The Number One Stop on Highway 1
Whether you are heading out of Winnipeg or entering it along the Trans-Canada Highway, the Petro Canada at Deacon’s Corner has been a welcome refuge for travellers on the eastern edge of the city for years. In fact, the location is one of Petro Canada’s busier sites.
Kevin Gutoski, a Red River College business administration graduate, has owned Petro Canada’s Deacon’s Corner location since 1997. “After graduating from college, I managed the location for a friend’s dad in 1996. The next year he decided to retire and the opportunity to purchase the Petro-Canada franchise as an independent operator became available. I was 27 years old at the time. It was thanks to my parents, and their willingness to remortgage their home, that I was able to purchase the franchise,” he shares.
This November will be Gutoski’s 22nd business anniversary, no small feat in today’s day and age. When asked what has kept him in the industry, he replies, “I like what I do. I have always had a passion for it. Sure, it can be challenging at times, but it also gives me the freedom to spend doing things I want to do too. I can coach my child’s hockey team and be involved in my community.”
His business employs 75 people, 25 on the Petro Canada side and 50 for A&W. With a solid base of long-term core employees, Gutoski has developed a culture of trust and success within his team. “I am a people person, and I truly enjoy leading our team towards success. Staff are given the freedom to do their own thing and share in the store’s success,” says Kevin of his management style.
Clearly, this approach has paid off. Deacon’s Corner has been awarded Petro Canada’s Associate of the Year four times under his watch. This recognition is awarded to stores that demonstrate strong leadership, continuous improvement, and operational excellence.
Shannon Chubey is Gutoski’s self-professed right hand. She has been working for him since he purchased the business. Today, as an assistant store manager, Chubey is responsible for ordering merchandise for the 5,000-square-foot convenience store, managing the inventory, overseeing customer service issues and completing the store’s bookkeeping.
“It’s been over 20 years, and I still enjoy the job. Kevin is really great to work for; he’s a friend and my boss. Both our staff and customers are fabulous and make the day more enjoyable,” she says, referring to what has kept her at Deacon’s Corner for so long.
Chubey’s expertise is in ordering specialty merchandise for the store. Customers can browse through a wide variety of seasonal clothing such as knitted sweaters, jackets, scarves, hats and sundresses. Other items carried include toys, souvenirs, trucker accessories, hunting supplies, giftware, and travelling necessities.
“People are always commenting on how cool it is to find these items at a gas station. I try to think about what someone driving by might need and carry as many of those items as I can. We are always trying new items in the store. Right now, fudge is a hot seller,” she adds.
Chubey and Gutoski have grown the retail end of the business significantly over the years. “Kevin is very knowledgeable about the business and just seems to know what will work and what won’t,” Chubey adds.
Items such as oil additives, confectionery, slushes, hot and cold drinks and other regularly stocked items are ordered through Suncor/Petro Canada and follow a standardized store layout as part of their franchise business arrangement. This partnership provides owners with better pricing and service from their wholesale partners. And, customers can, therefore, expect a cohesive look and similar core products across all of Petro-Canada’s branded stores.
Time for Change
As an independent operator, Gutoski owns the business and the right to operate under the Petro Canada banner; however, he does not own the building or land outright. Therefore, updates to the property are decided on and completed by Petro Canada. In 2004, Deacon’s Corner received a significant refresh.
The old manual or diaphragm gasoline pumps were replaced with state-of-the-art electric ones. They have since been upgraded again to include a tap and go payment option. Anti-fraud cameras and other security features have also been installed. Four new gasoline pumps were added along with the addition of a diesel island with two pumps and a Petro-Pass Cardlock during this renovation.
“Originally, the site had a gas bar and Salisbury House restaurant. When Petro Canada decided to rebuild their site, I inherited an A&W franchise,” Gutoski explains of his entrance into the restaurant business.
Monique Parent has been working in the Deacon’s Corner A&W restaurant since March 2005, having started a few months after its December 2004 opening. “I had originally applied for the job because I had a lot of previous experience working for A&W in the city, and I lived nearby. Kevin hired me as part of the regular kitchen staff team, then promoted me to supervisor after two months, and within the year, I was the assistant manager. By 2013 I had become the restaurant manager and I’ve held that position ever since,” Parent says.
“We have a prime location with the truck stop and are the last big stop before the Ontario border. In summer, the lake traffic really keeps us booming,” she adds.
The restaurant was selected to receive the A&W Silver Award of Excellence in both 2016 and 2017. Winners are chosen from the top 50 best-operated restaurants out of A&W’s approximately 960 Canadian store locations. “It was a great experience and an honour to win that recognition,” says Parent.
Speaking to Gutoski’s management style, Parent agrees with Chubey. “He doesn’t micromanage and is willing to work with you through any issues that arise. Kevin’s attitude, willingness to reward employees for their initiative and share bonuses with his staff are some of the reasons he has such a loyal employee base,” she explains.
Set on 16 acres, the Petro Canada location at Deacon’s Corner has developed 13 to 14 of those acres for use. Five to six acres have been allotted to the gas and retail sector of its business. A further eight to 10 acres are devoted to a rest stop for truckers. The premises offer drivers perks such as showers – six in total, a laundry facility and lounge outfitted with a TV and free Wi-Fi.
The location is still evolving, with new electrical service station pumps being installed at this time. With a completion date expected this month, Deacon’s Corner will be one of the few sites in Winnipeg to offer electrical charging stations. “A total of four charging stations are currently being built. Here, electric vehicles can plug in for 15 to 20 minutes to recharge their car’s battery. While they wait, they are able to wander around, grab some food or enjoy our free Wi-Fi before they head back out on the road,” says Gutoski.
Over the years, their clientele has diversified, with more business, corporate and local customers stopping in due to the site’s central convenience.
Gutoski is very involved in the community and supportive of several charitable causes and events. He has been the president of the Springfield Hockey Association for several years in the past and continues to coach his child’s hockey team.
Together with A&W, he assists the restaurant in its goals to raise money for multiple sclerosis through several in-store campaigns and A&W’s annual Burgers for MS campaign.
With the support of the Manitoba Street Rod Association, a car show is held annually on the second weekend of July. The highlight of the event is the donation of a custom-made specialty bicycle designed to meet the needs of a child selected by Manitoba Children’s Rehabilitation Foundation. Gutoski also involves himself with local festivals and events in the surrounding communities and supports other local fundraisers.
Deacon’s Corner is a Manitoba landmark familiar to most locals and travellers. With a strong customer base and growing traffic on Highway 1, the business is primed for continued growth.
Tania Moffat is a freelance writer, editor, publisher and photographer. She has worked in the publishing industry for the last 15 years on a wide variety of B2B and consumer publications, both in print and online. You can connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org