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By Mehgan Belanger
INDIANAPOLIS -- Hot dogs being topped with everything from mustard to jalapenos, and coffee being poured and customized with flavored syrups and spices. This was the scene at the Marriott Indianapolis Downtown, where BP constructed a mini ampm store for its Discovery Day Midwest on June 12, where more than 300 area entrepreneurs came to find out more about the brand, its franchise program and sample some of its fare, including the recently unveiled "Bigger Better Burger."
"We are trying to present the great ampm franchise opportunity to local entrepreneurs, people in Cincinnati and Indianapolis, and trying to get them interested in the franchise, and then, eventually marry them up with jobbers that will be supplying the store," Bill Fry, vice president of operations for BP, told CSNews Online, the only media outlet in attendance. There were approximately 60 franchise opportunities between the two markets, roughly 26 in Cincinnati and 30 in Indianapolis, he explained.
The program was unique, as it was the first time BP was communicating to potential franchisees directly, he said, noting there has been a number of events in other regions, such as Orlando and Atlanta, where BP marketed the franchise opportunities to jobbers.
"Depending on the market and the needs of the jobbers we are talking to, we will hold recruiting events where we need franchisees directly," said Fry, who expected to have additional Discovery Day events. However, to date, only one in Orlando has been scheduled.
The company announced plans to divest its company-owned operations to franchise-operated last year. In the spring, however, the company decided to include its jobbers, and is now offering jobber-supplied franchises in all its markets.
"We're marrying up what has been a terrific business for us -- the jobber business. We have great jobbers, and marrying that with our ampm store franchise is a great win," said Fry. "Initially, we said we'd be franchising to jobbers in just a couple markets, in Cincinnati and Orlando. The interest there was so strong, and the interest from jobbers in the other markets was so strong, that we decided to make it more consistent."
Under the agreements, BP sells the sites to jobbers, which could directly operate the stores, or through franchise dealers, according to Fry. In the future, BP could sell the assets to jobbers, which may then give franchisees the opportunity to buy the land.
As BP expected, a wide range of people came to the event, from people relatively new to the industry to those that have been in it for much of their career.
"I want to look at the buildings they have," Ashwin "AJ" Sangani told CSNews Online. He has worked in the convenience industry in the past, but not for BP.
Simon Tabaja, operator of two non-ampm c-stores in the Cincinnati market, came to the Discovery Day to see what properties were available in his market, he said. Tabaja, a former ampm operator in the Seattle market, wanted to see how the program has changed since then.
Also in attendance was Jay Ricker, president of Ricker Oil. As a BP jobber, Ricker came to the program to "see what the offering is." He declined to comment on whether he was looking to pick up an ampm franchise, but noted he'd "probably have an interest in it. They have a good model. It's been successful in the West, and I think that can be replicated in the East," he told CSNews Online. "I have seen the program in operation – it's very successful."
The variety in the audience is something BP aimed for. "Diversity is very important to us. We want franchisees to represent the communities that we serve," Fry said. "A very diverse crowd will show up, and through that diversity of applicants, we expect a very diverse franchise population."
Beyond diversity, BP is looking for commitment, not necessarily experience.
"We're looking for local entrepreneurs who are really passionate about retail and want a deliver a great ampm offer," Fry said. "They want to connect with the community, work with us to deliver 'too much good stuff' for customers, run great store operations, work with us to deliver ampm consistently and work with jobbers on the supply side."
No c-store experience is necessary, but the majority of attendees had worked in the industry or at least spent some time in retail, according to Fry. "We look for a broad background of people, if we’re convinced they have what it takes to be a great ampm franchisee, they wouldn't have to have convenience retail experience."
At the event, several executives from the ampm team discussed the advantages of partnering with the company, which focused around the established, 30-year-old brand, the buying power and economies of scale for the hundreds of locations, and the resources and research available for in-store management, such as a proprietary point-of-sale and back-office program and store-by-store planograms with space for customization.
The ampm in-store offering, including advanced foodservice and hot beverage program, and private-label products, also gives franchisees an advantage over the industry's top-of-mind concerns such as interchange fees, low gas margins and competition from other channels, according to Fry.
"The absolute best thing we can provide is a fantastic offer for our customers. So that is what ampm is about -- delivering 'too much good stuff,' very distinctively to the consumer, to drive traffic to the stores," he told CSNews Online. "That's the heart of what we offer our franchisees, a great offer that is compelling to the customer. If they do that well, they will be successful."