Brand Identity Goes Beyond Marketing


LAS VEGAS — Brand identity can take your convenience store operation from a member of the pack to leader of the pack, but it takes more than just marketing.

"Brand defines the value of an organization, product or service," said Jim Woodrum, clinical assistant professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. "It's not marketing. Brand is what's left after marketing. Brand is who you are."

As moderator of "The Power of Your Small Brand" educational session at the 2015 NACS Show, Woodrum explained every retailer has a brand, whether they operate one store or several thousand.

Referencing the Brand Pyramid, he said retailers need to answer the four key questions:

1. Who are you?
2. What are you?
3. What about you?
4. What about you and me?

One convenience store retailer known for its strong brand is Maverik Inc. The chain started 40 years ago with images of the Old West that revolved around the independent spirit, recalled Ernie Harker, executive director of CREATE at Maverik. However, the brand's resonance began to diminish in the 1990s and the company decided to update the brand, but continued to appeal to the consumers' independent spirit. 

"We needed to find our climate," Harker noted. "We operate in 10 western states. It's an outdoor playground. There is a little bit of adventure in everybody, and we wanted to tap into that and marry it with our original independent spirit." The result was Adventure's First Stop.

Maverik continues to explore every step it takes through that adventure lens. According to Harker, when clarifying and bringing ideas into focus, the retailer asks itself several questions:

  • Does it have attitude?
  • Is it adventurous?
  • Is it exciting?
  • Is it outdoorsy?

"The idea is to take every great idea, look at it through the lens and get rid of it," he explained.

Every idea goes through the lens, including advertising, product names, packaging, sponsored athletes, sweepstakes, prices, store design and charities.

Single-Store Perspective

Brand identity is not limited to convenience store chains. Kent Couch, owner of Stop and Go Mini Mart in Bend, Ore., harnessed a strong brand identity to boost its growler business, Growler Guys.

"In the Pacific Northwest, craft beer is huge. We have 12 craft breweries in our hometown and we sell more beer than any other retail outlet," Couch said.

He was worried the craft breweries would take Stop and Go's beer business. So to compete, he added a growler section and established Growler Guys. Originally, Couch ran tap lines out of the store's beer cave and set up a bar, but "it became a cult. It got so crowded we couldn't do business," he said. 

To accommodate the popularity, Couch "kicked out" a quick-service restaurant and moved the growler section into its own space. Now, Growler Guys averages about $1,800 in sales a day.

"Anybody can be a Growler Guy," he said. "Our logo says we are brewery related, know what we are about with craft beer, and we are fun and exciting."

In fact, each employee of Growler Guys is a craft beer associate and takes classes in craft beer before getting behind the stick. Growler Guys also looks to educate its customers. Customers can sample all the taps to broaden their palettes and "get them hooked on the fever of craft beer," Couch said.

Since finding success at Stop and Go, Growler Guys is now a franchise and can be found in 10 stores, with even more stores slated to open in the next few years. 

"I would like people to think of Growler Guys like a little more hip Starbucks," Couch concluded.

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