Friendly Express Inc.
As the name suggests, Friendly Express Inc. (Friendly) gets along very well with the company’s customers. More importantly, though, Friendly gets along especially well with communities in which the company inhabits. The Georgia-based convenience store organization donates a substantial amount of the company’s income to local organizations benefitting in-need individuals.
“We raised about $80,000 at our annual charity golf tournament in 2013,” says Danny Smith, CEO of Friendly. “We also started a program called Feeding Families on Fridays. I wanted to come up with something we could do on an ongoing basis, and we all agreed that the one thing that touches us all is that we all know someone who may be hungry.”
The program sees the company donate five cents to charities for every cup of coffee or soda sold on Fridays. Notably, Friendly’s sister company then donates another five cents, bringing the total to 10 cents per coffee or soda. Despite its positive aura, Friendly does not advertise its program to ensure the company is not mistaken for using the charity program as a means of drawing in money.
“We just do it,” says Smith. “We’re silent about it. Feeding Families on Fridays, the only way you would know about it is that if you bought a cup of coffee or soda, you’d see a small sign above the register. We don’t advertise. We don’t put anything in the paper.”
That silent charity has now resulted in close to $20,000 donated in the last six months. The money benefits 13 different organizations chosen by the company, ranging from churches to food pantries and soup kitchens. Smith believes supporting these specific organizations will lead to the largest positive impact for the communities surrounding the numerous Friendly locations.
Feeding Families on Fridays is only one of the company’s many charitable programs operated throughout the year. Others include a 5K benefit run, food and coat drives, school supply donations, breast cancer awareness screenings and the aforementioned annual golf charity tournament.
“Most donations are for local organizations,” says Smith. “Some are regional, like the Make-A-Wish Foundation. We always sponsor a kid within the community, sometimes twice a year. We also help a lot of local organizations, like Boys & Girls Clubs, domestic violence programs, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes [FCA] and just various groups. But we always help the ones in need, not the ones in want.”
From Then to Now
The company was formed in 1989, when Grady Lewis and Bill Raulerson came together to purchase a convenience store named Shell Express. During the 1990s, Lewis and Raulerson expanded Shell Express to 13 locations, even going on to acquire stores from several competitors, including Sunrise Foods, Georgia Lil’ Champ and Friendly Marts. Overtime, the Shell Express name gave way to Friendly, and the company now operates 40 locations across southeast Georgia.
From the company’s humble roots with Lewis and Raulerson, two other companies grew along with Friendly: Petroleum Services Group and Lewis and Raulerson Carrier Group. In his current role at Friendly, Smith operates the company in conjunction with its three sister companies; combined, each company relies on the others to maintain corporate peace and constant growth.
By utilizing the other partner companies to maintain stability, Friendly has been able to weather economic downturns without too much difficulty. “Friendly hasn’t been without our hard times in the recession,” says Smith. “We’ve made cutbacks, but the four divisions have been able to rely on each other a lot.”
With approximately 400 employees and revenue enough to maintain expansion, Friendly clearly is not feeling too many negative effects from the recession or the company’s self-imposed charitable goals. In fact, according to Smith, the constant need to fulfill the company’s charitable mission is nowhere near as difficult to deal with as corporate- or government-imposed regulations.
“In our industry, tobacco is highly regulated,” says Smith. “The major cigarette manufacturer, Philip Morris International Inc. [Philip Morris], gives you suggested retails, and if you don’t sell at those retails, they don’t pay you some rebate money. When Philip Morris implemented these suggested retail prices some years ago, Friendly lost about seven points, which cost our company the first year about $600,000.”
In response, Smith leveraged the company’s food sales. “We had to really focus on food service items, like fresh foods or anything from the fountain and coffee categories,” says Smith. “We now have delis where people can get pizza or chicken. We also started our own bakery, and we supply donuts and baked goods to over half our stores.”
The regulations are not all doom and gloom; however, Smith claims the recent Affordable Healthcare Act actually prompted Friendly Express to go ahead and offer health care coverage before the 2015 employer mandate. “We felt this would soften the financial impact to the company, as well as retain and attract prospective manager candidates,” Smith says.
“We’ve always paid a large portion for health care, but now we can offer managers Obamacare, even though it’s a large financial burden on the company,” continues Smith. “We’re using it as a recruitment tool.”
For a company daring enough to set a customer service precedent by taking the word friendly for a name, Friendly certainly delivers on the company’s self-imposed mission to help communities and employees alike. Thankfully, at the forefront is Smith, a man who believes teamwork and personal empowerment leads to better results. With the results that the company is currently enjoying, it’s hard to argue that Danny Smith’s beliefs and perseverance are not leading Friendly Express Inc. in the right direction.