The Thinking Behind Atlas Oil's Earth Market

TAYLOR, Mich. -- A brand-new, eco-friendly concept is hitting the convenience store industry in the form of Atlas Oil Co.’s Earth Market stores. The national fuel supply and distribution company, based in Taylor, Mich., began opening this new prototype two months ago in Illinois and plans to have 30 in operation by the end of the year.

"We created Earth Market to fill the ampm void in Chicago, and right now we have five stores that are company operated, with the next step [being] to roll it out to the retailer community," Mike Evans, executive vice president of retail and real estate at Atlas, told CSNews Online. "As ampm was phasing out, we wanted to create a concept to help retailers succeed and be profitable that was not found in the market today."

Atlas has nearly 400 retail stations throughout Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, and will be looking to franchise the Earth Market concept in the same states. The company worked to get the first stores up and running in order to prove the concept in the marketplace and show potential franchisees it can be profitable.

Atlas worked with Fort Worth, Texas-based Paragon Solutions Inc. to create the concept logo, while an in-house team developed the store design, including colors and layout aimed at creating an open feel upon entering.

"The concept is a direct result of targeting the type of customer we are trying to attract," Evans said. "Our team sat down to design the store and chose the greens and darker tones to embody the earth-friendly message."

The open layout is also meant to make people feel comfortable as they walk around the stores and shop. For this same reason, the Earth Market locations are very well lit inside and out. "We have LED lighting under the canopy and inside the store at our newest location, and we are a big believer in it," Evans explained.

While Earth Market carries many of the typical products customers are accustomed to finding at a convenience store, Atlas also has incorporated some unique, eco-friendly options such as boxed water. The team is looking into additional products that are recyclable, and launched a program to help customers recycle at the store level.

"Our recycling program offers customers the opportunity to bring their coffee cup or plastic water bottle back into the store for recycling, and we give them a discount on their next coffee or water," Evans said. "Not only do they recycle, but they also come back into the store so it’s a win-win for the consumer, the environment and us."

Earth Market coffee cups and bottled water have stickers on them to let customers know about the option, and all of the cups are recyclable. Even the proprietary coffee program, known as Eco-Earth Coffee, is rainforest and free trade certified.

The five current prototype stores range between 3,800 and 4,400 square feet. Depending upon the size, Earth Market offers unique design elements that can be incorporated into a franchised location. Atlas will continue to be involved with the franchisees in terms of product sourcing and new ideas, with specific employees at the company devoted to the concept.

"We want to help retailers be more competitive and still allow them to be entrepreneurs," Evans said.

For more on Earth Market, look in the June issue of Convenience Store News.