In the past 10 years, Nouria Energy Corp. has put together a savvy organization, which is taking the necessary steps to grow its retail brand in New England.
By David Bennett, Senior Editor
There comes a point in every successful convenience store company’s existence wherein it’s time to broaden the customer base, introduce new products or take advantage of new resources in order to expand its operation.
To what degree that happens depends on the strategies that company develops and puts into motion.
Nouria Energy Corp., which operates the Lil’ Mart convenience store chain, is employing such strategies as it focuses on expanding its regional footprint in the Northeast.
Worcester, Mass.-based Nouria is a diversified group of companies primarily engaged in the retail operation of more than 140 gas stations and c-stores in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The company is putting the finishing touches on reimaging some of its stores, and eventually rebranding many locations with the Nouria name.
Industry veteran Joe Hamza, Nouria’s chief operating officer of retail and marketing, said the company isn’t just looking at store sites, but business ventures that complement and grow Nouria’s entire operation.
For example, the company, in May 2016, acquired the assets of the Xpress Stop convenience chain in Maine.
The deal includes eight Xpress Stop convenience stores with fuel, two Express Lube auto service stations, three “state-of-the-art” Ultra Clean-brand car wash locations, a wholesale distributorship and a transport logistics business. The acquisition also increases Nouria’s presence in Maine to 31 sites.
Nouria now has a total of 28 car wash locations.
“Nouria Energy has long identified strategic acquisition targets as part of its long-term growth strategy,” Hamza said. “J&S Oil was one of those targets because of a number of factors, namely its strong brand in the marketplace and important geographic footprint, which complements our footprint in the region and fills important geographic gaps.”
Hamza joined Nouria in October 2015 to oversee the company’s developing merchandise and foodservice segments. Prior to joining the company, Hamza served as Tedeschi Food Shops’ vice president of sales and marketing. He is also a board member for the National Advisory Group (NAG).
Implementing J&S Oil, which was established in 1972 by John and Sonja Babb, into Nouria’s toolbox is part of the company’s plan to expand both through bolt-on opportunities and organic growth.
“There’s no doubt that the J&S acquisition has afforded Nouria’s existing operation many tangible benefits including, economies of scale, market penetration, operational synergies, etc., but the biggest and more important acquisition for Nouria was its acquisition of the dedicated and hardworking store associates and managers and the well-honed culture that Babb’s family cultivated over the years,” Hamza said.
Known for blueberries and L.L. Bean, Maine is also representative of the type of geographic area that Nouria finds an opportunity for its retail plans.
“In general, for its diversity of markets, the New England states remain very robust markets for convenience retailing,” Hamza said. “We are eying opportunities in other New England states. Stay tuned.”
Nouria Energy was founded in 1989 when Tony El-Nemr opened for business with his first Shell station in Auburn, Mass. Today, the company’s locations are branded with Shell, Irving and Gulf fuels and the group’s wholesale division sells gasoline and diesel fuels.
A significant step for the growth of Nouria’s retail operation came in 2011 when the company acquired 80 Shell-branded retail gas stations located in Massachusetts and New Hampshire from Motiva Enterprises LLC.
Since then, the company has worked to define its own identity in the crowded New England c-store landscape.
“With the efforts and hard work of every member of our team, we are on track to complete a total revamp of the existing merchandising layout, upgrades to the facilities and facelifts to enhance the interior and exterior appearances of most of our locations by year end,” Hamza said.
As part of the company’s Sebago Café foodservice program, patrons can grab a slice of pizza, a wrap or a made-to-order sandwich. The c-store also boasts an extensive Green Mountain Coffee selection.
This year, the company launched a plan to reimage many of its sites, while rebranding key locations under the Nouria name. The reimaged sites will have foodservice offerings that feature a mix of healthful, proprietary and traditional menu items.
“All stores will receive a new merchandising layout and planograms. Many categories including foodservice fresh and healthy foods will be expanded adding breadth to assortments and offerings,” Hamza said
Nouria is also on track to build two new stores—the first new-to-industry projects this year. One of the locations will be a 4,000-square-foot store in Massachusetts and the other a larger 6,000-square-foot location in Maine. Both stores are expected to be completed later this year.
“The Lil’ Mart brand will gradually retire as we reimage the stores,” Hamza said.
To ensure that his plans for success didn’t suffer any flat notes, El-Nemr, president and CEO, put together an A-Team of retail experts.
Besides Hamza, the company also enlisted Dorothy Fleishman, the real estate and business development manager. Formerly the area real estate manager at McDonald’s USA, Fleishman joined Nouria in July 2015.
Nouria also brought in Tom Healey as director of technical services. Healey had worked as an engineer for Exxon and Shell.
Other Nouria hires include Tedeschi convenience stores veteran Bob Goodwin, director of fresh foods. Fouad El-Nemr is Nouria’s executive vice president. Richard Fusco has been Nouria Energy’s chief financial officer since November 2008. Lastly, Natalya Fater is the director of human resources.
While the reimaged sites might sparkle and shine when the work is done, Nouria acknowledges that it’s the people inside—productive employees and satisfied customers—that drives business from within.
“I have been very fortunate to have joined a company that already had a great team of loyal and hardworking associates,” Hamza said. “My job was to embody the type of culture our founder, Tony El-Nemr, wanted for our company to cultivate. So our first step was to increase focus on our most important capital: our people.”
As part of that focus, the company designed a new career path for store associates—“Path for Success.”
“By providing our employees with the opportunities, education and the necessary training to reach their goals, we hope they build a successful, long-lasting career with us,” Hamza said. “In addition we are adding new dimensions to the retail operation from market positioning and product mix to community involvement and marketing.”
In the New England retail landscape, Nouria clearly sees its potential, based in a simple concept.
“Our brand identity is defined by the people who shop our stores and by our employees who passionately serve them,” Hamza said.