NATIONAL REPORT — Just as there are familiar convenience store banners, there are well-known names associated with the forecourt. Whether customers recognize it by the company's initials or its telltale green, yellow and white logo, bp stands out as a leader on the forecourt.
However, the company is making great strides to move past being just an energy company and really leaning into convenience. In 2019, bp and its joint venture partner ArcLight Capital acquired Thorntons, the more than 200-store chain based in Louisville, Ky. In late summer 2021, bp ramped up its presence when it bought out ArcLight Capital to become the sole owner of Thorntons — giving it a solid foothold outside of its existing five-state footprint on the West Coast.
Moving into this year, the company took another leap into the brick-and-mortar space with its $1.3 billion acquisition of Westlake, Ohio-based TravelCenters of America Inc. (TA). The deal, which closed on May 15, 2023, added 280-plus locations to bp's network that complement its existing off-highway convenience and mobility business.
Coupled with the opening of its first ampm stores in New York, bp is now firmly planted in the convenience channel. In fact, convenience is one of bp's five "strategic transition growth engines" in which it aims to significantly grow investment through this decade. According to the company, from 2023 to 2030, roughly half of its cumulative $55 billion to $65 billion transition growth engine investment will go into convenience, bioenergy and electric vehicle (EV) charging.
It is for bp's moves around convenience and future mobility needs that Convenience Store News selected the company as its 2023 Technology Leader of the Year. This annual award goes to a technology leader (individual or company) who not only contributes to the success of their organization, but also to the advancement and growth of the convenience store industry as a whole.
Setting the Stage for Growth
Meeting the changing needs of the motoring public — and embracing them — has been a theme for bp and its marketers for several years.
With the growing interest in electric vehicles and the need for charging stations coast to coast, the company's recent deal for TA puts it in an ideal position to reduce what is known as range anxiety.
"EV charging is a huge opportunity. The reason that we're putting some emphasis on it, I think, is that the future success of retail sites is really going to depend on your ability to be customer obsessed and meet the needs of guests," said Greg Franks, senior vice president, mobility & convenience, Americas for bp. "As the world goes through a transition, we want to be able to help them with whatever their needs are."
Its tie-up with TA does more than give bp a commanding presence on U.S. highways; it pushes the company further along in its goals to expand in the convenience space.
"We've tried to be very clear with everyone that our ambition is to grow. We want to grow in the U.S. We want to grow our convenience. We have our five transition growth engines, and TA cuts across four of those," Franks said.
"We intend to invest in EV charging; in convenience; in biofuels; renewables and natural gas; and down the road, hydrogen. With those transition growth engines and TA cutting across each one of those strategically, it makes all the sense in the world," he added.
In a channel that has traditionally taken a wait-and-see approach to trying new things, bp stands among the few that are not afraid to test the waters. This is highlighted by the company's passion for digital solutions.
Pointing to bp's intention to be customer obsessed, Franks said giving its guests the avenue to transact with its stores digitally drives bp's digital ambition to be best in class. To bring this ambition to life, the company is investing in talent and capabilities to deliver a best-in-class digital experience.
As an example, bp is re-platforming for growth with modern point-of-sale (POS) architecture, and it is exploring opportunities for loyalty and e-commerce platforms.
"We're piloting, we're testing, we're growing, but our commitment is strong. By bringing in the talent, making the investments and then also listening to customers and seeing what others are doing in the market, we believe that as we go on this journey over the next couple of years, we'll absolutely be best in class with our digital offer," Franks explained.
Additionally, bp has been rolling out different frictionless checkout options in its stores, including digital checkout and traditional self-checkout kiosks. According to the executive, there has been "great adoption" of the traditional solution, and he highlighted Thorntons' success.
"As we improve our digital estate and move toward our digital ambition, I think you're going to see us be able to offer even beyond the frictionless. Our ability to offer delivery or order ahead or these other things that consumers are really looking for," Franks said. "They want things the way they want it, when they want it and where they want it, right? So, we've got to be able to meet that need.
"Our ability to pilot, learn, fail fast and pivot, and go on is something that we're really leaning into," he shared.
When it comes to exploring new ideas, the company is in a unique position having the BP Amoco Marketers Association (BPAMA) as well as its ampm franchisees to work with, listen to and learn from. They are comprised of "savvy business leaders" who are close to their customers and have insights to share, according to Franks.
Down the Road
Looking toward the future, Franks cites the upgrading of the company's c-store POS architecture as a foundation on which to build. "We think this is going to underpin everything that we want to do and in a very agile way, we want to begin adding capabilities over the next two years," he said.
The cloud-based POS architecture will provide a platform for loyalty and fuel, as well as delivery and bp's EV network down the road. The company's vision, he explained, is for a commercial driver to interact with bp's brands during the workday and come back with their family in the evening and engage with the brands on the retail side — and one day, return to charge their electric vehicle on the weekend.
"They can do all of this in one consumer experience. That's what we're driving toward and that's what I think you're going to see come to life over the next couple of years," Franks said, adding that bp's interest and ambition to invest and become best in class will be a differentiator.
"And digital is something that is going to be very valued by dealers and our branded marketers within our system because, you know, these things are very expensive to do and it's not easy for small businesses to do this," he pointed out.
"For us to be able to bring resources to bear, being customer obsessed and having them involved in it, and then be able to leverage that across our entire network with dealers, branded marketers and our own company-owned locations, Thorntons and ampm, that is really going to differentiate us and it's something that I think, over time, will make dealers and jobbers want to be a part of the bp brand," Franks predicted.