the fuel side was the development of a “complex” in-house fuel-buying and delivery system that not only simplified its branding message but also maintained volumes and financially, according to Duskiewicz, “was the best decision we ever made.”
And as the chain held onto its fuel volumes, it grew its foodservice by double-digit percentages for more than a decade. The company accomplished this over multiple steps through the years, according to Cushman. It upgraded the quality of products, including fresh-baked bread and better ingredients overall, cutting out added fillers. The sub sandwich make area was moved onto the sales floor to provide a food-theater experience for the customer. Guest seating, an important visual cue for foodservice, went into some areas and became so popular that employees now act as bus boys and girls.
The chain also benchmarks itself not against other c-store chains but other restaurants, something NACS just began to do with its SOI numbers this year.
And yet the biggest revelation, Cushman says, is not finding the single win, such as a new sandwich offer that spikes in sales.