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    Crown Central Looks To Re-Enter Markets

    Former c-store giant wants to build on brand equity.

    BALTIMORE -- In 2004, operating under the Crown, Fast Fare, ExpressMart and Zippy Mart brands throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, the bowed-but-not-broken Crown Central Petroleum Corp. divested several hundred retail locations. The next year, the 85-year-old refiner/marketers with more than $2 billion in annual sales found itself unable to compete with Big Oil and divested its refinery and terminal assets.

    Today, Crown Central LLC, having paid off its creditors and avoided bankruptcy-induced liquidation, is licensing the Crown brands and wants to be a bigger player.

    Because Crown Central had primarily used its own retail outlets to sell gasoline, its branded distributor program was small and rooted in fuel supply, noted Bob Fritz, general manager of Crown Central LLC, based here.

    "The company quickly took stock and realized the program could be easily enhanced to fit a variety of needs for independent-minded jobbers and dealers," he said in a press release. "With the continuing consolidation of the gasoline/convenience retailing business, a need was developing for a brand that had flexible features and competitive programs available for image and credit/debit card processing."

    The brand has developed into an affordable alternative for jobbers and dealers who want a recognizable brand, Fritz said. "Existing and potential Crown distributors revealed they wanted a simple program that provided freedom to buy fuel from multiple qualified sources, low upfront cost to re-image using existing vendors, competitive card processing with quick and easy reconciliation that be used for unbranded, as well as Crown branded locations, and no per-gallon fees or long-term contracts."

    Crown's program also gives jobbers the ability to sell alternative fuels such as bio-diesel or E-85 under a consolidated retail brand.

    With 75 Crown-branded sites in seven states, Crown Central plans to add 50 more locations in the next few months. Jobbers and independent dealers who would like to partner with Crown must agree to sell retail fuel that meets the quality specifications, maintain image/operation standards and use the Crown credit-card processing network.

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