Trimark Petroleum Group News

Up and Comers – Round Trip 2000
- Convenience Store Decisions Magazine –

Trimark Petroleum Group is creating the best of both worlds – a family of big brands under the umbrella of Pit Stop Express – a racing themed proprietary store image.

Brand Central – Where it's come from:
Aljiwani started Trimark Petroleum group in Pacific WA four years ago with a vision to become a major player in the Puget Sound convenience store business. At the time he owned one remodeled Arco station. He built a second ground up store in 1997. No stranger to the petroleum industry, Jiwani's father had operated four Phillips 66 stations in British Columbia and before that had been an Esso dealer in Uganda where Jiwani was born. After to moving to London with his family for several years, Jiwani finally settled in the Seattle area. Open to opportunity he embarked on the entrepreneurial journey in the convenience store petroleum business, in part due to a friend's influence. Although he had a successful jewelry business at the time, Jiwani focused on building his new business, while still maintaining his jewelry trade. Brothers Hafiz and Shafiq also work with him.

What it's become:
Trimark Petroleum currently has a number of stores in the Seattle area. The stores average 2,500 square feet, with the largest being 3,700 square feet. Since 1996, the company has seen over 14 stores built or remodeled and four sold. Trimark currently works with four gas brands: Chevron, Texaco, Union 76 and Arco. The chain also works with White Glove car wash and a mixture of foodservice brands including Wendy's, McDonald's, Jack in the Box and proprietary coffee concept, Big Foot Java. Trimark's two Arco Stores pump over 230,000 gallons a month while other sites average about 160,000 gallons per month. Inside sales average $80K per month, but reach as high as $150K per month.

Tricks of its trade:
Making a Pit Stop. After becoming more established in the business, Jiwani realized that his stores needed a common thread to tie them together in the consumer's mind and make them recognizable from the street. The answer: Pit Stop Express, became the name of Jiwani's brand strategy, which will tie Trimark's stores together with a common brand family and racing image complete with checkered flag, Pit Stop signage and a fast paced interior look. So far, the concept is still in it's test phase and has been incorporated into two of Jiwani's stores. However, the company plans to spread the racing image to all of its stores and is currently in the process of completing the signage and looking into local advertising options.

"It's something we can string across all of our stores," says Jiwani. "We want multiple profit centers; we won't be the lowest price, but we will have an image to offer, which will create value," he adds. Jiwani is a strong believer in the value of recognizable brands, which accounts, in part, for his choice in brands to incorporate in his strategy.

Choosing the right gas brand:
Although Jiwani's two Arco am pm stations will not be included in the strategy, his reason for going with Arco at the start of his venture gives evidence of his philosophy.

"We wanted an established formula at first," says Jiwani. "While am pm doesn't fit into our proprietary brand strategy, there are only two of them, and they do a good volume, so we plan to leave them alone."

But it was because of these first two Arco stores that Jiwani realized he needed his own brand – and that he could be selective in choosing a gas brand for future stores, based on the number of offers the company had received. Now, Jiwani chooses his brands carefully, not neglecting the research the positioning of brands in the area of the site, their volumes and demographics. The final selection is then a process of elimination, he explains.

Taking the best from big names:
Although "big name" food service brands have a reputation for being difficult to work with, Jiwani views them as an opportunity.

"We offer big names to draw customers, but big chains also offset the cost to buy more expensive property," he says. Despite the se positives, there are still lessons to be learned. Trimark's first experience with McDonald's thought the company to be assertive when negotiating the agreements. McDonald's originally wanted to exclude Trimark from selling fountain soda and coffee, but eventually the came to an agreement to sell those offers separately. Trimark learned to settle those issues up front for future agreements, explains Jiwani. Currently, Trimark has three McDonald's, two Wendy's and a Jack in the Box co-brand unit.

Another issue Jiwani had to be careful of was taking advice from Big name fast feeders. He finds that at times they suggest locations that may be good for a fast food unit, but not good for a convenience store.

"I ask myself if it's a viable site without the fast food unit. Location definitely is a fundamental part of our decision to build a facility. We look at the fast food unit as a bonus draw," he notes.

A footprint in the land of java giants:
In the land of dominant coffee chains, like Starbucks, there clearly was an opportunity for an "espresso on the go" offer.

"We didn't want to loose control of the profit center, but it was an after-thought," says Jiwani. Trimark built its first Big Foot Java at its prototype store in Pacific, WA. The company now has a number of co-brand stores.

Folks from the East Coast may wonder how Big Foot Java stands up to the coffee giants on the West Coast. Fortunately, it targets another market.

"The major players are designed to be a sit-down concept. This is for people on the run and the price points are more competitive," says Jiwani. He adds that coffee shops sell an atmosphere that people will wait in line for, but, again, the Big Foot Java concept is for consumers on the go. Trimark's competitive edge is that its product is more consistent than the mom and pop stores in this category.

Testing technology:
Another aspect of Trimark's strategy to unify stores involves a technology upgrade. Since February, Trimark's prototype store in Pacific has been a beta site for anew touch screen POS system. Although the company uses an older system from the same supplier for scanning at its other stores, it plans to upgrade to the touch screen system once the testing has been completed.

"The biggest advantage is the case of training," says Jiwani. He notes that it's an intuitive, fool-proof system that's flexible and user friendly.

"With the old system, employees needed to go through four or five modes to get out of a specific program," he says. Although there was some monetary incentive for Trimark to test the system, it's main reason for testing it was because the company wanted an edge. Trimark was also a beta site for "Access Tasco," an Internet venture similar to Chevron's Retailers Market Exchange site, where retailers like Jiwani can access and track invoices, while also receiving faster responses from oil companies via the Internet.

Putting Faces with names:
Building a relationship with the community is another key to Trimark's success. The company sponsors a customer celebration event, where the community is invited to enjoy food and activities such as kid' pony rides. On store even owes its décor, in part, to the local high school students. To set the store design apart, Trimark added a suspended train track and invited local high school art students to design and pain a mural border.

Where it wants to go:
Trimark currently has four stores in development. The company also plans to incorporate it Pit Stop Express identity into its other stores. At some locations, a drive thru Big Foot Java will replace the independent espresso stands that currently are leasing space from Trimark.

In order to meet the challenge of employee turnover, Trimark plans to transform on of it's old location in Seattle into a training facility. Currently, Trimark uses mainly video training. Part of the facility may also be transformed into a commissary for Dunkin Donuts, Trmark's current bakery offer.

Trimark's growth plans are also sensitive to the fluctuations in the local labor force. For future development, the company is headed for small town markets where real estate is less expensive; competition isn't as great and higher quality labor is more available.