High’s Debuts Proprietary Fuel Brand

Maryland chain also unveils a prototype convenience store brand as it prepares for the future with a focus on energy efficiency, foodservice and market expansion.

By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor

High’s of Baltimore is taking its convenience store and gas station business to the next level rolling out a new proprietary fuel brand—called High’s BTG—along with a fresh brand image.

The chain’s prototype store in Chester, Md., features the new propriety gas brand, an updated High’s logo and colorful brand imaging at the fuel island. The store, which opened three months ago, measures 3,500 square feet and includes green features, such as LED lights on the canopy and in the coolers, additional insulation to reduce energy loss, double-pane window glass to further insulate the building, and the ability to use exterior air for cooling and heating to reduce demand for HVAC in the spring and fall. The facility also uses a monitoring system, which can reduce energy usage by 20-30%.

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A Rich History
The name BTG, which stands for By the Gallon, preserves the chain’s legacy by calling to mind its long history as a dairy while representing its foray into fuel in the modern world, as both milk and fuel are purchased by the gallon.

The Hanover, Md.-based chain is now strategizing about how to best integrate its propriety brand into its existing stores. The chain currently operates 48 High’s Dairy Store locations, 45 with fuel—31 branded Shell and 13 branded CITGO to go along with the new High’s BTG—and three without gas, throughout Maryland.

“We do have existing stores where we have our eyes on a potential rebrand, but so far we have no set timeline or goal of having a specific number of stores converted to the brand,” said Ben Jatlow, director of business development for High’s of Baltimore Inc. “We have several sites on our radar that could be candidates for this brand, if we decide it’s a good fit.”

Going forward, when High’s builds stores it will evaluate whether it’s best suited to be a High’s BTG store or to fly a major oil banner. “We have a good relationship with Shell, so you will certainly see us continue to develop Shell-branded locations,” Jatlow said. “But there are also plenty of areas where we would build a store from the ground up and the best application would be this proprietary brand.”

In an area where Sheetz and Wawa already dominate the proprietary branded market, High’s would most likely opt to brand its station Shell to separate itself from the competition and cater to customers who prefer a national gas brand.

Fueling for the Future
The decision to roll out a proprietary gas brand came down to a desire for more control and the objective to more prominently display the High’s brand. Despite its strong relationship with Shell, Jatow noted that whenever a gas station pairs with a major oil company it gives up a certain amount of control, not just at the pump, but also inside the store.

“You run their software on your POS, you process credit cards on their network, you are subject to their fees and limits and they can influence pumptoppers and other point-of-purchase signage that is used outside at the pumps,” Jatlow said. “And inside the store you’re going to give up some counter-space to display their marketing materials.”

Developing its own brand gives High’s complete freedom over such decisions. High’s also felt it was time to represent itself in a more prominent manner both in the store and at the forecourt.

“When we fly the flag of a major oil company, in certain respects we’re undermining our own brand,” Jatlow said. “High’s carries some weight in our marketing areas and we shouldn’t discount that. The High’s brand has been around since the 1920s. We’re in a pretty tight radius of Baltimore where people know and value the High’s brand and, with our stores today, we’re building the fuel component to drive customers into the store, so the gas brand is very visible.”

As a Shell wholesaler, High’s already had the transportation infrastructure in place to transport fuel to its stores. But the move to a proprietary fuel brand at its latest store was not without challenges. High’s is accustomed to relying on Shell fleet cards, for example, and offering area car dealerships loyalty incentives when they use that card at its Shell-branded stores.

“At High’s BTG we can’t offer the Shell card, so we are in the process of identifying and selecting a proprietary High’s fleet card program,” Jatlow said.

While development is still in the early stages, the chain aims to have a High’s fleet card rolled out in the next several months.

Crafting the Brand
Once its decision to roll out the BTG brand was solidified, High’s partnered with ToolBox 9, an Atlanta-based interactive design agency to help develop the complete brand image and strategy. The companies already had a long working relationship. Five years ago, Toolbox 9 was first recruited by Radiant Systems to help High’s design its foodservice ordering kiosks, and a few years later High’s asked Toolbox 9 to redesign its Website.

In 2009, when High’s decided to develop its “On the Mooove” proprietary foodservice program, it again reached out to Toolbox 9. At that time, High’s already knew it had a goal of debuting its own fuel brand, and the design firm began developing the two brands simultaneously to ensure the brand images evolved together.

High’s talked with the company about the image it hoped to portray at the new prototype store and the feeling it wanted the gas brand graphics to convey. “We told them we wanted it to represent quality and sophistication. We wanted people to just look at the pumps and have that make them think, ‘Wow, I want to go there.’ We wanted the graphics to be very bright and extremely clean looking. They created this image that is visually awesome. That image and feel is really what we’re trying to move forward with in the future,” Jatlow said.

For the On the Mooove graphics, Toolbox 9 used a leaping cow to call to mind, not only the High’s Dairy legacy, but also how progressive the chain is becoming, a concept that also worked its way into the brand development for BTG.

In addition to implementing its BTG gas brand at existing stores, High’s continues to seek expansion opportunities in Maryland, and also is working to rebuild older existing stores that could use a facelift.

At present the chain is conducting a razz and rebuild of one of its existing c-stores in Ellicott City, Md., and has two more rebuilds on its radar.
“We’ve found that rebuilds provide an uptick in sales and customer counts are just amazing. There’s a superior return on investment when you rebuild an existing location,” said Briana Darnell, High’s director of real estate.

The chain is also set to break ground soon on a new location in western Maryland.

High’s is definitely not a chain to rest on its laurels. Even the chain’s new prototype design in Chester, Md. could continue to evolve as more stores are developed.

“As of today the Chester, Md., store is our biggest, best, most technologically advanced and green store, but that could change,” Jatlow said. “We have a store on our drawing board that could surpass it, and we’re going to continue pushing the envelope to do great things.”