A former Nice N Easy franchisee rebrands as Blueox Neighborhood Market, with plans for ongoing remodels, new food and technological platforms.
By Erin Del Conte, Senior Editor
After 35 years as a Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes franchisee, Blueox Corp. is creating its own c-store brand under the Blueox Neighborhood Market banner and embarking on an aggressive remodel to rebrand and refurbish all 11 company-owned c-stores over the next two years.
The retailer is also rolling out a new loyalty program within its new Blueox mobile app, and improving foodservice elements from new bread ovens to updated in-store seating areas.
For its new brand creation, dynamic rebranding initiative, and commitments to community stewardship, customer connections, foodservice excellence and technology innovation, CSD is recognizing Blueox Neighborhood Market as a 2018 Chain to Watch.
Blueox can trace its roots to the 1940s, when a man by the name of George Paye, from Oxford N.Y., began a coal business. As the business transitioned from coal to fuel in the 1950s, Ken Thompson bought the business and renamed it Thompson Fuel Service, which was purchased by David L. Emerson in 1965. Emerson’s son David B. Emerson and Neil Bartle also purchased ownership in the company in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, Thompson Fuel entered the c-store industry with the acquisition of Lounsberry Truck Stop in Nichols, N.Y.
In 1982 the younger Emerson and Bartle signed on as a Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes c-store franchisee, opening their first Nice N Easy franchise convenience store in Morrisville, N.Y.
Founded by John MacDougall, Syracuse, N.Y.-based Nice N Easy became renowned in the industry for its connection with customers as well as an industry leader in upscale foodservice.
“Some of our (acquired) locations were smaller and couldn’t support Nice N Easy’s qualifications, so we branded those Big Blue Convenience Stores,” explained Julia Miller, director of business growth and development for Blueox Corp.
From there the c-store arm grew to 11 stores made up of both Nice N Easy franchise sites and Big Blue Convenience Stores, serving rural markets in the heart of upstate New York.
In 1984, Thompson Fuel rebranded as Blueox Corp. A decade later, David B. Emerson retired as president of Blueox Corp. With Bartle now at the wheel, Blueox expanded into a propane gas supplier with the purchase of H & H Fuels in 1997. The fuel arm became known as Blueox Energy Products & Services. Today, David Martin, chief operating officer and vice president of Blueox Corp., helms the company.
When Nice and Easy, in 2014, sold its assets to San Antonio-based CST Brands, which subsequently sold to Canada-based Alimentation Couche-Tard’s Circle K division in 2017, Blueox saw an opportunity to launch its own c-store brand. The move would allow Blueox to combine the former Nice N Easy franchise stores and the Big Blue Conveniences Stores under a single brand umbrella. It decided to use the banner Blueox Neighborhood Market, leveraging the brand recognition of Blueox Corp. and Blueox Energy Products & Services.
“In Spring 2017 we informed Circle K that we were not going to move forward with their franchisee program and that we were going our own route,” Miller said.
During summer 2017, Blueox developed the aesthetics and vision for the new brand.
“A lot of the value we were hoping to deliver to our customers very closely aligned with what Nice and Easy had always tried to do,” Miller said. Those values include a being a committed community member, providing a superior food program, and offering clean, attractive stores.
NEW FACE, FOCUS
Blueox rolled out the new banner to all stores earlier this year, but the store renovations will continue through 2019. All locations continue to offer Valero-branded gas.
“There used to be regulations from Valero as to what colors your building had to be and that’s gone away, so now we’re changing the color-scheme of all of our buildings,” Miller said.
Remodeled buildings feature a gray exterior with black trim, black roof and bright blue signage with a ‘swishy’ design that matches the design used on Blueox energy vehicles. The chain is also unifying the look of its sign packages. Outside signage features a red, orange and gold background.
Store sizes vary, with the largest footprint measuring around 3,200 square feet. Inside the stores, the design mimics that of the exterior, with gray walls, black trim and a blue swishy-design banding along the top of the walls. Category identifiers are called out in the red, orange and gold color scheme.
Drawing from its Nice N Easy roots, a commitment to a superior customer experience is top of mind for the Blueox brand, and store associates are being trained on upgraded customer service expectations.
“We’ve developed six steps of customer service, which are posted by the register. If a customer doesn’t experience that they have a way to contact the district manager. Or if they do experience that and it blows their mind, they have a way to let us know that we’re doing things well,” Miller said.
As a former Nice N Easy franchisee, Blueox is also no stranger to quality foodservice execution and it has plans to continue tweaking and fine-tuning its foodservice offering to compete in today’s market.
Blueox currently features a foodservice program called Blueox Market Made that features grab-and-go sandwiches, subs and burgers; dinner bowls, mac and cheese, and steak and potatoes. Other popular meal items include pizzas, Stromboli, parfaits and fruit cups. The meals are made fresh daily in the stores and then placed in the warmer or cold case.
Currently, the chain is developing a kid’s meal concept to offer meal options parents can feel good about feeding their kids on the go. “We envision some variation of macaroni & cheese, fruit cups, cheese sticks, milks/juice etc.,” Miller said.
Blueox is also installing bread ovens in stores in order to bake fresh bread for the subs, as well as cookies, muffins and donuts. The stores offer three types of bread—white, honey wheat and Italian herb & cheese. The dough arrives frozen, and must be thawed and proofed before it is placed in the bread oven each morning.
As part of the remodel plan, stores are updating seating areas, switching out retro-looking booths for new tables and chairs that allow for bigger groups.
“We are trying to create an atmosphere where people want to come in and stay, not just get in, get out, get on with their day. And they can do that too, but we want to also offer the other experience,” Miller said. “We hope customers will bring their family, sit down and grab a dinner meal. We really want to be that community destination.”
The c-store chain also wants to attract customers shopping for basic grocery needs, and provides a selection of locally-grown produce and meats in addition to traditional c-store items.
Blueox partnered with loyalty provider Outsite Networks, debuting a new and improved loyalty program this past spring to tie into its new brand. The loyalty program works within the Blueox Neighborhood Market app or via the Blueox Neighborhood Market card. Technology will continue to be a key focus for the chain as it grows into the future.
“We’re trying to position ourselves as a technology company as a whole, even on the energy side,” Miller said. “In the rural areas where we operate, nobody has an app, so we’re on the forefront of that in our area,” Miller said.
Inside the app, customers can gain rewards—such as an 89-cent deal on any size fountain drink, as well as random rewards and free items through 50 different club programs. Starting this summer customers can also cash in points for gas discounts.
The stores are also installing a new software system, moving from a legacy PDI system to the PDI Enterprise program, with expected launch this July.
Between the location remodels and its new loyalty initiative, Blueox is looking to boost foot traffic and turn visitors into loyal customers.
With its values targeting fresh and community connections, Blueox is committed to finding opportunities to provide added value to the neighborhoods it serves. This summer it’s testing a weekend farmer’s market concept inviting local community businesses to showcase food, produce, services and other local products, to help bring awareness to neighborhood businesses.
The chain also donates to local causes, with a main focus on kids and schools. It holds fundraisers using bottle drives and sub sales, and also caters school events.
The energy side of the Blueox business already maintains a solid reputation as a community steward, and Blueox plans to build the same type of community relationships with its c-store arm.
“We want to be contributing to and supporting everything we can in the communities we serve,” Miller said, “and we think it resonates with customers that we’re putting our money right back into our community.”