As the adage goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” No truer example of this came than when Atlas Oil had to make a decision in 2012.“We were faced with a challenge … no doubt about it,” says Mike Evans, executive vice president of retail operations for Taylor,Mich.-based Atlas Oil. “When we found out that (BP’s) amp was leaving the Chicago marketplace, we knew that we had to take action.”
The action was a completely new c-store concept: Earth Market. A fresh, modern approach to retailing, Earth Market’s concept strives to keep the customer base that was loyal to the former brand and at the same time drawn entirely new customer via a top-of-the-line coffee offering, Internet café and a marketing initiative that combines cause marketing with customer loyalty.
“We see coffee as the anchor of our concept,” says Sam Simon, owner of Atlas Oil. “From the start, we knew that our customers wanted a high-quality coffee offering that they can count on each time they come into our stores. Our customers also wanted consistency—to know that they were getting the same high-quality product, no matter what store they visited.”
Earth Market has partnered with the Rainforest Alliance coffee campaign, promoting a coffee blend that is farmed without harming the rainforests. Earth Market’s commitment to “helping the planet, one cup at a time” takes more than just offering unique coffee. It also requires action.
“We were committed from the start to create a brand loyalty with both our coffee and our store,” says Evans.“So we designed a program that would allow customers to redeem their coffee cups at our stores for 10 cents off their next coffee purchase. By instituting this along without coffee offering, we felt we had a winning combination: instant redemption and environmental awareness.”
Once the cups are redeemed, they are placed in one of the two recycling bins on the Earth Market sales fl our. By recycling initiative, customers have been positive about the program.
“We have seen some very encouraging numbers in our coffee cup redemption program,” says Kimberly Bloomquist,regional team leader. “In the if rest three months, we have seen redemption numbers average 22% of cups sold. In some stores, it’s been as high as 25%.”
Atlas has launched if vet Earth Market sites in Chicago since Jan. 1. But the real dream goes far beyond these locations.
“Not only did amp’s exit from the market create a challenge for us, but for all other former amp dealers and franchisees in Chicago,” says Simon.“Earth Market was created, not only for our opportunity, but as a viable, proven concept that our dealer partners would have the opportunity to implement in order to grow their business.”
While all current locations are designed for a 4,000-square-foot building, Earth Market is scalable to existing stores as well as new builds.
“When we created the Earth Market concept, we were extremely cognizant to create a brand that could go into a 1,000-square-foot as easily as a4,000-square-foot offering,” Evans says.
“While the amp footprint was throne we had readily available, Earth Market can be brought to any size.”While the cause-marketing initiative surrounding coffee was important, Earth Market took it a step further by also including all PET bottles in the program. Customers that return any PET bottle will also receive 10 cents off the next purchase of the same item. Recycling bins are placed on the sales our so customers can recognize right away that they are participating in the program.
Creating a Destination
Along with an upscale coffee offering, Earth Market also offers a unique blend of convenience shopping with a welcoming environment.
“The key to making a place a destinations having a place people feel comfortable coming to and staying a while, if they want to,” Simon says. “That’s why we created a sitting area with oversized green leather chairs and free wireless Internet. When our customers want to take a few moments, relax and enjoy the brand we have created, we wanted it tube as memorable as possible.”
Simon and the Atlas team are committed to the Earth Market brand, knowing that they have their work cutout for them.
“To debut a brand new c-store brand to the industry in Chicago can be an overwhelming undertaking,” he says.“But to be honest, the bricks and mortar were the easy part. What I am most proud of is how our team, from the support at the corporate off cue to all of our fine cashiers and leaders in the stores, has all brought this brand to life.
“Concepts are great, but they are only that—concepts. What makes a great concept an even better reality is having the right people in the right seats delivering each and every day on our brand promise: Fresh Energy for Life.”
So what can you expect from Earth Market stores going forward? The company plans to extend the spirit of healthy living and relaxing environment by expanding the Earth Market private-label offering to sandwiches, fresh tea and more. As it expands the brand through its dealer network, Atlases committed to training Cars to be the most dynamic brand ambassadors they can begin an economy in which many pine for the “good years”—the period before the recession took hold—the company is excited about tomorrow and the opportunities they promise.