Exclusive: CST Execs Discuss ‘Fresh’ Rebranding

Corner Store’s total brand makeover will include made-to-order food, new logo

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

Corner Store CST Brands

SAN ANTONIO -- CST Brands Inc. on Nov. 19 unveiled the first of many rebranded Corner Store convenience-store locations near the company’s San Antonio headquarters. The fresh store format and logo have been in the works since the company first spun off from refiner-marketer Valero Energy Corp. in 2013.

“We knew from the very beginning we needed to have a more consistent way to speak to our customers across all our networks,” CST’s chairman and CEO Kim Lubel said in an exclusive interview with CSP. “We need to be known as Corner Stores versus the fuel that we sell.”

“Under the previous ownership of Valero, our primary objective was to be an outlet for fuel,” added Hal Adams, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of CST Brands. “So what we ended up having was several different ways our (Corner Store) brand was being presented to the public and not in a uniform banner.”

Extensive research showed that most consumers did not recognize the Corner Store brand outside of the fuel that was sold—problematic, given that 5,000 non-Corner Store locations also sell Valero fuel. But the researched all showed that Corner Store locations had a much higher customer retention rate than the company’s competitors.

“Once they’re in, they come back,” said Lubel, saying the findings highlighted the need for a unified brand identity.

The makeover started from the outside, in: specifically a new bright green logo, signage and color palette CST describes as “fresh and relevant.” The store unveiled on Thursday was the first to feature the refreshed logo, but the company plans to debut 21 new and legacy San Antonio stores with the refreshed Corner Store logo with the goal of completing a national network of rebranded stores by 2020.

Additionally, the first rebranded San Antonio location will also be the first official Corner Store Market. The title is reserved for larger-format stores that feature a wider selection of groceries, inside seating and an expanded made-to-order foodservice program. In fact, the new location will be the first Texas store to feature the full menu from Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes after CST acquired the Canastota, N.Y.-based retailer last year.

“We made the commitment to build five stores that have the exact food program of Nice N Easy in the middle of San Antonio to use as a laboratory to see what works and what doesn’t,” Adams said. “We don’t really need to change anything because it’s already very good. We’ll just make tweaks along the way as we get these stores open.”

Joining the initiative is Jack Cushman--who was Nice N Easy’s executive vice president of food services and is now leading foodservice at CST--whom Adams described as “really pivotal in showing us the techniques and ideas that they use in their stores.”

It’s a part of CST’s broader acquisitions strategy, which seeks not to acquire brands and companies simply for their real estate, but looks for true partners to “bring into the family.”

“We learn an awful lot from these great family-owned businesses who have perfected the convenience-store operations in the smaller networks,” said Lubel. “We can use those practices to leverage up our current network.”

What’s not changing as part of the rebranding is the great service that has made Corner Stores successful.

“One of the things that we’ve had as one of our assets from the very beginning is a lot of great stores, a lot of great corners across our footprint,” Lubel said. “We also have amazing employees with long-term connections to their customers. Our new image and our new strategy celebrate that.”

Part of CSP's 2015 Convenience Top 101 retailers