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Giving customers the royal treatment

Gas King president Brent Morris talks about the importance of investing in his family’s Alberta-based convenience, gas and car wash chain, as well as the communities they serve.
Mark Cardwell headshot for column
Gas King Lethbridge 2024 Exterior with operators
Brent Morris with Scott Sibbet, VP, retail operations, and Zachary Morris, assistant operations manager.

In rural Alberta, community matters. That’s why local gas station chain owner Brent Morris has always put a premium on giving back.

“We’re known for our support of local groups and events,” said Morris, owner and president of Gas King, a group of seven independent gas stations, car washes and convenience stores in Southern Alberta. “It’s a big part of who we are and what we’re about.”

Founded 40 years ago in the bustling Prairie city of Lethbridge, 200 kms south of Calgary and 100 kms north of Alberta’s border with Montana, Gas King sells Alberta-refined, full-serve and self-serve gasoline and diesel at its seven sites.

Five of those sites—including the family-owned fuel retailer’s two locations in Medicine Hat, a two-hour drive northeast of Lethbridge—are also equipped with state-of-the-art car washes under Gas King’s Crown Car Wash brand. 

Each of those five stations feature several self-serve car wash bays, while two are also equipped with automatic car washes. 

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Gas King Lethbridge 2024 Exterior Night
Investing in tech and upgrades

According to Morris, those five stations were “gutted” in 2017 and new equipment was installed, including high-tech touchscreens (manufactured by Exact One and installed by WashTec) that control wash selections and take payment, including from Gas King’s own charge card and its loyalty program card, called King Card Rewards.

New pump islands are equipped with custom branded fuel dispensers and reside under overhead canopies at most Gas King locations. Two stations are currently equipped with ‘tap’ technology, a feature Morris says will be in service at the other five sites by fall of this year. The company works with Wayne Fueling Systems, as the pumps “integrate seamlessly” with Gas King’s existing POS systems.

“We’ve made huge investments and we’re very happy with the results,” says Morris.  “We’ve always felt that fuel and car washes are a natural fit and a great one-stop service for our customers.  We’re proud to offer clean and bright facilities with modern equipment that is easy to use and well maintained.”

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Morris says his company has taken the same approach in the development of its well-stocked convenience stores, which are operated under the company’s SnacKing brand, first introduced at the Lethbridge site in fall 2003. 

The interiors of several stores have been redesigned and refitted in recent years–another Lethbridge site in 2004, one 2019 and in spring 2023–with new counters, shelving and walk-in coolers, as well as frozen carbonated beverages machines dispensing Gas King’s own Williwa slush drinks. 

Gas King continues to work with CTM Design Services to renovate store interiors: The next one is scheduled to start in 2025. Converting stores to the SnacKing brand involves new ceramic tiles on the floors, paint, lighting and counters, as well as a variety of new store equipment.

Gas King Lethbridge SnacKing Interior
The SnacKing brand launched in fall 2023. The interiors of several stores are being redesigned and refitted.
Focusing on foodservice

After decades of selling a limited number of sandwiches and other ready-to-eat items from an outside supplier, Gas King added its own fresh food to its c-store mix a year ago when it started making, packaging and selling homemade foods and snack items—everything from breakfast sandwiches, hot dogs and chicken fingers to deviled eggs, doughnuts and popcorn—in the kitchen of its newly-renovated flagship store near a busy industrial park in north-end Lethbridge.

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Dubbed SnacKing Kitchen, the company’s new food label employs a half-dozen people and involves daily deliveries in a van to other Gas King stores. 

“The food is fantastic and customer reaction is very positive,” Morris says about the service, which began in February 2023.  “But it’s a work in progress. We’re still trying to iron out a few things. Ready-to-eat food is the way our industry is going.”

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Gas King Lethbridge Market Street Fresh Food Shelving
Gas King Lethbridge Williwa Slush Drinks
In addition to new fixtures, retrofits include frozen carbonated beverage machines dispensing Gas King's own Williwa slush drinks.
Building community ties

In addition to its retail offerings, Gas King also plays a prominent role in the communities where its stores operate. 

The company is a long-time sponsor of both the Lethbridge Hurricanes major junior team of the Western Hockey League and Lethbridge Bulls summer college baseball team. 

Gas King also supports Lethbridge’s Whoop-Up Days, a wildly popular annual summer fair, agri-food exhibition and rodeo, and provides various local charities and cultural and social groups with gift cards for prizes at fundraising events.

Those community contributions, together with the quality of its retail operations, have not gone unnoticed in Southern Alberta, where Gas King has been a perennial winner of annual ‘Best of the Best’ regional business awards over the past 25 years.

“It’s nice to be recognized for the efforts we make,” says Morris. “We’ve always been a good corporate citizen that’s involved in local stuff.  And we try to look and act like the majors so that people will drive that extra mile to do business with us.

“Like in any business, success comes from working hard, treating people right and keeping up with the times and the competition.”

Gas King Lethbridge Brent Morris
Brent Morris, Gas King
Family pride

Morris, who turned 60 in April, learned those lessons early in life.  Born in Lethbridge but raised in the nearby village of Shaughnessy, where his parents, Don and Georgina Morris, owned and operated a bulk fuel business that hauled diesel and gas to the many cattle and wheat farmers in the region, he and his older brother Kevin grew up working in the family business.

In the early 1980s, Don Morris began buying small gas stations to diversify his business.  In 1985, a year after he moved into Lethbridge, Brent partnered with his father in a new retail fuel business that regrouped the nine stations his father owned.

Dubbed Gas King, a name that Brent Morris came up with, the new brand’s first location was its current flagship location—the same store in north-end Lethbridge that was revamped and reopened a year ago with the new kitchen, not to mention a photo and historical plaque dedicated to his father Don.

“All I knew back then was that I liked marketing more than retail,” says Morris, who now has two children of his own: Zachary, a 21-year-old who has expressed interest in maybe one day taking over the family business, and Alexa, 20, a budding school teacher. “But I worked a lot with my mom doing the accounting, which has really helped me.”

These days, Morris said he is both happy and proud of the look, feel, function and reputation of his business, which employs some 85 people at its seven locations and is actively engaged with its customers and community both on the ground and online through its website and on social media.  

“We’re focussed on our plans to continue renovating our current locations,” says Morris.  Notably, those plans don’t include EV charging for electric cars—at least not yet.

“There’s not much demand for it so far in Lethbridge or Southern Alberta,” says Morris. “But it’s on our radar.  If things change, we’ll be sure to look at it closely. We’ve done well knowing what our customers want and offering one-stop services. That approach won’t change.”

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