Rotary hears how Southwest Georgia Oil has grown and developed

Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Southwest Georgia Oil CFO Glennie Bench and CEO Mike Harrell, prepare to welcome fellow Rotarians following their speech on Tuesday.

A top management team from Southwest Georgia Oil presented the program at Rotary this week. First, CFO Glennie Bench, gave a history of the growth and acquisitions and sales over the past 20 years, followed by CEO Mike Harrell, who gave a progress report on what is happening now, along with a preview of new innovations to come in 2018.

In 1997, the image logos for Sun Stop Convenience Store and Inland Oil were developed, and the first store was built from the ground up at the corner of College Road and Route 84 East, across from the college.

A series of acquisitions, sales, leases followed, when in 2006-07 they were involved in purchasing a chain of 18 Big Little Stores in Southeast Alabama. At the same time they were approached by The Pantry about buying 23 of their stores.

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They ended up leasing those stores and put the name Sun Stop on all of them.

In 2011 there were 44 stores in Florida on the market. SWGO bid on them, but lost the contract to 7-11 Stores. Then in 2013, they realized the 7-11 offer had fallen through, so they decided to purchase them. Bench said, as the owner was of the old school, there were no papers signed, but it was a gentleman’s agreement. It took two years to close what they now refer to as the Lake City chain.

In 2017, the company had 69 convenience stores, three groceries and six dealer sites. Then they purchased a former convenience store in Valdosta, one of three WalMart Express sites that had been abandoned. They are now beginning to develop it for Sun Stop and Inland Oil. Mike Harrell showed artist’ renderings of what future Sun Stops will look like, and what will be sold there. As the stores are remodeled there will be delis called Eat’s, Planet Smoothies, and Thirst Stops inside. One outstanding attraction will be the restrooms, which Harrell said will be “unlike any you have seen.” He predicted people will want to stop at Sun Stops just to use the restrooms.

Harrell explained the newest concept they are working on. Known as an “urban market” –it is a store in a mixed use neighborhood in Tallahassee, near the university. There will not be any gasoline sold there, but a healthier offering of food and drink.

Another plan for the future will be adding accommodations for electric vehicles to recharge. He is not sure now where to place them or what the charge will be for the customer.

The company currently has 870 employees. Harrell said company personnel must feel they play a big part in the company success, adding, “Without all playing their role, we would not be successful.”