The retail division of the Taylor, Mich.-based fuel transportation, logistics and service company includes a network of hundreds of stations in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Stations served by Atlas operate under the Valero, Phillips 66, Marathon, Clark and Citgo brands. “With our major brands, we don’t want to just be a supplier,” says Michael Dove, the company’s director of retail sales and support. “We want to be a part of their strategic planning.”
Advising the retail locations it supplies on ways to improve their sales differentiates the company from its peers. “Convenience stores are in a highly competitive market,” Dove says. “In order for retailers to grow, they have to build relationships with their brand partners and grow with them. We have a sales and support team dedicated to our retail partners who care about their business, because we feel their success is our success.”
The company’s retail initiatives include site selection, a remodeling program, financing assistance, training for store team members and managers, merchandising assistance and fuel dispenser replacement programs.
Atlas Oil serves as a dealer supplier to the majority of its retail partners, meaning the station owner retains ownership of the fuel inventory. The company, through its real estate arm, also owns stations that are operated by retailers. “Our real estate arm allows us to do more than our competitors do,” Leatherman notes. “Our ability to buy and sell locations is a strong point for us, particularly when it comes to our growth potential.” Atlas Oil also offers retail sites a commission-based agreement, where Atlas owns and prices the fuel daily and shares the profits with the site owner.
Aiming for Excellence
One recent example of Atlas Oil’s partnering with its fueling station customers is its “Retail Excellence” test program with 42 Phillips 66 stations in northeast Indiana and Southwest Michigan. The program, initiated at the beginning of 2014, seeks to enhance customers’ experience at the stations by focusing on elements such as merchandising, cleanliness, and employee friendliness. “We are trying to see if there is a correlation between these areas and inside sales and fuel volumes,” Dove says.
Each month, a mystery shopper visits each of the test locations and analyzes their compliance with each of the areas being examined. The mystery shopper then reports the findings back to Atlas Oil and Phillips 66. An Atlas Oil sales and support leader works with each retail location to review the mystery shoppers’ findings and improve any aspects of the retail experience as needed.
Thus far, the pilot program has proven Atlas Oil’s instincts correct. “The majority of our sites have seen an increase in their overall sales and fuel volume by improving their customer service in the areas we’re examining,” Dove adds.
Atlas Oil plans to create training modules for all of its retail partners based on the final findings of the program.
The ‘Winners Circle’
The “Retail Excellence” program is just one of several ongoing or planned initiatives for Atlas Oil’s retail division and its partners.
Atlas Oil recently helped 46 of the Phillips 66 stations it serves implement a “KickBack” rewards program. The card-based loyalty program offers points for gas and merchandise purchases that can then be redeemed at any participating Phillips 66 station. Atlas plans to eventually extend a loyalty platform across all of its brands, Dove notes.
Four of Atlas Oil’s other brands – Citgo, Marathon, Valero and Clark – have more than 100 locations in southeast Michigan participating in the “Winner’s Circle” program. The program features monthly giveaways of prizes including cars and concert tickets. “None of our supplier competitors can bring something like that to their retailers,” Leatherman says. “This is another thing we can do to give more value to the end-consumers and allow our retailers to compete.”
Participating “Winner’s Circle” sites also host customer appreciation events where they offer gas discounts, free food and giveaways.
Atlas Oil’s other initiatives include a customer web portal. This portal will enable customers to access their accounts, receive invoices, and communicate directly with the company. The portal will be accessible both through computers as well as through mobile devices.
Other plans for Atlas Oil include potential expansion of its retail operations. The company by the end of the year expects to serve commercial customers across the continental United States, and is evaluating the possibility of growing its retail operations beyond the four Midwestern states it now serves.