ASHEVILLE, N.C. —“Marketing is messy.”
Danielle Mattiussi, vice president of retail adventures for Maverik Inc., Salt Lake City, points to her own chain’s brand evolution as an example of this maxim.
Over the more than nine decades since it was founded, Maverik has changed and tweaked its name, in-store offer and the size and layout of the box itself. And the pace has only ramped up as Maverik quadrupled in store count over 18 years, with 100 sites added just over the past four.
“Forward progress doesn’t stop so you can hit the pause button and implement all of your marketing,” said Mattiussi, a panelist at the “Goodbye Cliches, Hello Real Marketing” panel at Winsight and CSP’s 2019 Outlook Leadership conference in Asheville, N.C.
Today, Maverik has 331 stores in 10 states, and they each represent a different phase of the company. About 50% are its Red Rock Adventure store model, ranging from 10 to 15 years old. Another 16% are the original country stores, averaging more than 30 years old. And the rest are new locations, featuring Maverik’s sophisticated Bonfire Grill made-to-order foodservice program, which has assumed its place in the center of the store.
“Within those stores, we have different sorts of capabilities in terms of foodservice and other programs,” Mattiussi said. One connecting link between them all is technology—in particular, Maverik’s new app, which will be able to communicate what type of offer is available in each store.
Another commonality will be customer service. Since 2012, Maverik’s store count has increased by about 50%, and its employee count has grown by 2,500. At the same time, it continues to deal with the high turnover common to the c-store industry, especially during a period of low unemployment.
“You move from knowing every employee, all of your leaders, and ensuring that everyone's on the same page, to suddenly you're hiring and leading the leaders of the leaders,” Mattiussi said. “And you have to trust that everyone is executing to expectations.” To do that effectively, Maverik has launched its Live Legendary internal communication program, in which it shares with employees how to provide legendary customer service.
“But also, we've built elements around leadership skills and expectations at every level, so everyone's on the same page,” Mattiussi said. “This really helps us connect the dots between the brand promise and operational execution.”
Clearing Up the Confusion
Mattiussi’s co-panelist Mark Samuels, vice president of retail operations for The Wills Group Inc.’s Dash In chain, can relate to the challenge of presenting one brand across different formats. The La Plata, Md.-based chain, founded in 1981, has tried a variety of store formats and let its retail offer take a back seat to the Shell branded forecourt. While the store experience improved—a more modern look here, expanded parking and foodservice options there—the result across the chain was chaotic.
“The unintended consequences of all those designs is that it provides an inconsistent brand experience for our customers,” said Samuels. “It actually creates brand confusion, where customers when they walk into a Dash In store, they really didn't know what to expect. That really needed to change.”
In 2014, Dash In embraced a new approach, one that would result in its present—but future-ready—prototype. It conducted consumer research and focus groups to better understand what customers expected from Dash In and a c-store experience. It used those insights as a platform for crafting a new offer.
Along the way, it followed a test, measure and learn approach. “We would test a new concept and see if it worked,” Samuels said. “If it didn't, we modified it and use that for our next build.” This careful, deliberate process resulted in the new Dash In Neighborhood Store, which has a full kitchen with a made-to-order and grab-and-go menu that Samuels described as “upscale but approachable.” The store’s finishes also aim to deliver a warm, inviting environment, topped off with friendly customer service.
The latest location opened in Clinton, Md., with a 3,400-square-foot store, 16 fueling positions with Dash In branded fuel, and an 85-foot tunnel conveyor car wash, branded Splash In. “These are complementary services and offerings that keep customers coming onto the property and expanding our relationship with those customers,” Samuels said.
These new sites are impressive, but Dash In recognizes they are not representative of the entire chain. Without bringing the other locations in line, the new prototype and all the research behind it would be of limited brand use. So Dash In is working on standardizing its food offer across the chain.
“We don't market our old legacy locations anymore,” Samuels said. “They're pretty much the neighborhood stores for the community, and a lot of people don't even know that they're Dash Ins, which is actually a benefit to us. That's why we're heading toward the food standardization, so then we can market our entire chain to customers. Because if we started marketing our new foodservice program across the board, and you walked into one of our old legacy stores and see any of that food, we could have a problem.”
Pictured: Jackson Lewis (from left), Danielle Mattiussi and Mark Samuels