energizing the rockies

Steve Ewing
Suncor Energy USA

Steve ewing has spent a solid 20 years working hisway through the convenience industry. As merchandising manager for Suncor Energy USA, Ewing works tocontrol categories, balance profits and grow the business of 44 Phillips 66-branded c-stores, based largely in theDenver area. Together with contract agreements to supply 150Phillips 66 gas stations in Colorado, the retail arm of Suncor isgrowing rapidly.

Ewing watched his father work in the oil industry while growing up in Oklahoma. After graduating with a degree in marketingand management from Oklahoma State University, he followedin his father's footsteps and entered into the store managertrainee program with a Phillips 66 store in Kansas City, Mo. Hestayed out west in different stores, working his way up throughseveral retail positions until Conoco Inc. and Phillips Petroleummerged in 2001. Ewing now merchandises the retail categoriesin all of Suncor's stores.

"I spent 20 years learning this business from the ground up,"said Ewing. "Now that I manage the merchandising department,I can draw on my industry experience to effectively merchandise all categories and make strategic marketing decisions togrow the business."

Before the Phillips 66 stations were acquired by Suncor,Ewing worked with vendors at the store level, trying out newdisplays and learning how to merchandise categories to attractmore customers. After being acquired by Suncor—which alsooperates a 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) refinery—there was anadjustment period for employees. According to Ewing, movingover to Suncor was a nice change from ConocoPhillips becausethe company empowers its employees and allows them to "runthe business like you own it."

"The nice thing about being part of a big organization is theopportunities available to maximize our capital dollars," saidEwing. "We were already familiar with the existing business, butwe were able to take it to a whole new level."

Ewing helped the chain rebrand its coffee program andestablished important relationships with key vendors and newcontacts that would help him grow the business. He also kepthis contacts with local vendors intact, finding that thoseneighborhood relationships really benefited the business by driving in repeat and loyal customers.

The moves paid off. Inside sales have grown for the chainevery year since its been with Suncor. Ewing says McLane Co.has been integral to the stores' merchandising success. Hefrequently travels down to the wholesaler's headquarters inTemple, Texas to pick out planograms and improve the merchandising layout.

As one of the leading c-store chains in Colorado, Suncorstores have gained a reputation for offering customers a cleanenvironment with everyday good prices. Suncor's future plansare to hold steady at the 44 stores it currently operates andfocus on staying aggressive in an ever-changing channel.

"We are concentrating on staying competitive with the big boxretailers out there," said Ewing. "I try to keep costs down andfind that ever-illusive niche in the market that will distinguish usfrom our competitors."

Under its operator model, Suncor allows independent businesses to run their own stores and make local decisions basedon the marketing area. The oil company still owns the assetsand controls the merchandise and fuel, but the independentoperators aren't micromanaged by a corporate shadow. Themodel is designed to create a substantial profit for both thecompany and the independent operator.

The size of the organization reflects the welcoming feelSuncor's stores offer. Local customers come in daily to shopand chat with their favorite workers. Even suppliers commenton the quality of the company's employees and marketingexecution.

"Everyone has to work together as a retail team," said Ewing."We are out in the field, working closely on a small goal that continues to grow the business positively. I'm very proud tobe a part of a small team that has such a big impact onthe community."


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