Gus Olympidis’ story is part of the fabric of Northwest Indiana, an area settled largely by immigrants seeking a better life.
At the age of 18, Olympidis left Greece and journeyed to Northwest Indiana where he enrolled at Indiana University Northwest to pursue a degree in business. He credits his parents with helping him succeed.
“I believe that parental influence was the major motivator,” Olympidis says. “I grew up in an environment that was positive, nurturing and demanding. I was taught to be self confident and passionate for what I believed from my parents. They always projected the values of hard work and community.”
“I started in the convenience store industry at the age of 21,” says Olympidis, president and CEO of Family Express Corporation. “I have always been a demanding consumer; consequently I helped build a company culture that is ‘customer centric.’ ”
Family Express Corporation began with an independent, unaffiliated convenience store, called Time Low, that opened on Christmas Day 1975 on the west side of Valparaiso. Olympidis says he struggled to secure financing, but the store succeeded.
The next month, Olympidis incorporated his company as part of a growth cycle he anticipated. Nine years later, in 1987, he changed the company’s name to Family Express to create a friendly atmosphere for female customers.
“We build a business model at Family Express around the customer,” Olympidis says. He also pursued innovations to allow the small company to remain strong and competitive in the marketplace.
For example, Olympidis saw the repetitive task of counting cash in the stores as inefficient and detracting from customer service. In May 1997, he introduced a cash management system into the stores. Bill reader machines reduce cash-counting activities and allow store personnel to focus on customers.
Under Olympidis’ leadership, Family Express continued to innovate.
In February 1998 Family Express introduced its own gasolines including the high performing FE 9300 premium. At that time the stores were re-imaged with the company’s current signature colors, teal and white with a splash of magenta. This began the rollout of a variety of proprietary brands that have become synonymous with Family Express.
On September 8, 1999, Family Express acquired Carter Oil. This acquisition extended the company’s reach into the Lafayette, Indiana, market and improved its exposure along I-65. Family Express soon introduced its own brands of coffees, sandwiches, baked goods, frozen carbonated beverages, water, ice and milk.
In December 2003 the 60,000-square foot Central Distribution Center was purchased and totally redeveloped to its current state.
“Our company had to evolve to remain competitive, “Olympidis says. “In the near future Family Express will be introducing a powerful rewards program for our customers. It will be called ‘FE Perks’ and it would help consumers right where they have been hurt the most, their pocketbook. FE Perks will deliver fantastic discounts on gasoline.”
Olympidis’ commitment to innovation was recognized by the Northwest Indiana Society of Innovators when he was inducted with the class of 2008-2009.
Today Family Express operates 52 stores, employs 500 people and gross annual revenues of $300 million. The company is principally focused in the art of “building relationships” with customers, community, and co-workers, Olympidis says. Its unique culture is powered by its biggest competitive advantage, he says—its people who are Family Express’s “living brand.”
“We invest in people that instinctively engage in relationship building,” Olympidis says. “Last year our company reached the milestone of half of our stores having zero turnover.”
In addition, Olympidis introduced company learning centers in both Valparaiso and in Lafayette, which underscore the company’s commitment to employee training and cultural development.
“My personal leadership style is to show passion, walk the talk, and invest in overachievers. My philosophy is that it is all about the customer!” he says.
Another part of Olympidis’ philosophy is community life. “I believe that engagement in community life is an obligation,” he says.
Rex G. Richards, president of the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, nominated Gus Olympidis for The Times’ Business and Industry Hall of Fame. He cites the many contributions Olympidis has made to Northwest Indiana, including directorships with Centier Bank, the Valparaiso Community Development Corp., the Visiting Nurses Association of Porter County, the Northwest Indiana Forum and the Valparaiso Parks and Recreation Foundation. Olympidis has also received the Distinguished Community Leadership Award for Valparaiso in 1993 and the Valpo Rotary Four Way TEST Award in 1997.
But, Olympidis himself says, “The most rewarding community activities for me have been ones that do not come with publicity and/or a plaque such as mentoring a college student or delivering the gift of hospice to a family.”