When Marlin larson started his education,he thought he would teach kids a thing or twoin the classroom or coaching a team. The former has come true for some of his employees at Convenience Management Group’s (CMG) nine ExxonMobil Onthe Run stores, but it’s the lessons Larson himself is learningthat are leaving an indelible impression on a growing company.
After a 15-year stint as the eastern sales manager for anindependent refining company in Houston, Larson accepted anopportunity to work for Racetrack in Atlanta as its vice presidentof supply and distribution. He was with the company for aboutsix years and subsequently became independently involved withthe Ethanol blending industry in the late 1980s. When crudeprices fell and tax incentives disappeared in the early 90’s, itwas time for Larson to return to the core gasoline business.
Over those years, Larson had developed a relationship withthe owner of the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Golden Gallon chain,and immediately agreed to a vice president position running itsgasoline and environmental compliance departments. In 2000,the Golden Gallon was sold to a subsidiary of Ahold NA, whoretained management until it was sold to The Pantry in 2003.
Shortly after the sale, Larson and other Golden Gallon management decided to start a new convenience venture: CMG.
“At that time, most were getting out of the convenience industry,” said Larson, partner and vice president of CMG. “Instead,we began building 4,100-sq. ft. stores in late 2004 with a freshapproach to the market. Because we did not have the brandequity of a Golden Gallon chain to enter the market, we optedfor a roll-out franchise program ExxonMobil was developing.”
ExxonMobil had been a major supplier for Golden Gallon, soLarson and his colleagues perpetuated the relationship withtheir new endeavor. Today, CMG is a regional franchise developer for the ExxonMobil “On the Run” (OTR) program.
“We made a long-term, 10-year franchise commitment toExxon. But instead of growing the number of stores thoughacquisition, we’re focusing on prime property and operationsthat can deliver high-volume results,” he said. “The OTR franchise structure allowed us fill in the gaps as far as going to market, image and continuity.”
With the newly formed company, Larson found himself in charge of the administration duties, IT implementation,fuel management and store construction. “The constructionphase has challenged my patience—maneuvering permitting,zoning and regulatory matters—but we’ve been very fortunateto come up with high-volume, high-profile locations. At the endof the day, it’s worth it.”
With ten stores built and more under construction, CMG ison target to have 20 more units in the next five years.
Larson and his colleagues used the OTR model as a strongfoundation on which they could craft stores with the same corebeliefs that made Golden Gallon a success in its time.
“Attention to detail and cleanliness, and a focus on the customer experience—that’s the best we can give our customersand we excel at it,” he said. “Golden Gallon stood out in themarket primarily due to its military execution. We have broughtthat same execution to our OTR stores and our fantastic employees take pride in a job well done.”
Larson and his colleagues also had to adjust to a differentvendor relationship. Thankfully, their new partner is an old pro.
“With Golden Gallon, we had more regional vendors,” he said. “OTR represents a part of a bigger company, so we’ve developed a strong relationship with McLane and we’re pleasantlysurprised with the deal we have under the OTR umbrella.
“There’s no substitute in this industry for hard work, dedication and long hours. It’s a hands on business,” he added.
“Using OTR as a centerpiece for on-the-street marketing, it’s been more execution than marketing—a simple blockand-tackle approach.”