Maryland Loses its Crown

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Maryland Loses its Crown

BALTIMORE -- After two years of flying the regional banner, the buyer of more than 150 Crown Central Petroleum branded stations in Maryland and Virginia has decided to switch the historic name with major brands such as Chevron, Texaco and Shell, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Two years ago Crown Central sold the bulk of its stations to independent dealers, whose agreements upheld the Crown banner. Since then, some of the dealers have decided to make agreements with major brands, as a way to attract more consumers with proprietary branded credit cards and loyalty programs.

Petroleum Marketing Group (PMG) purchased 152 Crown gasoline stations and convenience stores in Maryland and Virginia in 2004. After a market study of the areas, PMG decided that national brands would be the best move for the stations, consumers and the company, according to David Noland, vice president of PMG. Noland told the Sun that the national brands would give the company better pricing, advertising and marketing, and consumer credit cards and loyalty programs.

"We feel right now with the advantage of the Texaco program, with the national presence that the brand has, it will be a benefit to make this strategic move," Noland said.

The rebranding process began last month and is expected to be completed by the end of the year, Noland told the paper.

The Crown brand will still fly on a few stations in the Baltimore region, Noland told the Baltimore Sun. In addition, the company's fleet fueling program will still be accepted at the rebranded stations. An executive from Baltimore-based Crown told the paper that it would be 15 stations.

"It's certainly not going to be as prevalent as it once was, at least in the immediate future," Andrew Lapayowker, Crown's vice president and general counsel, told the Sun. "We intend to keep it alive and hope to sign up more folks to carry the brand."

The rebranding is another chip in the declining brands history. At one time, Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson was the company spokesman. Over the last 10 years, the company has suffered financial problems, a proxy fight and a five-year lockout by union workers in its refinery before the company started selling its assets in 2003, the Sun reported.

In the past, Crown owned two refineries in Texas, 10 product terminals, 315 retail locations and employed 2,500 people nationwide, the paper reported. Currently, the company does not own any retail stations or refineries, its business employs 15 at its Baltimore headquarters that licenses the brand to independent dealers and distributors. The company told the paper that there are approximately 100 Crown-branded gas stations in Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

"The brand is not gone," Lapayowker added.

Some retailers see the change in a positive light. Jeff Kamali, an independent dealer who operates a station owned by PMG, thinks that the rebranding will increase business. His Columbia gas station will fly the Shell banner shortly.

"The Crown name is dead. It's done," Kamali told the Sun. "They sold everything."

Kamali told the paper that he will benefit from programs such as Shell's MasterCard. Although Crown once had a proprietary credit card, that is no longer the case, he told the paper.

Crown was a "fine company," he added. "But you have to move with the times."