Coen Oil Rebranding, Expanding C-Stores

Converting c-stores to Ruff Creek Markets brand, touting aggressive acquisition plan

Coen Oil Ruff Creek (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores / Gas Stations)

WASHINGTON, Pa. -- Coen Oil Co. has a new convenience-store brand--Ruff Creek Markets. The company is overhauling its 38 corporate-owned gas stations and convenience stores in Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The stores have been operating under various brand names, including Coen Markets and Kwik King, a chain Coen Oil acquired earlier this year.

Coen Oil's convenience stores are focused on providing fresh, prepared foods, including Kwik King's signature fried chicken and "jojos" (potato wedges fried with chicken), breakfast sandwiches, coffee and other staples, such as cold beverages and snacks, while also offering gasoline and other fuel products.

The company has named marketing communications firm Gatesman+Dave as agency-of-record for the new brand.

"With the acquisition of Kwik King and the investment we are making in renovating those stores and our other locations, we have made a significant commitment to the retail convenience business," said Charles McIlvaine, chairman of Coen Oil.

"This is our first foray in having an organized agency relationship," he told The Pittsburgh Business Times. "Mostly, it's been ad hoc and home-grown, and we've passed that size and scale and needed additional sophistication for what we're trying to accomplish. … We're on our way to 50-plus stores, which we think we'll get to in the next 24 months, and that's a relevant point of critical mass."

He continued, "We'll be deploying our image across our sites and putting them under the same banner, and we need a grand re-opening strategy.

The engagement of Gatesman+Dave encompasses a broad range of agency services, including research, creative, digital, media planning and buying, public relations and social media. John Gatesman, president and CEO, said the agency's first campaign would break mid-summer for the grand re-opening of several stores in the Ohio Valley.

"The c-store industry has evolved tremendously during the past two decades, and it is an ultra-competitive category," he said. "Today, c-stores chains aren't just competing with each other. They are competing with everything from grocery stores to chain drug retailers to quick-serve restaurants. We know the grocery and c-store retail channel, we know the restaurant industry and we have a proven track record of successfully launching and repositioning brands in each. We are up for the challenge, and we are excited about the opportunity as Coen continues to expand the Ruff Creek Markets footprint."

Founded in 1923, Washington, Pa.-based Coen Oil used the Ruff Creek name on a company-owned general store across from its headquarters in the early 1920s.

Because of the number of convenience stores available to consumers, "you've got to tell the customer why they should stop here; you have to create a value proposition," McIlvaine told the newspaper. "We feel a key component of our personality and heritage is our local roots. We've been here since 1923, and we're the third generation doing this. A name like Ruff Creek is something people will recognize as a real place and it's a kind of funky spelling that stands out visually with a cue of local, family wholesomeness. We're called markets because we want to see something other than the combination of hot dogs, cokes and smokes. We have a fresh-food program that is our focus going forward. "

McIlvaine said expects to grow Ruff Creek through new-store launches--the company is planning three for 2015--as well as acquisitions of single stores and small chains.

Consolidation has been intense nationally in the convenience store sector over the past couple years, said the report.

"We're a natural group to talk to in that context," said McIlvaine. "Just because you have a gas pump, that's not enough, People want to have the right offer and they don't want to waste their time. There are several single-site operations that are going to have challenges--there's a need for technology and investing more in the business--unless you have really terrific real estate. Americans go to convenience stores more than any other class of trade, and their needs have become more sophisticated, so the offerings have to become more sophisticated."

Click here to view the full Pittsburgh Business Times report.