'See ya next time': How a neighborhood grocery store grew into today's Kwik Trip phenomenon (2023)

There’s nothing more Wisconsin than a Kwik Trip.

That is, until you take a look at the fan base and following that turned a convenience store into a phenomenon.

Fifty-seven years after the first Kwik Trip opened in Eau Claire, Kwik Trip has grown from that one neighborhood grocery store to a statewide obsession with its own personality across social media platforms.

The company hasFacebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Snapchataccounts. It even has a Spotifyaccount with more than 130 followers who can listen to the company’s "Kwik Trip Checkout" or "Chicken Jammies" public playlists.

There are multiple fan groups on Facebook, including Wisconsin Kwik Trip Enthusiast Club, Kwik Trip Enthusiasts Club, and even a Kwik Trip Missed Connections group. Some fans have had photo shoots, even on their wedding days, at a Kwik Trip. It has become more than a store; it's a vibe.

The Wisconsin Kwik Trip Enthusiast Club, for example, was created two years ago and is not affiliated with the company. It has more than 94,000 members and dozens of posts daily, ranging from photos of favorite Kwik Trip treats, questions, memes and more.

So, howdid Kwik Tripgrow into a Midwestern phenomenon with a social media influencer status?

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Keeping up with the Kwik Trips

Kendra Lasack, Kwik Trip’s digital content supervisor, said social media platforms have allowed the Kwik Trip team to bring the brand to life.

“It’s incredible how much we’re able to learn from our fans every day, just by engaging and listening to the conversations on social,” she said.

Lasack said the company has shifted its digital marketing strategy from focusing on the products to focusing on the people and developing a brand voice to bring a more human level to the company’s content.

She said the company's success on social media reflectsKwik Trip’s mission to treat others as they would like to be treated. The team listens, takes time to reply and has fun with its followers.

And people have responded. Members of the social media fan groups talk about the company, highlight their favorite products, post original memes and share Kwik Trip’s content.

When USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin asked members of the Wisconsin Kwik Trip Enthusiast Club Facebook group what they like most about Kwik Trip, more than 400 people responded, including dozens of employees who are part of the group.

Their answers ranged from clean bathrooms to the food options and how friendly the employees are. Many like the "see ya next time" farewell as they leave a store. Fans from other states said they stock up on Kwik Trip goodies while they're in the area, as they can't find anything like it anywhere else.

Carrie Marie is from Yorkville, Illinoisand travels to Friendship often. When she and her family are in Wisconsin, her two teenage boys have to stop at Kwik Trip twice a day, every day. She said her family has Kwik Trip hoodies and three Big Buddy cups in case they cross the border unexpectedly. Her children receive Kwik Trip gas cards from their grandparents.

They make you feel like a person in there and not just another customer.

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Jaimee Arnoldfrom Appletonsaid she loves Kwik Trip because of the company's high standards for cleanliness, someone is always willing to help, and guests can find a wide variety of "grab and go" options for whatever they're craving.

"They make you feel like a person in there and not just another customer," she said.

Emily Jean Wegerfrom Watertown said she's been going to a Kwik Trip store since she was little, and now she takes her kids to the same store.

"There are employees who've been there the whole time and say 'I remember your mom when she was your age and smaller,'" she said. "That makes Kwik Trip a special place to me."

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Take a Kwik scroll online

Fans also love the company's social media presence.

"Their social media person is phenomenal," said Kwik Trip fanLeah McDonaldfrom Waukesha. "Really connects with the consumers."

Recently, when Kwik Trip ran out of coffee cups, the brand took to social media, saying another gas station took the cups. The problem was later explained as a supply chain issue. In lieu of disposable cups, Kwik Trip encouraged guests to bring their own cups for a 99-cent refill of any size, suggesting dozens of options ranging from a wheelbarrow, blender and fish bowl to a toilet plunger, Dumbledore's hat and a gas can.

The post was shared more than 17,000 times and collected more than 18,000 reactions and 3,700 comments.

"Great way to make lemonade from lemons," Christine Garchowfrom Portage commented on the post. "Thanks Kwik Trip!"

Wilson the volleyball and Forrest Gump's chocolate box both made the list, prompting a comment from Jimmie Kaska from Cadott:

"Did Tom Hanks steal the cups? Is that why we're using his volleyball and chocolate box to load up on coffee?"

Kwik Trip responded with a Tom Hanks gif.

Three days later, Kwik Trip posted a follow-up post to clarify some additional details.

"We didn't expect a post about cups to go viral," the post was captioned.

One of the frequently-asked questions was how long the refill deal would last.

"(I don't know) I just do social media," the answer stated. "At least a few weeks ... our cup guy is doing his best."

As to whether people could really bring in a wheelbarrow, the answer is no.


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"Please no," said the follow-up, postedthe day after the Super Bowl. "We know the initial post was a bit ridiculous, but it was cheaper than a commercial spot during the football game last night. Feel free to get creative with your mug, just make sure it's clean and safe for hot liquid. Also, let's not waste ... if you pour, you better drink."

Paige Forde, Kwik Trip’s social media specialist, said interacting with followers is extremely important to Kwik Trip.

“We love making our fans know they’re being heard, whether that means sharing their content, interacting with them, or passing these social listening trends forward to the appropriate department,” she said.

Some fans have captured their love of Kwik Trip on their wedding day, holding photo shoots both outside and inside of a store.

“We absolutely love seeing this content,” Forde said. “It’s incredible that so many of our loyal guests take the time to make a special ‘photo op’ trip to our stores during such a special day.”

Other interactions have included fans sending unusual direct messages to Kwik Trip’s social media accounts, and sometimes those fans screenshot the messages and share them.

Forde said those interactions provide opportunities for content, and they’re great ways to engage fans.

“The majority of the time, we go along with it,” Forde said. “I mean, it isn’t too often you can (direct message) a brand something obscure and they take the time to respond. It’s fun, it’s personal, and definitely gets people talking.”

'See ya next time': How a neighborhood grocery store grew into today's Kwik Trip phenomenon (4)

It all started with one store

Kwik Trip started as a neighborhood grocery store, opening its first location in 1965 in Eau Claire.The second store opened in La Crossein 1971.

“It was a humble beginning with painted letters cut out of plywood,” Kwik Trip owner DonZietlow said. “These were all neighborhood grocery stores, and none of them sold fuel.”

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The company opened a corporate office in La Crosse in 1973, and, by 1986, it had grown to 100 stores.Kwik Trip openedits 800th store in December and, according to the Wisconsin Technology Council, has nearly $7 billion in annual sales.

The success Kwik Trip found over the yearshas not been by accident. Zietlow, who is still the company's president and CEO,points to two main ingredients thatcontributed to Kwik Trip’s success: the right people and theability to have products that guests want and are looking for and being able to offer them at a good deal.

Zietlow said Kwik Trip is able to offer quality products at good prices because of the company’s “vertical integration.” The company’s Glazer doughnuts, for example, are made in Kwik Trip’s own bakery, they’re shipped on Kwik Trip’s trucks, and they’re sold in Kwik Trip stores.

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Be our guest

Zietlow said Kwik Trip’s employeessetthe company apart from the competition.

“People are our number one asset," he said. "There’s more to a job than pay. You need to feel like you are making a difference. That’s our mission, and that’s what our coworkers do every day.”

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There’s more to a job than pay. You need to feel like you are making a difference. That’s our mission, and that’s what our coworkers do every day.

In the middle of a pandemic and worker shortages, many companies have had a hard time finding and retaining employees, but Kwik Trip hasn’t felt those hardships as much as some other businesses. Zietlow said the company and family is committed to their coworkers, and Kwik Trip shares 40% of its pre-tax profits.

And employees have felt that sentiment, saying they feel valued and respected at their jobs.

Kwik Trip employee Keith DeLabiofrom Kenoshasaid in theWisconsin Kwik Trip Enthusiast Club Facebook groupthat he appreciates the 40% profit share, andthat Zietlow calls his employees his coworkers and wears a Kwik Trip uniform every day instead of a suit and tie.

Denise Royeafrom Oconomowoc said the company treats all of its coworkers as family, and they're open with themabout all of the ins and outs of the company, from where new stores will open to the the company's faults and areas for improvement. She said between informative meetings and employee programs, no one gets left behind.

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“Our coworkers earn every penny,” Zietlow said. “We can’t thank them enough for the hard work they do, day in and day out.”

Michael James Luckowfrom Manitowocsaid when he was first hired at Kwik Trip, the company told him people aren't customers, they're guests. While it was a strange concept at first, he quickly understood the distinction.

"They are guests in our store, and we take pride in them having a great experience, just as anyone would having guests over the holidays," he said.

CustomerCoryn Burettefrom New Londonsaid Kwik Trip always has the nicest employees, even the ones working overnight shifts.

"They go above and beyond to make my visit nice and wonderful," she said.

Hunter Karrakerfrom Shawanosaid a Kwik Trip employee knew she was pregnant before she did, after she had gone in for shakes every night for a week. Karraker said she told the employee she had been craving them, and the employee asked if she was pregnant.

"I got a test and sure enough, it came back positive," she said.

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She said the workers began to recognize her, and when they would see her come in, they'dmake sure there was fresh food out for her on the hot spot,a display where customers can find breakfast sandwiches, pizza slices and other warm food options that are ready to eat.Now that Karraker has had her baby, she said an employee asked her how they were doing.

"They definitely make me feel special," she said. "Kwik Trip is the best."

Some people love Kwik Trip so much, it becomes a birthday theme. Mitzie Murdock Klozotsky told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin she owns a custom baking business in Kaukauna, and a customer recently ordered aKwik Trip cake for a 40th birthday.

"Needless to say, Kwik Trip has a following unlike anything else when a milestone like a 40th birthday is celebrated with a Kwik Trip themed cake," she said.

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Midwest is best

One of the most relatable parts of Kwik Trip is its roots in the Midwest.

“The majority of our content is based around what people think about our brand and relatable Midwest situations,” Forde said.

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So, when there's a chance to merge some Midwest personalities, Kwik Trip is on it. The list of projects the Kwik Trip team works on is never-ending, and there are always new challenges that the team brainstorms in meetings.

Some of those projects have included partnerships through a brand ambassador program Kwik Trip started in 2019. Kwik Trip has worked with a few Midwest social media personalities like comedian Charlie Berens and Green Bay Packers players Rashan Gary and Kurt Benkert.

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In 2020, Kwik Trip's team started brainstorming ideas to promote the company's Fresh Blendsmenu of smoothies, frozen lemonades, refreshers, iced coffees, cold brew coffee and shakes.In November, the company partnered with Berens andpremiered a Berens Alexanderon a "secret menu." It'sa combination of caramel, chocolate, cream and cold brew.

“We’ve had the opportunity to work with truly amazing, authentic and talented people through this initiative and look forward to growing this network to reach even more unique audiences,” Forde said.

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Kwik Trip is an influencer offline, too

The company is also committed to helping the communities it calls home. Kwik Trip donates to various community organizations and efforts, and it sponsors youth sports teams, large events and more. It also helps groups with fundraising options like car washes and scrip gift cards and more. It even encourages grade school students to read more with Kwik Book, a program that offers a free slice of pizza or a garden salad for each student who reaches a reading goal set by their teacher.

Many fans on Facebook said their favorite thing about the company was thedonations and efforts to help people in need.

Chelsea Hallfrom Janesvillesaid when she lost everything in a house fire two years ago, someone submitted her name for a donation program through Kwik Trip in Milton. She said it wasn't a lot, but every little bit made a huge difference.

"They support Special Olympics and are at almost every state tournament handing out water, Gatorade, fruit and cookies," said Sue Weber Dushekfrom Milwaukee. "The interaction between the employees and the athletes is an amazing thing to watch."

Gail Marie Benedictfrom Loyalsaid Kwik Trip came to her small town when the community had lost its grocery store, and Kwik Trip filled that gap, helped the community and brought jobs to the area.

Kwik Trip has filled community needs, too, especially in smaller areas with less access to grocery stores and other food options. Many fans said their Kwik Trip serves as their grocery store. Some said Kwik Trip opened in their area and filled a need when a grocery store had closed.

Kay Grosinske,who now lives in Texas, said while she misses Kwik Trip, she regularly visits the store when she's back home visiting family. She said her hometown got two new stores recently, and the company has donated a lot of food to the local community help center.

"Those donations alone spread a lot of love," she said.

'See ya next time': How a neighborhood grocery store grew into today's Kwik Trip phenomenon (12)

Where do Kwik Trips come from?

Have you ever wondered how a Kwik Trip is born?

Dax Connely, Kwik Trip'sreal estate manager, said the company's real estate team chooses new locations based on an area’s population, traffic volume near a site and its accessibility,and more. The company is always looking to open in new markets throughout Wisconsin, he said.

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The look of a Kwik Trip varies. Some are built from the ground up. Others have evolved from other stores. Connely said Kwik Trip has many stores that the companyacquired over the years that don’t look like the typical Kwik Trip, but the company’s goal is to have its sites look similar. Locations may have their own uniqueness because of the landscape or land size, however, he said.

The newest Kwik Trip stores look a bit different than the long-standing sites. Connely said the “Generation 3” stores have a new color schemesare larger at 9,000 square feet, and have more of a small grocery feel.

Kwik Trip has plans to grow, both inside and outside of Wisconsin. Connely said the company has plans to extend into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and also into the eastern edges of North and South Dakota in a couple of years.

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When it comes to expansion plans, Kwik Trip fans approve.

"I just think Kwik Trip is the finest chain of gas stations in the entire United States of America," said customer Andrea Tamara from Sheboygan.

Contact Caitlin at cshuda@gannett.com or follow her on Twitter @CaitlinShuda.


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