QT Nails It (Little Things Matter)

Posted on May 8, 2010


What could a gas station and convenience store teach an employee benefits firm about how to do business? What could they teach you? You may think it’s a silly question. Yet, recently in a staff meeting, I used a gas station as a model of doing things right. The theme of my lesson was The Little Things Matter. A local chain of fuel centers and convenience stores served as the perfect example.

They don’t always have the cheapest gas, yet, they have my business.  As someone who appreciates systems, service, excellence and execution, I find this chain of stores to be remarkable in their business model. To the average consumer the little things that put this chain above the ordinary may go unnoticed–except in the subconscious.

Not everything about this chain is extraordinary. Their selection of food and convenience store items are rather typical. The cost of a candy bar, doughnut, or Coke Zero is comparable to similar stores. Their fuel is no better than the station across the street. Their locations may or may not be as convenient as a competitor. Yet, the difference is blaring.

QuickTrip, or QT—which is the more familiar name—is who I champion here. What I like about QT are the little things. They get the little things right—and, more importantly, consistently get it right.

QT Gets the Little Things Right

  • Adequate Staffing. QT is always well staffed.  QT’s commitment to adequate staffing directly correlates to their focus on many of the little things that follow in this list.
  • Curb Appeal. QT works hard at curb appeal.  Fresh coat of paint, bright lighting, updated pumps, and power-washed sidewalks are the standard. You won’t find garbage overflowing or trash sitting on top of a can waiting for the next slight wind to blow it around the lot. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon to see neat and manicured lawns. Look across the street to the other station and notice the difference.
  • Taking Care of the Fringes. While at the gas pump I may desire to meet some secondary needs such as cleaning my windshield. At these times, it’s frustrating to find that there is either no water or cleaning wand at the island. At QT, not only will there be a container full of a washing solution, but you will find two wands available at each island–meaning you never have to wait on someone else before you can clean your windows. I’m sure they have wands stolen, yet they are committed to keeping the islands well stocked.
  • No Skimping. Not only do they stock the wands, but the washing solution is also ample and clean. Other stations may only use water and often the water will freeze or have a noxious odor. Not so at QT; the cleaning wand containers are full and the solution fresh. The same can be said for paper towels as they refill the dispenser long before it runs empty.
  • Maintained Equipment. From time to time each of us requires a little extra air pressure in our tires. Unfortunately, finding an air station in good working order can be difficult—unless you find a QT.
  • Neatly Dressed Staff. Unlike some convenience stores where you walk in and wonder who is a customer and who is working, the employees at QT are in uniform with a neat professional appearance. The employee isn’t wearing a dress shirt and tie, but he or she will be neatly dressed in khakis and a logo shirt complete with a nametag. If I need help I can speak to Chris by name.
  • A Friendly Greeting. Customers who enter QT receive a personal greeting from the employees behind the counter. They make a point to acknowledge you, regardless of your demeanor.
  • Clean Restrooms. When you consider the amount of traffic in their stores, and what is so typical for the industry, the cleanliness of their restrooms stands out.
  • Working Equipment. Recently, I stopped at a BP to get a cup of hot chocolate. I went to the brightly lit drink dispensers only to find the hot chocolate machine was out of order. This was only my second time to visit this store for a drink. Was this visit an anomaly? Perhaps, but probably not. I doubt my visit was perfectly timed to coincide with the one morning their hot chocolate machine wasn’t working.  I’ve been to QT countless times to pick up a coffee for my wife or to buy a cup of hot chocolate for my kids; rarely, are their machines dysfunctional. If a machine does happen to be out of order, you will either find an alternate dispenser working or a staff member actively working to correct the problem.
  • Sufficient Stock. Other little things can make a quick stop for a drink frustrating—little things like: the stock of lids is missing the size needed for your drink; a straw cannot be found; or, the napkin basket is empty.  At QT you know there will always be an ample supply of cups, lids, stirrers, napkins and straws.
  • Speed. “Quick” in the name isn’t just a marketing tool, it’s a part of the QT culture. Watch the speed of the attendant as he makes change or how she turns around in a flash to grab a pack of cigarettes. Movements are quick. Transactions are speedy. You will not find a sign that reads “Thank you for your patience.” At QT, once you are ready, they aim to quickly get you out the door.
  • Integrity. Yes, integrity can be noted at a gas station. A couple of years ago, during a gas shortage, my appreciation for QT dramatically increased. Most stations were out of fuel and whenever a station received a fresh shipment the tanks would quickly be drained. This is where integrity matters. The gas shortage was affecting convenience store sales, too. During this period the QT stores made it clear to drivers when the stations were out of fuel. They did this by removing the price per gallon from their signage—if the price was missing, you knew they were out of fuel. I distinctly remember a RaceTrac who failed to follow this practice. My only guess is that by leaving their prices on their signage they would hope to lure some running-on-empty driver to their lot who would perhaps stop in the store “while I’m here.” That’s an integrity test.  QT passed.

Beware of the Negative Little Things

This list from QT illustrates the power of positive little thingsNegative irritations, however, have a tendency to leave a greater impact and add up faster. Negative experiences are often blaring whereas a positive experience may be overlooked. I am more likely to remember overflowing trash cans, a broken air hose, missing straws and long waits in a line than I am to remember all the little things that combine to make a pleasant visit.

One little thing can be the tipping point. If while pumping my gas, I can’t find a wand to clean my windshield, and then go into the store and can’t find a lid for my coffee, the absence of the lid may be the little thing that tips the scales toward a mental decision never to return.

For centuries, there has been a proverbial rhyme about a horseshoe nail that summarizes the power of little things:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Little Things in Our Business

Using QT has an example, I shared with our team the importance of doing the little things right. I then asked our employees to list the little things that can have an impact, either positive or negative, on our relationships with our clients and future clients.  Their insightful answers included:

  • Timeliness of returned phone calls
  • Spelling and punctuation in emails
  • Following through on commitments
  • Our attitude
  • Responsiveness
  • Our appearance
  • Providing accurate information
  • Expressing appreciation
  • Arriving to appointments at the appropriate time
  • Listening
  • Proofreading communications

Little Things Add Up

Little things, together, create a huge sum.  My list of positive little things at QT is simply that—a list of small things that lead to a first-rate experience.

One of the most graphic illustrations of the power of little things is the YouTube sensation: 212 Degrees – The Extra Degree. The video highlights how little things can lead to incredible transformations; whether it is the one degree that changes water to steam or the extra degree of effort that provides a millisecond advantage to win the gold medal at the Olympics.

Little things matter. Little things add up. Little Things make a difference. Thank you, QT, for nailing it.  We aim to follow your lead.

Questions for Group Discussion:

  1. Share an example of a time when a little thing turned you off to a business or organization?
  2. Share an example of a time when a little thing increased your appreciation for a person, business or organization?
  3. What are little things that make a difference in how others perceive our organization?