Parkland Corp. has acquired the license for the exclusive use of the On the Run trademark in the majority of U.S. states from Alimentation Couche-Tard, allowing it to create a unified North American convenience store brand, Parkland USA executives announced today in an exclusive meeting with CStore Decisions.
The deal also provides what the company called a clear path to purchase the brand down the road.
Parkland USA currently owns around 60 stores with another 300 dealer locations, said Parkland USA President Doug Haugh. Parkland already operates under the On the Run flag across Canada, having purchased its exclusive rights there around four years ago. Parkland has since invested in developing the brand and is in the process of refreshing its locations in Canada. Extending the power of that name made the most sense for its U.S. operation.
“A lot of our marketing programs, loyalty programs, just imaging, branding, merchandising have really been centered around rolling out new On the Run sites, building new On the Run stores, and retrofitting and rebranding stores, really coast to coast across Canada,” said Haugh.
That effort gives Parkland a head start in expanding On the Run to its U.S. locations, allowing the company to leverage the scale of its entire North American operation. Parkland believes that extending the On the Run flag into the U.S. will be good for its customers, too.
Courting Customer Confidence
“We’ve got company operated facilities, we’ve got dealer facilities, and this brand allows us to link those in terms of capability,” said Ian White, senior vice president of strategic marketing for Parkland. “So that to the consumer, it’s one brand. It’s one powerful brand. It’s a brand where they know that they can get a consistent customer experience when they walk in and out of our facilities.”
The agreement allows Parkland to present a more consistent offer throughout North America, according to Parkland USA Vice President of Retail Dan Dunstan. The next step will be fresh store designs – which have already begun in Canadian locations – that will include drive-through capabilities and expanded food offers, he added. Parkland will also consolidate its loyalty programs with customer payment options as a key component.
Dunstan said that Parkland will initially introduce a half-dozen pilot locations in the U.S., starting with a redesigned store in Bismarck, N.D., planned for completion the first quarter of 2021. The other locations have not been finalized, but potential sites include St. George, Utah, as well as some other sites in the Salt Lake City area.
Dunstan pointed out that now, Parkland’s typical Canadian store design and size is drastically different from those in the U.S., which generally have a larger footprint. That won’t change. Dunstan said that the company will enhance the larger store offering in the U.S.
Parkland USA is assessing features like frictionless checkout and the use of mobile technology that help create a quick in-and-out customer experience, according to White. Pickup and delivery options were already in the redesign mix even before the onset of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Simmering Expanded Foodservice
Much of the current foodservice offering will stay at many of the newly branded locations, but Parkland expects to upgrade its offering chainwide.
“Obviously we have some Subways and pizza programs and chicken programs,” said Dunstan. “And those will continue to work in a number of our locations. But as part of On the Run, certainly we want to launch a food offer that can be consistently rolled out across our sites.”
That’ll include increasing the fresh food offering, which Dunstan called “a critical piece for us.” Parkland USA will continue to partner with franchise food operators in providing additional dining options.
Dunstan also said that Parkland feels that a strong loyalty program will be a key component of the On the Run launch. While consolidating the current handful of separate loyalty programs under one umbrella with the On the Run label is a daunting task, Parkland has successfully navigated those waters before when it decommissioned a pair of loyalty programs in the Canadian market.
He said that the On the Run program will bring “all customers into a single platform while offering a seamless interface for customers to find our sites, reward them within store promotions, allow for pickup and delivery options, and obviously easy ACH-payment options, while rewarding them with points and discounts for their next purchase.”
The U.S. acquisition involves four chains that currently have rewards programs in place, Dunstan said. All four, though, share the same reward provider, making the consolidation easier. The new, as yet unnamed, program will be backcourt driven, Dunstan added. As it is now, Parkland USA has 12 fuel brands with loyalty programs of their own.
White said that a solid brand wasn’t the only important element of the deal. Parkland made sure to keep its franchisees top of mind. “One is we do know the power of the On the Run brand, and it’s not just the brand and the experience,” he said. “It’s also the operational elements that come with a strong dealer business.”
White stressed that Parkland wanted to have a strong business model, operating model and support structure in place to give franchisees confidence in the rebranding effort.