Setting the Pace

ExxonMobil links On the Run standards to industry's finest with Pacesetter program

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

Editor's Note: As part of the 10th anniversary of ExxonMobil's On the Run retail concept, CSP took a look at how and why the model has succeeded. Today, we look at how the Big Oil company is attracting distributors and franchisees to the model. For an in-depth look at the retail concept, watch for the October issue of CSP magazine.

FAIRFAX, Va. -- With slightly less than 400 franchised locations, ExxonMobil's On the Run retail concept has room to grow. But attracting distributors to the model is a challenge when fuel volatility keeps available capital [image-nocss] tight and the On the Run (OTR) brand remains an unknown in much of the United States.

The Major Oil company, however, has several aces up its sleeve to tempt new recruits. In addition to category-management expertise, the Bengal Traders coffee program and an attractive store design, ExxonMobil is giving its franchisees access to the Pacesetter Project, a linked retail system that takes best practices to a whole new level.

The Pacesetter Project provides an integrated system that encompasses a wide range of activities from hiring, retaining, training and rewarding front-line employees to enhanced standards for site presentation, cleaning and customer service, Anne Fetsch, U.S. Pacesetter project manager, told CSP Daily News by email. The system also provides retailers with measurement tools that provide feedback from the customer's perspective on the site's overall execution and service levels.

It is just one tool in ExxonMobil's arsenal to enhance the OTR proposition for its retailers, said Fetsch, who notes that the specific elements of the project will be unveiled at the On the Run 10th Anniversary Conference to be held this month in Reston, Va. Previously, Pacesetter was being honed over the past few years on a test-market basis and was not available to all franchisees. Effective in 2008, the On the Run training will be updated to include the Pacesetter tools and processes, she said.

Roy Boothby, c-store business manager with R.H. Foster Energy LLC, Hampden, Maine, and an OTR operator since the early 1990sbefore the franchise officially launched in 1997now has his 13th and 14th locations under construction. For his company, Pacesetter has helped turn R.H. Foster's OTR locations into lean, smart operations.

For the last three years, ExxonMobil recognized that how you go to work each day has to change, Boothby told CSP Daily News. They've gone out and done a lot of benchmarking against other companies in the industry, and they've determined through their own internal measurements who are the best-in-class operators with respect to customer service, hiring practices, retention, cleaning practices and processes within the store.

They've done a tremendous amount of work and they've recognized that we've got to get there, continued Boothby. You can't sit back and watch it; you've got to find a way to chase them to be as good as them or to surpass them. It's about people management; it's about efficiency. It's all-encompassing.

The linked retail system sets national standards, processes and measurement for every component of the OTR offer. Elements include:

Brand standards that define store cleanliness and remove any room for misinterpretation, specifying what qualifies a clean bathroom, and what processes and materials are required to get there. Activity loops whereby employees engage in scheduled, structured trips around the store to address the cleaning and maintaining of elements inside and on the forecourt. Frequent mystery shops and coaching employees on improving the results.

As part of the Pacesetter program, each franchisee's results are tabulated on a scorecard, which tracks all of the variables that impact the final customer shopping experience, from mystery-shop scores to adherence to OTR standards, as well as the impact on inside sales, fuel volume and turnover rates.

Do you actually grow and develop people through your company, or do you turn and burn em? said Boothby. Those are all the indicators of greatness, and they all equate to the customer responding to you in a purchase.

For franchisees, the result of all of these standards, processes and measurement is not necessarily meant to grow greater sales, although that is absolutely an intended effect. It directly supports your performance each and every day, said Boothby. There are so many factors that influence that. You can't say that Pacesetter represents 5% lift in inside sales, but you can say it's the right thing to do.

It's about setting very high standards that would be equal to those who are best in class in the industry in those specific areas, and working toward that each day, continued Boothby. I've been in it two years nowand while it has fundamentally changed who we are, we're still not there yet. It's a journey.