By Erin Rigik Del Conte, Senior Editor
Parent Petroleum’s The PRIDE Stores lives up to its tagline “not your typical convenience store.” Not only does the c-store chain offer high-end, made-to-order food and an expansive beer, wine and spirits selection, but it is also in-step with industry trends and technology—recently adding Amazon lockers, and currently revamping its loyalty program with future plans for mobile pay.
With 12 c-stores in the Chicagoland area, PRIDE is committed to offering a competitively-priced, friendly experience, while challenging the boundaries of what a c-store can do. With its high-end offering solidified, the Illinois chain is now turning its attention to growing its footprint in 2018 and beyond.
In 2018, The PRIDE Stores expects to build and open three new c-stores in Saint Charles, Palatine and Naperville and expand its car wash operations. Currently, it runs three conveyor car washes and three roll-over car washes on its c-store properties. The company will be constructing a conveyor carwash at its PRIDE of Cicero location in 2018. The upcoming Naperville and Palatine locations are also both expected to feature conveyor car washes.
But that’s not all. “We have a few stores we’re looking to acquire, and we’re looking for a couple of pieces of land to build more stores in 2019,” said Mario Spina, an owner of Parent Petroleum and CEO of The PRIDE Stores.
As it grows, The PRIDE Stores remains committed to providing a friendly, warm experience with fairly-priced, name-brand items.
The PRIDE Stores operates a 13,000-square-foot corporate office in Warrenville, Ill., which also houses PRIDE’s 1,000-square-foot commissary and 7,000-square-foot warehouse. Self-distributing through its commissary and warehouse allows the chain to offer its own PRIDE Fresh Food grab-and-go program, and also its PRIDE Café foodservice program—one of three foodservice programs the chain provides.
“One advantage of our commissary is if we can’t get a product at a price that will allow us to compete with other large grocery stores or convenience stores in the area, we’ll buy it direct,” Spina said.
Parent Petroleum was founded in 1983 by Mario Spina’s father, Peter Spina. After a career as a regional sales manager for Texaco, Peter Spina went into business for himself, operating distribution companies and real estate companies before starting Parent Petroleum.
He purchased his first auto bay and gas station property in Carol Stream, Ill. in the late 1980s. In 1990 Spina gutted the building and introduced his first convenience store with self-serve gas, and named the property ‘The PRIDE of Carol Stream.’ From there he expanded, building The PRIDE of Villa Park, The PRIDE of Geneva and so on.
When the company had five stations, it closed on a large acquisition of 70 sites from BP that included the right to supply 40 dealer-owned sites, and 30 c-store properties. It kept six of the c-stores, and went on to acquire a few more stores, bringing its store count to 12.
After finishing his MBA, Mario Spina joined the company in 2002, managing the real estate end of the business—“we had 50 pieces of commercial real estate”— before he began overseeing the retail operations as well.
In 2007, the company introduced a new logo and banner, branding the chain “The PRIDE Stores.”
When Peter Spina passed away in 2012, Mario became an owner of Parent Petroleum. Today, Parent Petroleum supplies 350 stations in the Chicago market, and in 2016 it distributed over 380 million gallons of fuel. Of the 12 PRIDE Stores 10 are branded BP and two are branded Mobil. The 12 stores combined sell more than 60 million gallons of fuel per year with two sites—one in Kildeer, Ill. and one in Cicero, Ill.—selling more than 1 million gallons of fuel per month.
UPSCALE FOOD OFFER
PRIDE runs three foodservice operations: Urban Counter, Taco Urbano and PRIDE Café. Each c-store features one of the three concepts.
Five locations feature Urban Counters—four inside the stores and one standalone on a c-store property—that offer fresh, made-to-order salads, hand-pressed burgers, fries, breakfast sandwiches and hand-churned milkshakes.
The standalone Urban Counter opened in 2016 in St. Charles, Ill. It has a pouring license and offers four craft beers on draft and two wines that pair with the food. Even as a standalone building on the c-store property, customers continue to view the Urban Counter offer as gas station food, Spina said. The chain is currently doing 10-second promotional videos to capitalize on how the food is so good you can’t believe it’s made in a gas station, plus a 30-second TV commercial aired in local areas with an Urban Counter Restaurant.
The PRIDE of Batavia, and a new Villa Park location that just opened in October both feature a Taco Urbano, which Spina describes as a “modern twist on traditional Mexican food.” The Villa Park Taco Urbano is a standalone building with a drive-through on the c-store property that replaced an old conveyor car wash. All Taco Urbano food is made on site, except for the mild green salsa and hot red salsa, which are made in the commissary. Even the guacamole is made fresh in front of customers.
“As we continue to grow, we’re hoping to add more Taco Urbanos,” Spina said. The new Saint Charles location planned for 2018 is expected to have a Taco Urbano.
The chain’s PRIDE Café concept is available at three stores and is made in the commissary and self distributed. PRIDE Café offers nitro coffee, espresso drinks, crepes, panini, various side salads including an orzo salad, shaker salads and pizza slices, which are made in the commissary and cooked on site. Using the pizza oven on site, the chain is also baking Mrs. Field’s Cookies at the three cafes, and in one of the Urban Counter locations.
All locations offer the PRIDE Fresh Food program, which includes grab-and-go items made at the commissary and self distributed. “Usually at the cafes we have a larger grab-and-go selection where we carry a full variety of offerings and also more inventory,” Spina said.
Last year, the chain switched its Lifeway Frozen Keifer program to a TCBY frozen yogurt offering, to appeal to more of its customer base. The partnership allowed the chain to also offer Mrs. Field’s Cookies, which are also owned by the same company. PRIDE features the TCBY offering at seven locations, two of which offer TCBY vending machines.
Customers can find bottles of wine at The PRIDE Stores in a range of price points from $5-$50. The wines are marked with up to three different wine ratings, including from Wine Spectator, to help customers compare options. A nearby display of Wine Spectator magazine offers more insights. The PRIDE of Wheaton sells about a case and a half of wine per day.
The chain’s Saint Charles, Ill., location measures only 1,500 square feet. When PRIDE was unable to expand the site or gain beer or foodservice approval from the local municipality, it purchased the lot next door and created a 5,000-square-foot standalone building that includes an Urban Counter and a “PRIDE Beer and Wine Plus Spirits” liquor store. The liquor store features a heavy craft offering for both beer and spirits. “In the wine selection we carry over 300 bottles of wine going up all the way to $250 a bottle,” Spina said.
About 1,000 square feet of space remains in the building, and Spina is considering a brewery so PRIDE can create its own beers and distribute them to its stores.
As technology evolves, PRIDE is advancing with the times. It recently installed Amazon lockers at all its locations where customers can pick up or return Amazon products. Amazon provides a coupon from The PRIDE Stores that customers can use when they arrive to access their locker.
It is also in the process of switching its loyalty provider and launching a new loyalty program, which it expects to include within its mobile app. Spina said the chain will turn its attention to providing mobile pay through the app and pre-pay for its restaurants once its new loyalty program is up and running.