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    Lofty Sights for Gulf Oil's New Concept

    With the first stage under way, a company executive shares with CSNews details of the plan to update its stations.

    By Mehgan Belanger

    Gulf Oil LP, a more-than-100-year-old company based in Newton, Mass., is currently undertaking Phase 1 of a three-step program to transform 11 sites on the Massachusetts Turnpike into Gulf Sunrise Gasoline and Retail Centers. The project, which features the company's new Gulf Express convenience store, is an effort to simultaneously update Gulf's Turnpike locations and develop a concept for franchising to its dealers and distributors.

    "As soon as Joe [Petrowski, president and CEO of Gulf Oil] took over and put together a leadership team, he insisted we communicate better with our customers," said Rick Dery, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Gulf Oil. "We started listening to them, and they said, 'We would like the option to participate in a c-store concept with traction.' A lot of our distributors have something such as 'Bill's Convenience Store.' By developing a franchise concept around Gulf Express, consumers can have confidence in the merchandise they buy at the locations."

    These 11 Turnpike locations will be the launchpad for the Gulf Sunrise Gasoline and Retail Centers, which feature the Gulf Express c-store. After the Turnpike locations are complete, the company plans to roll out the design across the Northeast, and offer the design to its retail partners.

    "We stepped back and said, 'We don't want to be a gas supplier anymore,'" said Dery, noting that the company wants to build relationships with foodservice franchises such as Dunkin' Donuts and car washes. "We want to be a partner in creating gas retail centers. Gulf Express is a cornerstone of the retail center. We don't want retail customers to view us as a gas supplier. We want to be a retail partner."

    The first step in the program involves updating the locations' technology and forecourt and implementing a sign and image package on the exteriors, including a revamped Gulf logo. The centuryold orange and blue brand has been modernized by adding a bed of clouds around it, evoking a lofty Sunrise theme.

    "[The new look] has been in the works for about a year," Dery said. "It features new lighting, great canopy graphics and the Gulf disc coming out of a bed of clouds. That's what we wanted to bring back -- the image of the logo, not the words," he said, explaining that customers more readily recognize the orange and blue graphic than the Gulf name.

    Phase 1 also calls for numerous upgrades at the forecourt and point-of-sale. Travelers along the highway will enjoy faster fillups through Gilbarco's Encore 500S fuel pumps, which are being installed at stations along the Turnpike, according to Dery. The high-volume facilities sell 60 million gallons of gas a year.

    "We really wanted state-of-the-art pumps," Dery told Convenience Store News.

    Gulf is also implementing Gas Station TV (GSTV) at the pumps, which will entertain customers through video monitors while they pump gas. (For more on GSTV, see CSNews, February 2007 issue).

    "TV at the pump is a first for the Turnpike, and new to Gulf," said Dery, adding that the goal is to make the gas-pumping experience more pleasant and faster for customers. The monitors allow Gulf retailers to broadcast messages for in-store programs. "With the volatility of gas markets over the past 24 months, gas purchasing is not a fun experience," he noted.

    At the point-of-sale, Gulf expects to cut its transaction speed from 30 to 40 seconds per transaction to 4 seconds by piggybacking the new pumps with Datawire technology. The technology relies on DSL through Verizon, and currently, all but three of the eight locations have access. Gulf is working with the communications provider to make the DSL available at all Turnpike locations, Dery said.

    After completion of the first step, which Petrowski estimated could take until the end of September, the next stage calls for the implementation of the Gulf Express store design at the locations.

    "Phase 2 is in production now," Dery said. "We'll have markups by the first quarter of next year. Once the advisory council is happy with the design, we'll make a strategy for implementation." Gulf's advisory council is made up of some of its distributors and dealers, which the company consulted for approval of the new logo. "We're not holding up the rollout of the outside design," he added.

    Because the Turnpike stores vary from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet, a one-size-fits-all store design is not possible. "We have a lot of different sizes -- putting together a cookie-cutter solution doesn't work," Dery said. "We want to build around the image and signs, and then put things inside the box unique to Gulf Express."

    While the in-store design is still in the planning phase, Dery revealed that new lighting, signage and the Gulf Express logo will be prominently displayed above the facility.

    The final phase of the project will involve creating unique offerings for the Gulf Express stores.

    Even though the conversion will not be completed for some time, the company is gearing up for the launch of its brand on the Turnpike.

    "We're finalizing the schedule to discuss the launch and grand opening," Dery said. "We replaced three vehicles that drive site to site with fully wrapped Fords in Gulf imagery and logos. We have an enthusiastic crew on the Pike that's trying to execute a credit-card conversion. When the flag goes up, we'll be ready."

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