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Oh, Brother

Two brothers work closely with local businesses to create a happening hot spot and c-store for their Colorado community.

​By Al Hebert

About five years ago, brothers Deven and Sean Bennett wanted to change careers. Both were in real estate in Gunnison-Crested Butte, Colorado: Deven was laid off from his job as a sales and marketing manager while Sean, a real estate agent, was watching the local market tank. Ironically, “we had been keeping track of a gas station here in Gunnison that was vacant and decided to buy ourselves a job,” laughed Deven.

The Bennetts bought the store in February of 2009 and began a three-month remodel before opening that May. The Powerstop, as it’s called, is now a hub of activity in this small college town, which is also home to one of Colorado’s best skiing destinations.

A Place to Gather
“We didn’t want a typical gas station-convenience store so we essentially modeled it after what we like and where we saw opportunity in Gunnison,” explained Deven.

Unlike liquor stores, convenience stores in Colorado are only allowed to sell beer no higher than 3.2% by volume — putting c-stores at a competitive disadvantage. With tourists generating most of their beer sales, the Bennetts came up with a solution: Powerstop obtained a tavern/restaurant liquor license in lieu of a retail license, meaning that all alcohol must be consumed on-premise. Since half of the store is a dining area, the Bennetts can serve alcohol with food, and they have a bar with six taps dedicated to local craft brews.

In the Same Tent
The brothers developed a strategy to bring additional local products into the store. Instead of buying from vendors, the Bennetts sought out local businesses for supplies and stock. Ingredients for menu items are made and procured locally, like buns baked at a local bakery.

“We’re a big ranching community. Local beef is less expensive because it’s not being packed and sent off. They say you pay more if you buy local; we pay less,” said Deven.

 “People are surprised, but you don’t have to buy from big distributors,” added Sean, “We have over a dozen local businesses in our store.”

Camp 4 Coffee, a local brand, is one of those dozen businesses. In addition, the local Car Quest auto store stocks the auto parts section. Deven explained, “The margin is not as great, but Car Quest customers come in here.”

The local movie theater, two blocks away, also has a presence in the store. “We buy a set amount of movie tickets each month and offer a Saturday Movie Special. For $13.50 [customers] get a cheeseburger, fries and a movie ticket. The theater gives us two slides for advertising at the beginning of the movie,” said Sean.

The brothers support the community in additional ways by holding events that serve the needs of the area; it’s part of the store’s mission. “If people are raising money, we’re happy to help. It spreads goodwill throughout the community,” said Deven. “In March we sponsored a ‘dig out’ of the skate park — a big concrete bowl for skateboarding. It filled with snow and could not be used. We grilled, gave out free food and told people to bring shovels.”

Fun, Food and Music
College students make up a major part of Powerstop’s customer base so naturally the Bennetts wanted to make it easy for them to shop at the store. To help, the store is set up to take the local college’s Mountaineer Card. Parents put money on the card, which can be used on campus for meals as well as in a few retail locations around town. “We wanted to target those students and get freshmen in the store. It’s a good way to get them off cam pus for food and gas,” said Sean.

And Wednesdays are a big night for college kids to hit the town. At Powerstop, “each Wednesday is Flip Night. The cashier flips a coin. If you guess right (as in heads or tails) you get the beer free. It’s fun. It makes us different,” said Deven.

Once or twice a month, live music is featured. “All of our racks in the store are on wheels. So we can push them to the side and open up space in the store,” said Deven.

Sean observed, “It’s funny, it’s 10 pm, the band is rocking with 100 customers in the store and someone stops to get gas and a gallon of milk or smokes and there’s a party going on inside a gas station.”

In addition, ski and snowboard movie premieres are a big draw. “We bought a high definition projector with a pull-down screen. We show the latest ski and snowboard films, and beer and liquor vendors help sponsor them,” said Deven.

While there’s a lot of fun to be had, Powerstop takes its food seriously. Fresh ingredients are key to the success. “The beef is all local, natural beef and the buns are baked by a local baker,” said Deven, adding, “We’ve won Best Burger in Gunnison four years running.”

Think Locally
The brothers often reflect on their chosen go-to market strategy: “We make it a priority to support our local market. Partnering and supporting with local businesses works for everyone. We’d rather share customers than alienate anyone. If we can make the entire business community better, it helps everyone.”

Al Hebert is the Gas Station Gourmet and showcases America’s culinary treasure — gas station cuisine. TV host Hebert shares these stories and on occasion, a recipe or two at GasStationGourmet.com. He is a regular NACS Magazine contributor, bringing foodservice ideas to readers.