You can tell that Lonnie McQuirter grew up around a family cleaning business as I ask him for the best place to take his picture in his store, 36Lyn Refuel Station. He says, “By the Peace Coffee station” and promptly starts spraying down the counter area with all-purpose cleanser to remove a few stray granules of sugar. Trust me, by most people’s standards, that counter was clean “enough”. This sets the tone of who Lonnie is- neat, orderly, and sharp.
And Lonnie prefers that no one refer to the 36Lyn Refuel Station as a gas station or BP even though it is both of those things. Lonnie says that is not what defines the store, and he is right. What defines the business is the connection to the Lyndale South Minneapolis neighborhood and, by extension, the product mix in the convenience store that is a reflection of it. And for these things, Lonnie has been acknowledged by the likes of Kiplinger’s and the National Retail Federation.
As Lonnie and I cross the Lyndale intersection to find a café where we can sit, he waves at a regular customer passing by. I get a sense that Lonnie is a staple and involved in the neighborhood. When asked what his greatest accomplishment is, Lonnie replied, “Representing the good of retail and the good of the neighborhood in a respectable way.” His business is involved in volunteering at the Soo Visual Arts Center, Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, and by participating in the Lyndale Neighborhood Association, among others. Lonnie says that he is focused and deliberate on choosing whom to support or not.
Lonnie’s retail career began in food service working at a local mall. He also helped his dad with his cleaning company. From there he went on to study business and work for Haagen Daz corporate, earning his retail chops. It was at that time that Lonnie’s dad bought the convenience store in 2005. Two years later Lonnie’s dad fell ill and Lonnie took control of 36Lyn Refuel Station.
When asked about the challenges of 36Lyn Refuel Station, Lonnie cited the relationships with the larger, national vendor partners. When referring to BP, I was surprised to learn that BP didn’t supply any retail support to the shop owners. One of the frustrations for a store owner is the deep association with the brand to its customers when, in reality, all that BP does is sell them fuel and put their branding on the location including credit card processing and their Driver Rewards program. With that, it is not hard to sympathize with Lonnie about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill that resulted in protests at his store. His store, along with all other BP associated convenience stores, is the frontline of BP that consumers associate with.
If anyone looks at the 36Lyn Refuel Station’s track record, the truth couldn’t be any more contrary. Lonnie’s commitment to environmental sustainability is undeniable. 36Lyn was the first store in the Twin Cities to offer an electric charging station, become a member of Zef Energy’s Fast Charging Network, take advantage of the Clean Energy Research Team (CERT) Light Up Your Station and Save’s program–upgrading the outdoor canopy lights to LED lighting–and, according to a City Pages article from 2015, the store’s electricity is 100% supplied by wind energy.
The strength of 36Lyn Refuel Station comes from Lonnie’s leadership and vision of a new relationship to the convenience store of the past. Being a small independent retailer, his store has the advantage being agile to change. And Lonnie works actively to constantly raise standards. Staff are versed on the business’ Core Values. These include things like being cool, friendly, and fun to be around. Being clean, safe, knowledgeable, and excited. And Lonnie pays his staff $4 above market wages which helps with retention.
And by the way, Lonnie knows his stuff. Throughout our conversation, he mentioned how different retailers are innovating. He’s watching and waiting to make his moves. This, along with everything else happening at 36Lyn Refuel Station, is what sets it apart and sets the stage toward a continued powerful trajectory innovating the way we see gas stations..ahem! Refuel Stations.
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