Time for Maverik's Closeup

Utah-based chain gets adventurous with reality-TV show/marketing program

NORTH SALT LAKE, Utah -- Here, along West Center Street in North Salt Lake, Utah, stands a 4,800-square-foot monster of a store bearing the Maverik logo. North Salt Lake-based Maverik Inc. considers this its flagship location among its more than 200 stores in seven Western states. Inside the store are expertly merchandised displays, pristine floors and restrooms, overstuffed foodservice merchandisers and 360 degrees of adventure-themed murals that might make one want to bait a hook and go trout fishing, tame whitewater rapids in a kayak or barrel down Moab's famous Slickrock Trail [image-nocss] on a mountain bike.

Behind the store lies Maverik's corporate campus, which includes the marketing team's semisecret hideout in a separate building that conjures thoughts of the Dark Knight's Bat Cave. Inside is a designated "war room," where Maverik's latest marketing creations are being brought to life, including episodes of a reality-based adventure-TV show called Kick Start TV.

Kick Start TV was created to be a subtler but hopefully no less-effective way of convincing outdoors-loving customers to spend money on gasoline, food and other merchandise at Maverik locations. Such aspirations are bold and unique in a retail channel not always known for taking risks. And yet for those familiar with Maverik, the strategy is not altogether shocking because it ties brilliantly to the company's in-store adventurist theme.

The show, which has helped foster brand loyalty with vendors and consumers alike, dates back to a 2007 meeting in which company execs debated how to increase the effectiveness of its marketing in an age of TiVo, where viewers have the ability skip right past the commercials that cost a bundle of time and money to shoot, produce and slot for traditional media.

"Someone brought up the idea that of our core demographic-males 18 to 34-a disproportionate amount of them have DVRs," Brad Call, Maverik's executive vice president of adventure culture, told CSP Daily News. "They're blowing right through the commercials. So we thought, why don't we do our own reality-TV show and put our product promotions right in the show itself?"

The show airs on KSL-TV, an NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City, Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. all year long. It marks the first time Maverik has done any major media outside of the summer selling season. As Call suggested, the show is a marketing campaign cleverly disguised as entertainment; the show offers compelling content interspersed with Maverik mentions, along with ads from show supporters, which include some of the c-store industry's most prominent vendors.

Kick Start TV first aired in May 2008 and is scheduled to run at least through the end of 2009. Each 30-minute episode thrusts participants into controlled situations to help them overcome phobias or simply reinvigorate what one Maverik exec calls "their sorry Monday lives." Past episodes have showcased screaming participants tearing up the desert on all-terrain vehicles, jumping from the bellies of airplanes, rafting down frothing rivers and engaging in other adrenaline-fueled exploits far beyond the bounds of a typical day at the office.

At Maverik HQ, the dimly lit war room has a meeting space with comfortable beige chairs fit for someone's living room, accent lighting and blood-red walls. ("Maroon, actually," said Scott Shakespeare, executive producer of Kick Start and Maverik's director of adventure image.) For a short time the room had a Wii entertainment system, perpetuating the myth that marketing folks get to have all the fun.

Given that this is where the embryos of all Kick Start episodes are nurtured to life, it's fitting that an oversized flatscreen TV is the room's centerpiece, even though it's hovering in the corner above all that nice furniture. The team uses the TV, equipped with videoconferencing software Skype, to communicate with members of 8fish, a Sandy, Utah-based graphic-design agency-on Monday mornings, usually-and rough out upcoming episodes.

An adjacent garage houses a racing boat and two motorcycles, all painted Maverik red and screaming Kick Start TV. Sitting out front is what the marketing team lovingly calls "the CXT," short for Commercial Extreme Truck. This diesel-gobbling beast, which was manufactured by International Truck & Engine Corp., a line that company has since discontinued, weighs 14,500 pounds-twice that of a Hummer H1.

"It makes an impression," said Shakespeare from behind the CXT's steering wheel, the engine growling beneath a shield of red paint and chrome accents. "When people drive down the road and they see it, they stop and take pictures with their cell phones."

In everything Maverik does, from its use of promotional vehicles (both literal and figurative) to every episode of Kick Start TV, the company tries its best-and usually succeeds-in getting people to turn their heads and take notice.

Look for more on Maverik and Kick Start TV in the January 2009 issue of CSP magazine.