How a Minnesota C-Store Sets Itself Apart

Meaningful customer service, local goods and a heart for the community is found at 36 Lyn.

August 11, 2022

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—36 Lyn Refuel Station in South Minneapolis has been open since 2005, and founder Lonnie McQuirter has always viewed the store as a way to invest in his community, reports the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

Like many other convenience and fuel retailers, margins on fuel sales are thin, sometimes razor thin or nonexistent, and the majority of profit is made on items inside the convenience store.

“We really want to have and market a really aggressive price on the street,” McQuirter told the Wall Street Journal in a recent article.

The Business Journal reports that 36 Lyn sells a blend of name-brand products in the store and locally sourced items. The store carries caffeinated sparkling water made by Minneapolis-based Big Watt Beverage and sauces made by St. Paul-based Isabel Street Heat, for example.

That business model has helped the store during recently supply chain issues.

"Our largest suppliers were much bigger issues for us than a lot of our smaller suppliers that we procure items from. Something that really helped us through the pandemic was our partnerships with smaller suppliers and small makers,” McQuirter told the Business Journal.

McQuirter also differentiates his business from competitors via customer service. McQuirter doesn’t hire a large staff so that he can pay them well and train them in customer service and retail skills, he said.

"The narrative over the past couple of years has been all about people," McQuirter told the Business Journal. "You have to meet people where they're at. I can't stress that enough."

In a recent NACS Magazine article, McQuirter said that he cultivates a culture where employees feel dignified and respected in their positions.

“We had a shirt made that our staff loves to wear that says, ‘The whole world is short staffed right now. Be kind to those who showed up.’ A lot of customers really love the shirt because it’s acknowledging those that are getting up each day and going to work,” he said in the article.

McQuirter says the c-store prides itself on knowing its customers and being a place where people from different walks of life can feel comfortable shopping any time of the day.

“It’s really about engaging and spending time talking with customers longer because in our city and what’s been going on the past couple years, there are a lot of people that are struggling to find a sense of community and a place where they belong,” said McQuirter.

Read more about 36 Lyn and why a positive employee culture can result in increased customer loyalty—however a store defines loyalty—in “Happy Workers, Happy Customers.”

McQuirter was featured in the 2020 Ideas 2 Go series in “Leading When Leaders are Needed Most.”