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    Certified Oil Begins Rollout of New Prototype

    Ohio c-store expects to convert 30 stations to new look by end of 2009.

    COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Certified Oil, the 70-year-old c-store chain based here, began the rollout of its new foodservice-oriented prototype, as reported first by CSNews Online earlier this year.

    Certified, which operates 86 convenience stores in Ohio, was founded in 1939. Interviewed by the Columbus Dispatch Friday, Peter Lacaillade, Certified’s chief executive, said he wants his stores to have a consistent, inviting look, which he hopes will lead to greater customer loyalty.

    "There's so much competition out there," said Lacaillade, son-in-law to company founder, Carlyle Baker, who opened the first Certified station in Piqua, Ohio. "We're just wanting to give a reason for a person to return."

    The privately-held company told CSNews Online in October it had been working for almost a year on a plan, which included developing a new prototype design for future brand-new Certified convenience stores. In addition to the 86 company-operated Certified branded stores, the company supplies more than 55 locations in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. Company COO Greg Ehrlich told CSNews Online the new imaging applies only to the company-operated Certified branded stores.

    According to the Dispatch, Baker ran the company until his sudden death from an aneurysm in 1998. After Baker’s death, Lacaillade, who had been vice president at an investment firm in Boston, took control.

    Certified was humming along at that point, with 130 stations and an aversion to debt. But the stations were behind the times. They didn't have scanners for cash registers, and there was little design consistency from store to store, said the report.

    Lacaillade began to sell underperforming stations and started a $30 million investment in upgrades. The two decisions shrank the company's regional footprint, with about 80 percent of its stores now in central Ohio. The remaining stores got new equipment, such as pay-at-the-pump credit-card scanners.

    Those investments put the company on solid footing heading into this year's wild fluctuations in gasoline prices.

    The redesigned stores still have Certified’s red, white and blue color scheme, but they have a new logo, with a red check mark inside a white "C." Inside, the walls are decorated with what the company calls "lifestyle photography," images intended to make the stores comfortable places to shop.

    One of the new products is an exclusively branded coffee named after the founder, called Carlyle's Cup.
    The stores' new image is similar to what has been done at other convenience-store chains, such as BP's use of the ampm brand to boost in-store sales, said the Dispatch.

    Ehrlich did not give a cost estimate for the redesign. About 10 Columbus-area stores will have the new look by the end of this year. By the end of next year, the number will be up to about 30, said Lacaillade.

    The gradual approach is in keeping with the company's tendency to complete projects with cash, rather than debt.

    Lacaillade said the lack of debt means the company is under relatively little strain from the current economic downturn, putting it on solid footing for the future, according to the Dispatch.

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