Chains dunk into new markets
With more than 20 locations in West Virginia, including six in Putnam County, the Sheetz convenience store chain is becoming a more common sight around the region.
Another popular chain, Dunkin’ Donuts, has recently expanded into the Mountain State, with eight locations and a ninth under construction in Hurricane.
But neither company has chosen to put a location in West Virginia’s largest city, Charleston, or its largest county, Kanawha.
Steve Rafferty, senior director of United States franchising for Dunkin’ Donuts, said the Massachusetts-based company has a strong footprint in the New England area as well as in the Midwest in Chicago, but is always looking for new areas.
Currently, there are eight Dunkin’ Donut locations sprinkled across the Mountain State — two in Bridgeport, two in Martinsburg, two in Parkersburg, one in Morgantown and one in Beckley. The new Hurricane location will be at least the fourth location in the state to share space with a Little General convenience store.
“We work really closely with the local franchisee,” Rafferty said of the company’s strategy for choosing new locations. “They are local business people who live and work in these towns. They help us to identify the most successful locations... What is the best fit for this town and this opportunity?”
In the Hurricane market, for example, Rafferty said the company knows they will get plenty of traffic at the location just off Teays Valley Road.
Rafferty said Dunkin’ Donuts tries to be flexible and work with franchisees, including whether a store will have a drive-through lane or not.
Franchising options are still available in Charleston and Huntington, he said — but company officials said the same thing in April 2013, when they announced three new West Virginia stores and said they wanted to double their U.S. locations in the next 20 years.
Rafferty hopes the company will have announcements about new locations in Charleston and Huntington later this year.
“We want to be in Hurricane, in the middle but also in the markets that surround it,” Rafferty said. “With eight locations in the state, we have room to grow.”
Sheetz, the family-owned convenience store chain, began in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and has expanded over five decades into Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, in addition to West Virginia.
When Sheetz moves into a new market, it considers key factors including population density and road infrastructure, said Ryan Sheetz, the company’s director of recruitment and staffing.
“When we moved into the West Virginia market, we really loved the accessibility,” Sheetz said. He said the company has tried to develop along the Interstate 64 and Interstate 79 corridors: “We are kind of littered across the main arteries in the state.”
He said the company is active in “very distinct” pockets of the state — in the Eastern Panhandle, the southern part of the state near Princeton, and that western border close to Huntington.
Sheetz would not talk specific company plans on moving into Kanawha County.
“It’s absolutely fair to say we are going to continue to look for opportunities in the Charleston area,” Sheetz said. “It’s a place we are thrilled to be in and people have adopted our brand.”
He said the proliferation of other convenience stores in the area, like Go-Mart, isn’t a deterrent for Sheetz.
“We expect and embrace competition,” Sheetz said. “They have a really strong presence in West Virginia, but like our other competitors we think the world of them, they make us better.”
Reach Caitlin Cook