Birth of a Brand

How EZ Energy gave life to EasyTrip.

Damon Cranford, Vice president of operations and marketing

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Most articles in trade publications over the years have featured refinements to brands or brand image. A quick glance through issues sitting on the bookcase reveals an extraordinary pictorial timeline of the industry. At EZ Energy USA, what we faced was not the evolution of our brand, but its birth.

Our first step was to acquire enough sites to have a critical mass that would allow us to leverage buying power and supply chain. In 2007, EZ Energy USA was incorporated, and by that summer we had entered into our first acquisition. Three more acquisitions ensued over the next two years, raising our store count to 92. Summer of 2009 through summer of 2010 was largely spent improving infrastructure, acquiring talent to lead our teams and developing talent within our teams.

Our second step was fi nding our defi nition. Who are we and what do we want to be? Out of these discussions came our core values, vision, market strategy and slogan.

Our values—excellence, ethics, drive and reciprocity—are centered on teamwork and a partnership that connects our employees, customers, partners and shareholders to achieve a vision that focuses on creating value for the above through the provision of best-in-class products, services and facilities.

Our strategy from 30,000 feet is a mix of dealer and company-operated stores to provide the greatest opportunity to leverage the unique entrepreneurial spirit of individual owners and the consistency of company operations. Financially, a split between company-owned real estate and sale-leasebacks provides the greatest opportunity to leverage our cash for continued expansion.

As a new company, with many employees from outside the industry, we felt the need to forge a slogan that would capture our operating mindset: “If it’s not easy, it’s not convenient.” It is easy to remember and defines our thought process simply. We are in the business of convenience, and if something is difficult to do, it is not convenient. This applies to how a CSR handles a consumer and equally to the decisions that the store support team makes that affect the CSR handling that consumer.

Once we had quantified who we were and what we wanted, we had to portray that image to the consumer. Our third step consisted of two things: implementing the philosophy at field level and in the store support center, and defining our brand image.

In 2010, we aggressively began challenging our teams to deliver on the message through our actions, while simultaneously we began developing the brand image of the stores. The personnel issue remains one we work on every day and believe we will have to continue working on for many years for it to become culture.

Finding Our Look

The image issue was much more defined. In April 2010, we started with a blank slate and considered everything from color combinations, name fonts and styles to interior décor. With the help of an outside group, Visual Graphics Systems (VGS), we turned that blank slate into a full-blown store design in three months, and our concept store was completed by year-end.

The first thing VGS did for us was help us resolve the issue of our stores’ name. Through our first acquisition, we had acquired the name EasyTrip, but it was connected to only a small number of stores. We contemplated about 10 different names. In the end, we simply kept the name and modernized the look and feel of the logo.

In 2011, we worked on taking the concept store and applying the same look and feel to our 25 Pittsburgh locations.

The concept store, which is about 2,700 square feet, came to fruition by asking three simple yet hard questions. Who are we trying to appeal to? Who are we? How will we merge the two to tell the public we are here for them?

We decided we had three target audiences. The industry frequently refers to the high-visit user as “Bubba,” but we took care to recognize that “Bubba” has evolved and is really more of a “Road Warrior.” The road warrior is out and about all day. Also, the term now includes white-collar workers making sales calls and house visits, and attending various functions. The road warrior is predominantly male, ages 25 to 45. “Mom,” or the female head of household, was our second target; and teens and young adults were our last target.

So who are we? We are a very experienced and driven team of professionals who also know the importance of a good laugh. We knew that to be true to our nature we had to have a look that was very well done and as professional as ourselves, but not so serious that our playful side was lost. We merged our targets with ourselves through several adaptations in the store:

The primary use of navy blue and burnt orange in the logo and awnings we found via research was attractive to our female demographic, yet “manly” enough to stay in touch with the road warrior.

Placing the logo inside a “talking bubble” was reminiscent of a cartoon appealing to younger generations and appealing to our playful side.

The use of the awnings softened up the front of the store and presented a little more upscale feel without going over the top in appealing to our female target.

We reduced the height of all gon dolas inside the store to facilitate better sight lines for our smaller consumers, mostly “Mom” and young adults.

We used a border all the way around the store in color schemes that reflect the area of the store: earth tones over coffee, blue over coolers and fountain, yellows over food prep.

We used prominent teardrop bubble callouts to label each area. Throughout the border are subtle shadow words about complementary items or adjectives. The bubbles appeal to the road warrior making his trip through the store as quick as possible, the subtle background catches the attention of the female demographic, and the use of color appeals to younger consumers.

Rounding out the appeal to all three targets are an improved coffee offer; bright, fun cups for the fountain; and a food offer that ranges from inexpensive grab-and-go sandwiches, fresh prepared pizza and fresh pastry to fruits and veggies.

All 25 locations in Pittsburgh have been retrofitted, and we have turned our sights to the Ohio market for 2012.

Our fourth step is to aggressively promote the new brand image in Pittsburgh through radio, print, billboards and community involvement. This step is also an ongoing endeavor as we attempt to make EasyTrip a household name in the market where our stores are known for exceptional cleanliness, outstanding customer service, value proposition, and of course being easy and convenient.

As we look ahead, we are under no illusions—we don’t have 50 years of history to guide us and help us forge our path. Instead, we are the toddler who has pulled himself up onto the coffee table and can now see where he wants to go. But with more than 150 years of industry experience in our senior management team and an industry full of outstanding best-in-class companies to learn from, we are positioned to take off running.

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