You wouldn’t expect a Fortune 500 company to demonstrate the same desire for building strong retail customer relations as perhaps, a family-owned c-store chain. But with its revamped Alltown Market concept, Global Partners LP is doing just that.
By David Bennett, Senior Editor
When Waltham, Mass.-based Global Partners LP launched its newly redesigned Alltown Market convenience store last December, it was a telling step in the company’s evolution in the region’s retail marketplace. Considering New England’s busy c-store landscape, which includes name chains such as Cumberland Farms, Stuckey’s and Tedeschi Food Shops, Global Partners is looking to carve its own service niche.
The Alltown moniker isn’t new. The Alltown chain boasts 47 legacy locations—part of approximately 1,500 company sites found primarily in the Northeast. A publicly-traded master limited partnership, Global Partners is one of the largest independent owners, suppliers and operators of gasoline stations and convenience stores in the U.S.
The company earlier this year purchased Drake Petroleum, which included 150 Xtra Mart convenience stores. This was on top of 97 Mobil- and Exxon- branded gas stations and dealer supply contracts the company acquired recently from Springfield, Va.-based Capitol Petroleum Group, including 46 retail locations in the Maryland and D.C. markets and 51 more in the New York City market. The cost, including dealer supply contracts, was $156 million.
The company’s retail chains also comprise Fast Freddie’s, Mr. Mike’s and On the Run chains. Many of those continue to be operated by dealers and commission agents.
Andrew Slifka, executive vice president of Global Partners, said the company continually evaluates its pieces and parts, with a focus on generating the most return on all of its capital investments. Still, one location that is generating significant attention sits at the southern entrance to the University of Maine in Orono. Opened in December 2014, the store and gas station offers a mix of traditional merchandise, fresh produce and a Dunkin’ Donuts, not to mention offerings that local residents hadn’t expected.
It’s a given that today’s consumers gravitate toward retailers they trust, the Global Partners’ vice president said. Despite the company’s growing portfolio of locations, it developed a retail strategy built around a concept it felt would resonate with customers.
“The Alltown concept is about creating a broader and stronger relationship with the consumer. It’s not just about gasoline, gum and lottery tickets,” Slifka said. “We want to provide consumers with a great experience, whether that’s freshly-prepared foods through our Centre St. Kitchen, healthier-for-you options or other innovative offerings.”
“The traditional retail lines are blurring, so it’s not unusual to see grab-and-go items at the supermarket or protein bars and containers of pretzels at your local office supply store,” Slifka said. “We are raising the bar with fresh, locally-made food, as well as healthier-for-you meals and snacks, in an atmosphere that embodies neighborhood and community. Rather than competing against anything else, our emphasis is simply on winning the trust and confidence of our customers.”
The ultimate goal of Alltown’s new design is to create a cohesive brand that addresses the evolving needs and tastes of its customers, now and in the future. Healthy living and related choices are items the c-store is paying close attention to.
“In our business, convenience is certainly a huge factor, but we see that as table stakes,” Slifka said. “Increasingly, consumers are looking for healthier, better-for-you food options with a local flair, and that is an important element in our offerings. It’s imperative to ensure quality, consistency and a set of core values that keep Alltown customers coming back and attract new customers to our stores. For us, it’s about representing the brand attributes of local, fresh, premium, healthy and family.”
At Alltown, healthy and variety seem to go hand-in-hand.
“For locations with our proprietary Centre St. Kitchen, the new design has a culinary focal point that creates a restaurant-quality experience for the customer with flatbread pizzas, soups and made-to-order sandwiches, featuring Boar’s Head meats and cheeses,” Slifka said.
REDESIGN AND RENOVATION
The new Alltown store design was the result of an 18-month strategic process that involved company planners adept at marketing, operations management, design, merchandising, technology and research. Now with the new-to-industry location at the University of Maine generating attention and increased sales, Global Partners expects to open about a dozen additional stores featuring the new design in the next 12 months.
Those sites will differ greatly from the company’s 46 legacy sites.
“The redesigned Alltown stores are different from a design and product assortment perspective. Following our philosophy of optimizing locations, some stores will include a Centre St. Kitchen, some will include drive-throughs and some will include beer caves. It really depends on the unique needs and attributes of each store,” Slifka said.
Looking at the company’s extensive holdings and retail sites, Slifka explained that in the next few years, specific locations will be designated raze-and-rebuilds and others will be extensive remodels, including unbranded c-store locations as well as other c-store brands, such as Mr. Mike’s and Fast Freddie’s. Combined with new-to-industry sites, it’s easy to see that Global Partners is looking for store optimization where it can, and doesn’t mind investing the capital to see it through.
The company also looks at the fuel brands at locations as a valued commodity. For example, Drake Petroleum’s wholesale division delivered a variety of branded motor fuels, including CITGO, Exxon, Mobil, Shell and Sunoco. In addition, many Xtra Mart’s stores fly a proprietary Xtra Fuels banner. Going forward, those brands will grace various locations.
“From the standpoint of our gasoline distribution and station operations, it’s important to keep in mind that Global Partners is a corner-by-corner marketer; we choose the fuel brand that best fits each location,” Slifka said.
SPREADING THE WORD
Alltown’s redesign isn’t meant to be everything to everyone. However, it does carry the concept that there’s a new c-store option in town. Healthy, quality offerings are at the core of the Alltown brand, whether it’s better-for-you meals and snacks, premium coffee, locally-sourced condiments or grab-and-go offerings, Slifka said.
So far, customers are getting the message. To get the word out even more, the company is using various means to let the public know that new c-stores are being planned.
“Aside from the traditional forms of onsite marketing and social media channels, we have marketing relationships with NESN (New England Sports Network) and the Boston Red Sox as well as Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution,” Slifka said. “We also partner with Live Nation and use a portable, pop-up store for use at various venues in the region.”
A pop-up store may not sell Boars Head or brand fuel, but area residents can be confident that a real Alltown Market probably isn’t far behind.