Slowing Things Down

Certified Oil Co. launches redesign in effort to expand chain's demographic appeal

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A desire for consistency, to standout more and to appeal to a wider demographicthese are the issues that are leading Certified Oil Co. to re-image about half of its stores. It's geared to slow things down a little bit and make it more comfortable for the shopper to find what they're looking for and reduce the clutter, chief operating officer Greg Ehrlich told CSP Daily News.

Columbus, Ohio-based Certified Oil, an operator of gas stations and convenience stores in Ohio, will re-image 10 of its company-operated stores by the end of 2008. The effort is [image-nocss] part of a larger plan to re-image approximately 40 Certified units over the next two years. Also currently in development is a prototype design for brand-new Certified c-stores.

The re-imaging campaign is designed to present a more cohesive image to consumers, creating a consistent look that will be immediately recognizable from one location to the next. In addition, the new design will create a more inviting, upscale image that will make the stores more appealing to female shoppers, a consumer group that has historically been a challenge for convenience stores to attract.

We're trying to capture a broader demographic and the exterior certainly creates the interest for somebody to come into the store and then the interior is a much warmer and softer environment with lifestyle photography and rich tones that attract the female customer, Ehrlich said. Our industry is typically male 18 to 35, and we want the customer to feel as comfortable in this store as when they go shopping in a mall.

Exterior upgrades will include a redesigned company logo that will appear on the fuel brand identification sign, canopy, building and fuel dispensers. The new design elements will also be incorporated into the company's letterhead, uniforms, website and marketing material creating a holistic and unified presence for Certified.

In an effort to leverage Certifier's long history (its 70th year of operation will begin in 2009), wall coverings illustrating scenes from the company's early days of operation will be incorporated into the interior image package. From a merchandise perspective, the company will introduce its own private-label coffee brand dubbed Carlyle's Cup, named after the company founder, Mr. Carlyle Baker, who died in 1998.

He's a larger-than-life figure, and there's so much respect in the company that it was clear we had to pay tribute to him and how he got this company to where it is today, Ehrlich said

The design prototype for new stores will incorporate a larger footprint, expanded fast-food areas, and better-defined coffee and soda fountain areas.

Ehrlich, who joined Certified 13 months ago, said the company re-image did not come a moment too soon.

Without question, it was time to refresh our brand and, in the process, make a stronger connection with our customers, he said. We believe we've come up with a look that takes advantage of our heritage and combines it with an attractive modern accent. This will ultimately make our stores more welcoming and reposition Certified as a more upscale regional brand.

Certified, which operates 85 stores in total, enlisted the services of Integrate Inc. as a partner in this project. Based in Columbus, Integrate develops differentiating brands, marketing communications and customer experiences in all mediums.

Steve Quinn, principal and co-founder of Integrate, said that his client was very clear about the image it wanted to convey.

Certified insisted that its new image stand for three primary attributes: consistency, honesty and professionalism, he said. From a physical standpoint, the company also needed to re-emphasize its convenience-store business without detracting from its fuel business. By re-designing the logo and the supporting signage package, we were able to create a more sophisticated color scheme for the stores that embraced the heritage of Certified and announced to existing and potential customers 'we're new.' We're excited for the results and are confident that we have achieved all of Certifier's branding and operational objectives.

But with the economy struggling, why launch a reimage now?

We started this project a year ago, and when we were putting this into the budget, the economy looked a lot different than it does now, Ehrlich explained. There's no real opportune time to do it, but certainly there's not a lot of change like going on right now, so in some respects it's probably good that we're changing now because we'll stand out a little more than maybe we would in a better economic environment.

Founded by Carlyle Baker in Piqua, Ohio, in 1939, Certified Oil Co. is one of Ohio's leading independent operators of convenience stores and retail fueling facilities. Today, Certified operates or supplies more than 140 locations in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. Certified maintains its own proprietary Certified fuel brand and distributes fuels for Sunoco, Marathon, Valero and Clark.