By John Lofstock, Editor
When Greg Ehrlich joined Certified Oil Co. in 2006, the company set myriad of goals aimed at upgrading the brand’s retail image, redesigning the convenience stores and developing a comprehensive loyalty program. With the projects complete, Ehrlich will step away from the day-to-day operations of Columbus, Ohio-based oil company and assume an ongoing consulting position.
Under Ehrlich’s watch Certified experienced a retail renaissance. Last September, the oil company opened the doors to its retail prototype in Chillicothe, Ohio, a spacious 3,200-square-foot store that features updated red and blue imaging and graphics. state-of-the art lighting and an equally attractive forecourt befitting a flagship store.
Several months earlier, the chain rolled out its Certified Savings loyalty program that features rewards and discounts for repeat customers. Both of these offerings are supported with progressive marketing programs that range from ACH debit card discounts on fuel and special discounts for customers that sign up to receive company text messages and emails to club rewards that allow customers to earn free products after a set number of purchases.
“I decided it was time to change my relationship with Certified as we had achieved our mutual goals for the company prior to my full time arrival. Many of the changes are quite visible such as recreating the brand, developing new concept stores with a greater focus on foodservice and launching a robust loyalty program,” Ehrlich told CSD. “At this juncture I felt I could better serve the company and achieve my own professional goals by restructuring our relationship. This enables me to be laser focused on Certified’s key strategic issues such as continuing to strengthen the Certified Savings loyalty program or leveraging social media. These are key differentiators that enable retailers to strengthen their brands, their relationships with their customers and ultimately to grow sales and profitability.”
Strong Industry Presence
Certified Oil’s long history in Ohio dates back to 1939 when founder Carlyle Baker opened his first gas station. It wasn’t until the mid-1980’s that Certified started developing traditional convenience stores. Upon his death in 1998, Baker’s son-in-law Peter Lacaillade took the reigns as president and CEO. Under his command, Certified began evaluating the company’s entire portfolio in order to move forward with a plan that would provide long-term sustainability.
“We are very pleased with the path that Greg has put us on and are appreciative of his efforts,” Lacaillade said. “We look forward to continuing to work with Greg as a consultant to help us with key strategic initiatives like our Certified Savings loyalty program.”
Certified currently operates more than 140 convenience stores and gas stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. It maintains the proprietary “Certified” fuel brand and distributes fuels for Sunoco, Marathon, Valero and Clark.
Dave Hogan, the current chief financial officer, will assume the chief operating officer position. Among the longest tenured company employees, Hogan has been with Certified for the past 35 years.
Ehrlich entered the industry in 1987 and worked for 12 years, ultimately as the vice president of operations for Lynn, Mass.-based Best Petroleum. He assisted in the transfer of Best’s retail operations to Sunoco in 1999 before completing his MBA at Babson College’s F.W. Olin School of Management. He then began a career in management consulting with A.T. Kearney, a global strategy and operations consulting firm serving Fortune 2500 companies.
“There are times when an organization needs the outside perspectives and abilities of a consultant, and times when it needs more full time involvement of an executive,” said Ehrlich. “Over the past 4 years we reached these inflection points several times, and it was clear to me that the time was right to transition back into a consulting role.”
Ehrlich noted he is most proud of the success the team achieved in refreshing and repositioning the 70 year old Certified brand. “This was a challenge due to the multiple fuel brands that Certified represents, as well as the geographic spread and multiple store types,” he said. “The three new stores we developed over the past couple of years are complete departures from anything that had been built in the past and established a more sophisticated go-to-market strategy.”
In addition to retail upgrades, the company launched a detailed radio advertising campaign and partnered with the Columbus Blue Jackets NHL franchise to promote the brand. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished by Certified over the past 4 years,” Ehrlich said. “We achieved our goals faster than originally expected and in certain respects we far exceeded my initial projections.”
New Business Focus
The transition to a consulting role will allow Ehrlich the opportunity to work with other forward thinking c-store and petroleum retailers. He is launching Convenience Evolution Partners, a consultancy focused on the convenience store and petroleum industry. “The firm will help convenience store marketers and petroleum retailers strengthen current operations, grow profits and develop and implement relevant strategies to drive long term success,” Ehrlich said.