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By Linda Lisanti
Five years into its transformation from an Old West country store to Adventure's First Stop, Maverik Inc. is hearing comments in the marketplace like "When did Maverik get so cool?" and "My friends and I like it there because Maverik is a fun place."
It's remarks like these that have executives at this 187-unit Salt Lake City-based c-store chain optimistic that they're making progress in successfully rebranding and repositioning the company's image as a dynamic and active shopping destination.
"The kinds of things people are saying about us, the things they like about us, mirror our branding change," president and CEO Mike Call explained in an exclusive interview with Convenience Store News. "Our objective is to have a strong brand and to have that brand resonate with our customers. We believe we are well on our way to achieving that."
Like any serious adventure seeker, though, Maverik never sits still for long. Today, with the launch of a new store design and aggressive plans to reach 300 locations, Maverik is taking its adventure campaign to new heights.
"The customers and the public reward you for being unique, so that's really important to us," said Brad Call, Mike's cousin, who is Maverik's vice president of Adventure Culture and the driving force behind the adventure motif. "We're creating an experience for the customer. We're creating fun for the customer. We're giving them the sense of adventure they can't get anywhere else. And hopefully, that makes our Pepsis and Cokes taste better."
Since the start, the goal of Adventure's First Stop has been to create a world known as Maverikland, where the great outdoors and larger-than-life convenience store fare combine for a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Maverikland features cascading waterfalls of fountain drinks, a winding river of coffee and snowy mountains made of frozen yogurt. It's a place that appeals to the teen dirt bike rider, just as much as the soccer mom.
The first stores built under this theme boast high-profile destination areas with unique names, such as Room with a Brew walk-in beer coolers, Bodacious Bean coffee stations, Fountain Falls beverage dispensers and Big Moon restrooms. Each of the sections is highlighted by a pastel-colored mural depicting outdoor activities.
In the new store design -- Version 2.0, as marketing manager Scott Shakespeare refers to it -- these elements remain, but they've been refined and enhanced. Now, action-packed murals with larger images and bolder colors; lifelike mannequins; trees with real branches; open-truss blue sky ceilings; and stained concrete floors all give Maverik shoppers the feeling that they've just walked into the great outdoors.
"The new design is the difference between slapping stuff up on the walls to now integrating every design element in the store to tie in with the adventure theme, so that you're not walking into a store with one fixture here and another over there. You're walking into an experience -- Maverikland," Shakespeare explained.
Comparing the two, Brad Call said the new prototype represents Adventure's First Stop grown-up. Customers walking into a Maverik store before would likely describe it as colorful with nice, cartoonlike pictures, whereas now, the design evokes an emotional connection. "We're telling the story a lot better," he added. "The adventure theme is much more sophisticated now, and we think it resonates a lot better."
A Detailed Approach
When developing these new stores, company executives drew inspiration from one of the world's masters in creating an environment, The Walt Disney Co., whose theme parks not only entertain guests through rides, but even amuse them in the waiting lines.
Members of Maverik's marketing department traveled to Disneyland to have lunch with a Disney "imaginer" and picked his brain about creating an emotion-laden brand image.
This is where Shakespeare learned of Disney's "weenie" concept. As he explained it, "If you're looking down a hallway, there has to be something at the end that entices you to keep walking that way. Walt Disney loved hot dogs, so for him, that something was the weenie."
Maverik applies this philosophy throughout its new stores by not only focusing on the big picture, but the little details as well.
For instance, the beer cave graphics include a frozen caveman reaching for a brew and other fun, hidden elements that are revealed as product is sold and taken off the shelves. The corridor leading up to the restrooms and the facilities' walls are covered in a desert mural, complete with a rattlesnake so realistic that it frightened one female shopper.
The new stores play music and have high-definition video screens installed at the point-of-purchase. These screens -- four or five depending on the store layout -- feature animated promotions that are created in-house. Shakespeare said the goal is to eventually merge the music and video together for a truly integrated and rich media experience.
The new stores range from 4,200 to 5,000 square feet and reside on sites between 1.1 and 1.3 acres. Quite fittingly, Maverik is now beginning to take its adventure theme outside the store's four walls.
At the chain's newest stores, the fuel pumps and canopy poles are wrapped in one of a series of murals with motor sports images, such as a Jet Ski and snowmobile. Each pump station has its own adventure world.
The same motor sports murals are displayed on the company's fleet of tanker trucks, which is another significant part of the theming campaign. The images are meant to be a hybrid between a photograph and illustration, compelling customers to do a double take, and essentially turning the tanker trucks into traveling billboards.
Brad Call said plans are already under way to redesign the store facade and fuel canopy to better reflect Adventure's First Stop. "Our storefronts are nice, but too often this industry is pursuing the business of nice. Other than the brand colors, store facades are fairly indistinguishable," he noted. "We're looking to break out from the nice."
This approach applies to marketing activities, too. Maverik has its own monster truck that competes in events. The company sponsors motor cross activities, monster truck races and various extreme sports shows, which appeal to younger generations. Even its advertisements, like one for its proprietary energy drink Rustr Tail, push the edge by beckoning customers to "grab some tail."
"When we put new ads out to the market, I actually like to get a few complaints," Shakespeare added. "If you get too many complaints, then you may have to back off a bit. But, if you don't get any, then that means you're just part of the noise."
Everything the chain does is viewed through the Maverik "adventure lens," a tool it uses to ensure every project follows the adventure theme. By always asking the question, "How does that fit through the lens?" the retailer promotes free thinking, yet practices restraint in deciding what makes it to the store level. The adventure lens has been in place since the campaign's start, but like everything else, it's constantly being refined.
"That lens is so important because it helps us to be disciplined in our approach," Brad Call explained. "As this concept has evolved, we understand the lens better. We've always had a good idea of what the lens meant from the marketing standpoint. I think the concept now is becoming better understood throughout the organization."
The innovations occurring at the store level are just one element of a new five-year strategic plan that the chain has dubbed "Maverik 300," based on its goal of reaching 300 stores by 2013.
As part of this plan, Maverik has reorganized its company structure, moving from a functional alignment where separate departments exist for marketing, human resources, operations, etc., to a strategic alignment broken down into four key focuses: Adventure Culture, Growth Tsunami, Operational Rhythm, and Lean, Mean Delivery Machine. Each of these areas is improving its practices to help achieve the Maverik 300 plan.
The intent of Growth Tsunami is to accelerate growth so that Maverik can alter the convenience store landscape in its trade area, said Dan Murray, vice president of Growth Tsunami (store construction and real estate). Tsunamis occur without significant warning and, as events around the world have demonstrated, can dramatically change the landscape. "To some, our accelerated store growth may seem like it's occurring without warning. However, we've been laying the groundwork for some time by tweaking store processes, product offerings and developing new store concepts," Murray said.
During the past 18 months, Maverik has more than doubled the size of its real estate department, adding construction managers and real estate and permitting representatives, while refining the store opening process.
Murray acknowledged that 300 stores is an aggressive goal -- the chain has been doing about 12 new builds a year and is now anticipating 25 to 30 annually -- but he said the executive team is confident the goal is attainable. "The first dozen or so of our newest store concept have rolled out and they're performing well," he noted.
Aside from increasing store count, Maverik will be expanding its reach into new areas as well. For the past decade, its core trade area has included Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and northern Arizona. Nevada and Colorado are new areas of interest, Murray said.
With each new build, it becomes more challenging to ensure every Maverik location has consistent delivery of fresh food, is properly merchandised with stocked shelves, and maintains cleanliness and customer service levels that exemplify the adventure culture.
This is where Operational Rhythm comes in. The department is designing processes for store activities and work flow that will achieve consistency throughout every store. Measurement scorecards, a compensation program that rewards expectations and achievement, and the right store organizational structure are in development.
These improvements should bring about multiple benefits, according to Roger Green, vice president of Operational Rhythm. "Our expectations include increased employee engagement, more savvy business judgments, increased employee productivity, reduction of losses, reduction of employee turnover and of course, improved operational income."
Working in tandem to build the infrastructure that will serve as the foundation for the Maverik 300, the Lean, Mean Delivery Machine, led by vice president of supply chain and logistics Kirk Hansen, has also set forth imperatives to do its job better.
The department's focus is on building strong partnerships both inside and outside the organization, maintaining aggressive costs and processes control, and maximizing the company's return on investment capital. Last year, Maverik began using central and electronic dispatch with its fleet trucks, and Telapoint's TelaFuel application for fuel replenishment. Hansen plans to invest in more technology for fuel forecasting, pricing and modeling, as well as switch to a new back-office system that will enable point-of-sale ordering to improve supply chain replenishment.
With so much accomplished already and more to come, Maverik is in a better place than it was five years ago when the rebranding campaign began. Now, the company's leadership team is eager to reach Adventure's Next Stop -- a stronger, more profitable Maverik with nearly double the market presence.
"I'm not satisfied with where we're at, but I'm pleased that we've identified a vision as to where we're headed," Mike Call said. "It's an exciting future ahead."
For comments, contact Linda Lisanti, Senior Writer, at [email protected].