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Follow the Leader

Convenience/Gas Store Operator Grows Customers with Happy Workers

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Al Gustavson

Photo: Olivier Koning

Al Gustavson knows the convenience store business. He owns and/or operates 14 convenience store/gas locations in Hawaii – five on Oahu, two on Maui, four on Hawaii and three on Kauai — all under his management company Goose’s Edge Inc. Gustavson started in the business 30 years ago with two Bay Area stores, which he later sold. Locally, he opened his first store on Maui, where he lived for 22 years before moving to Kona last year.

His stores, which are operated under Shell and Tesoro brands, together tally upwards of $85 million a year in gross sales. To be clear, those are very good numbers. The company will be in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, this month in recognition of its fourth consecutive award as Shell Oil’s Top Rated Brand Standards Chain in the United States.

That said, we were a little surprised to see Goose’s Edge on our Best Places to Work list. Convenience store chains are not usually known for job satisfaction. So we had to sit down with Gustavson and find out why and how his company became a Best Place to Work and what perhaps other businesses could learn from him. We found it’s a mixture of clear company philosophy, accessibility to management, cash incentives and, most of all, a strong leader.

Is the way you treat your employees especially important in Hawaii’s a tight labor market?

No question. But I did the same on the Mainland. It’s a good business practice. Everybody follows the leader. For me to be successful, for me to be No. 1., these guys have got to see [respect] from me because they have to reflect it to everybody else.

What do you ask of your workers?

Our motto is “The Best Buying Experience 24/7.” That means we have the cleanest restrooms, our shelves are super-stocked and [we have] the friendliest staff. We’re not sitting in there eating food and talking on the cell phone and ringing you up.

So it’s a competitive edge?

And I have a lot of pride. As you know in Island style, your name is everything. I travel all over the state and unfortunately everyone knows me. (Laughs.) And I want to be able to walk around with my head held high.

How do you train your employees?

If they get stuck, they go back to that motto [of providing the best buying experience] and ask, “What does this mean, how does that relate to the problem I’m doing?” It works.

Are you accessible if they need help?

Absolutely. Here’s a company that has my card next to every single cash register. They can go direct to the head guy, 24/7. The newest employee who has been there 5 minutes can call me direct.

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