With a tagline of “fresh energy for life,” Atlas Oil’s latest convenience store concept features Eco-Earth Coffee, LED lighting and a host of recycling initiatives.
By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor
Atlas Oil launched its new Earth Market c-store concept in February, rebranding its five company-operated stores in the greater Chicago market.
True to its name, Earth Market debuted on Earth Day. The company in June plans to begin aggressively rolling out the concept to its dealer locations, with ambitions of having 15 dealer Earth Market sites up and running by June 30.
Birthing A Brand
“Atlas had a partnership with ampm in the Chicago market, and once ampm decided they were going to exit the market, Atlas was faced with a decision on what we were going to do with these c-stores,” said Jon LeBlanc, director of stores and training for Atlas Oil.
Instead of panicking, LeBlanc and his team used the opportunity to brainstorm and create something new and unique, and the idea of Earth Market was born. The brand is now featured in Frankfort, Mokena, Hickory Hills and Alsip in Illinois.
“Subsequently, we picked up a fifth location in Oswego, Ill., so right in the middle of January we were faced with adding a fifth store to the rebranding schedule,” LeBlanc said. Despite the curveball, all five reimaged sites opened on schedule as new Earth Market locations on Feb. 1 of this year.
Earth Market stores average around 4,000 square feet and feature between 12-24 fuel dispensers. But in order to accommodate dealer sites in an array of sizes, Earth Market will provide a scalable design. “Dealers who run 800-1,000 square-foot stores can use our concept because we can scale it to what they would need to properly brand their stores Earth Market,” LeBlanc said.
Earth Market “isn’t your daddy’s convenience store,” LeBlanc said. The design features a seating area with 10 overstuffed green level chairs sitting by a fireplace in a free WiFi area, where customers can sip coffee and browse the Web.
In its Frankfort and Mokena locations, Atlas added two 21-inch iMac computers where guests can check email. Instead of paper signage, the stores feature about 10 TVs throughout the store—such as above the cooler doors and coffee bar—that broadcast promotions.
While Earth Market is still weighing its proprietary foodservice options, it is currently offering grab-and-go sandwiches, a roller grill offering and an extensive coffee bar that features iced coffee, iced tea and a full line of cappuccinos, in addition to hot coffee.
The chain is especially proud of its proprietary coffee brand, Eco-Earth Coffee, a Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee that has met with rave reviews from customers. “Our coffee sales have gone through the roof,” LeBlanc said. “In January, before the rebranding, we sold approximately 4,000 units of coffee across our company-owned stores. In March, after Earth Market was up and running with our new Eco-Earth Coffee, we saw 8,800 coffee units sold.”
A few of the Chicago area stores offer beer caves, and Earth Market plans to sell beer, wine and liquor, wherever municipalities allow.
With the motto “Fresh energy for life,” Earth Market is focused on offering healthy options, as well environmental consciousness. Customers, for example, can bring in used coffee cups and PET bottles to recycle in order to receive 10 cents off their next beverage purchase per return. The deal is good for up to three returns. “It’s instant redemption and also helps the environment,” LeBlanc said.
The five Chicago sites already had LED lighting in the forecourts prior to the rebranding, and Altas is planning to add LED lighting to all cooler doors as well to maximize energy efficiency.
Because February marks one of the coldest months in Chicago, the stores had to wait until Earth Day on April 22, to celebrate the grand opening. The chain chose Earth Day to correspond with the Earth Market title. “Now that the snow has cleared and people want to be outside, we thought, let’s do a grand opening the right way and invite the community to our prototype store,” LeBlanc said. “We’ve got a really fresh, cool, modern c-store, and we’d like everyone to see it.”
Customers had a chance to get discount gas and cheap eats during the festivities. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Earth Day, the Frankfort store featured gas for 15 cents per gallon cheaper than its lowest competitor. The community also enjoyed 50-cent roller grill and fountain products and $1 sandwiches from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We have listened to customers who have told us that they want clean, well-stocked stores with higher quality merchandise and great coffee,” said Sam Simon, president and CEO of Altas Oil. “When they want fuel, they prefer a ‘destination station’ where they can also pick up their favorite brewed coffee and high quality food products.”
Aggressive Expansion Ahead
The company has aggressive plans to roll out the Earth Market brand, which could include more company-operated stores. “We’ve talked about ground-up initiatives, so that would be really fun to get those sites identified, but right now the focus for this concept is to help our dealer partners,” LeBlanc said.
Atlas serves as a jobber for 400 dealer sites located in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Some 95% of its sites fly the BP, Phillips 66 and Marathon brands. And now dealers have the option of branding their c-stores under the Earth Market banner to drive new in-store business.
“The goal going forward is to help the dealers who are struggling. When you’re a small chain competing against the Speedways and QuikTrips, you need something different that will set you apart,” LeBlanc said.
“We decided to start Earth Market as a prototype with the idea and intention of offering it to our dealer partners, so we can help them, not only by distributing their fuel, but driving traffic into the c-store,” he added.
At presstime nearly two dozen dealers expressed interest in the Earth Market brand, and Atlas aimed to have 15 dealer sites reimaged and open for business by June 30.
“Our business is tied to our dealers, so we want to help them be successful,” LeBlanc said. “If we can help them become better merchandisers, business operators and retailers by helping them grow their inside offering, then we can help them grow their outside offering as well.”
At a Glance: Atlas Oil
Founded: 1985 by Sam Simon
Stores: Five company-operated stores in Illinois and 400 dealer-operated sites in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
• Sam Simon, President and CEO
• Michael Evans, Executive Vice President
• Jim Fiene, Executive Vice President of Retail Operations
• John LeBlanc, Director of Stores and Training
Fuel Brands Distributed: BP, Phillips 66, CITGO, Clark, Valero and Marathon