John Jackson’s success started with 1 store

Sep 18th, 2017 | By | Category: Featured
John Jackson’s first gas station was a Texaco station in Caldwell. The building stood until just a few years ago. It’s now an auto shop. Jackson now operates more than 230 stations in six states.

John Jackson’s first gas station was a Texaco station in Caldwell. The building stood until just a few years ago. It’s now an auto shop. Jackson now operates more than 230 stations in six states.

By Torrie Cope
Idaho Press-Tribune

CALDWELL — When John Jackson took over his first service station, sales tripled and he thought he had the Midas touch. When he took on a second station shortly after, he realized he might have just been lucky the first time.

“I almost went broke,” Jackson said. “I remember I worked every single day to keep my expenses low. I wouldn’t take a day off. I worked for like three months straight. I would bring a lunch to work, because I couldn’t afford to buy a hamburger.”

That experience early on in his career taught the founder and CEO of Jacksons Food Stores to be careful and plan ahead to survive in the business world, because not everything is going to work.

Today, Jackson’s Meridian-based company has grown to more than 230 locations in six states, and he employs about 3,000 people. That makes it one of the largest privately held companies in Idaho. He also owns Jackson Energy, a wholesale oil company; Capitol Distributing, a grocery wholesaler; and Jackson Jet Center at the Boise Airport.

Even with that success and the recognition that comes with the Jacksons brand, Jackson remains a humble man committed to creating opportunities for his employees.

“John is very personable with the employees,” said Jill Linville, vice president of operations at Jacksons Food Stores. “When he visits the stores, he’s not afraid to pick up a mop or a rag. He doesn’t act like an owner acts. He’s just like any other employee. He goes in and gets the job done.”

‘THE MIDAS TOUCH’

Jackson started his business with a single station in 1975. He was still a junior at Boise State University studying accounting at the time. Jackson’s father owned a Texaco station in Homedale and had the opportunity to lease a station in Caldwell for six months. The short-term lease was because of a freeway construction project that was coming up that would eliminate the station’s access.

The station was at Boise Avenue next to Interstate 84 in Caldwell.

“It didn’t make much sense for my dad to take the station for six months, but I thought it might be a good experience for me just to stay a semester out of college and get some practical experience,” Jackson said.

The station was already doing well before Jackson took it on, but he extended the station’s hours and added a price sign out front that tripled the store’s volume. The freeway construction project was delayed, and Jackson extended his lease and eventually purchased the station from the landlord.

About a year-and-a-half later, he had the opportunity to get a second station in Caldwell, this time at Cleveland and Kimball.

“I thought I must have the Midas touch when I tripled that (first) station’s volume, but the second location, the one downtown, was a whole different experience,” Jackson said.

The second station opened in the winter and was difficult for customers to drive in and out of. It put Jackson in a financial hardship.

Jackson made it through the winter with that second store and saw things start to pick up and become profitable.

“It was a good experience,” Jackson said. “I knew then I was basically lucky on the first one. I really wasn’t that good.”

After making it through the tough times, Jackson said he realized pretty soon that his business was going to be a success. He went back to school for a semester, but with his business taking off, he didn’t finish his degree.

Instead, Jackson continued to open more stations and purchased a station in Wilder from his dad.

When he started, Jackson’s stations were all gas and service stations, but he found a lot of mechanics didn’t want to also sell gas. Jackson decided it would be better to convert the stations to convenience stores, and his stores have all followed that model since.

Currently, the company has a goal of being under construction at eight sites at a time. That includes not just new stores, but remodeling existing stores, Jackson said. The convenience stores have been getting larger over time, and Jacksons continues to increase the size and quality of its offerings.

Jackson said the company also likes to be open to opportunities that come up for expansions from other businesses. Most of Jacksons Food Stores sites are acquired sites.

The company announced this month it acquired three Fast Eddy’s stores in Meridian.

CREATING OPPORTUNITIES AND STAYING HUMBLE

Jackson would like to see growth continue for Jacksons Food Stores in the near future. It’s important to him that his employees find opportunities to stay and move up in the company.

“Once we grow, they can grow with us,” he said. “That’s kind of our culture is to create opportunities. It’s a more attractive place to work, because you can stay with us, and your career can advance with the company.”

That’s something Linville, the company’s vice president of operations, knows firsthand. Linville started with Jacksons 26 years ago as a gas station attendant in Ontario, Oregon.

She thought the job was just a job, but it became a career thanks to the encouragement from others within the company.

“You want to do well and you want to continue to do what is right for the company,” Linville said. “The company sees potential in our employees and tries to encourage people to take the next step forward.”

Linville said promoting from within is something the company values and talks about greatly. She said Jackson listens to his employees, appreciates them and encourages them. She added she’s not the only one who started at the store level and now works at the corporate level.

When Jackson visits his stations, he doesn’t hesitate to mop floors, wipe counters or even clean the restrooms. That’s also part of his company’s culture.

“We’re all that way, so no one is above anyone else,” he said. “That’s the message we send to people. We’re all about customer service and treating each other well.”

That humility and the opportunities Jackson has created for his employees, is what he said he’s most proud of in the company he built.

One Jacksons employee took an opportunity with the company that John Jackson said was beneath her talents. In June, Jackson and his company suffered a loss when Jackson’s wife, Bonnie Jackson, died of cancer.

Bonnie Jackson served as the chief information officer at Jacksons Food Stores, but held a job at Texaco before that where she oversaw 23,000 locations. John Jackson said she was very skilled at what she did, and Jacksons was incredibly lucky to have a talent like that at the company.

“I used to say it was sort of like having a professional athlete playing at the high school level,” Jackson said. “She did a lot of good for us. We’ll miss her.”

ADDING OTHER JACKSON BUSINESSES

Jackson started his business with gas stations and convenience stores, but didn’t stop there. He also found ways to vertically integrate and diversify.

Jackson was approached by Texaco still early on in his career to become a wholesaler and started another company, Jackson Energy, in 1980, five years after he took over his first station. Texaco sold fuel to Jackson, and Jackson sold to smaller stations.

Today, Jackson Energy serves more than 900 stations in nine states, including to Jacksons Food Stores. The company is approaching one billion gallons a year in volume, which makes it one of the largest wholesalers in the country, Jackson said.

“I’m proud of that little company,” he said.

Jackson continued on the wholesale business side with a venture into grocery wholesaling. In 1984, a wholesaler consolidated its operations to Twin Falls, leaving an empty building and employees without jobs in Boise.

Jackson took over the building, hired the employees back and started Capitol Distributing.

“The timing was perfect,” Jackson said. “We basically just moved into their building and hired a lot of their people and got a lot of their customers.”

Jacksons Food Stores later became a customer of Capitol Distributing, which also provides merchandise to more than 400 convenience stores. That business outgrew two warehouses. The current location is a little over 100,000 square feet and still isn’t enough space, Jackson said, which is why the company now plans to build a new facility that will be double that size in Caldwell.

TAKING FLIGHT

Aside from the successes Jackson has seen with gas stations and convenience stores, he has another business in aviation.

Jackson, a pilot, purchased Boise Air and the executive terminal next door. He combined them into Jackson Jet Center.

The business has chartered flights, manages and charters planes for other people, and offers hangar space, fueling farms and office space for rent.

The planes also help Jackson get around to the nine states where he does business.

The aviation business is run by Jackson’s son, Jeff Jackson. John Jackson’s oldest son, Cory Jackson, started at Capitol Distributing and is now president of Jacksons Food Stores.

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