Clark Brands Grows West

Marketer is expanding its footprint beyond legacy states as it signs on independent operators.

By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor

Clark Brands LLC is pursuing an aggressive growth strategy in 2012, expanding from the Dakotas to Texas, from New Mexico to Michigan and all points in between, as more fuel marketers elect to join the Clark brand.

In addition, Naperville, Ill.-based Clark Brands is refining its payment processing service to include a check processing program and a multi-store gift card option to provide a value-added incentive for retailers.

Clark serves independent fuel marketers in 30 states and the District of Columbia, licensing the Clark Brand, providing payment processing services and other services to more than 900 locations. The company works with over 80 branded licensees who own and operate the more than 450 Clark branded locations.

The past 12 months have been a banner year for Clark. The company closed out the year with 125 new locations licensed to 22
different marketers, with some marketers adding as many as 12 sites to their individual portfolios. In 2012, Clark’s 80th anniversary, Clark Brands plans to focus on reclaiming its presence in Michigan, particularly in Detroit and the surrounding areas.

“We were actually in Michigan when Clark Brands was founded, so Michigan is a legacy state for Clark, and it’s been a state where we have been successful in the last couple of years in reentering that market,” said Karl Goodhouse, Clark Brands president and CEO. “We’ve already been able to add a number of new licensees and new flags for Clark in the Michigan market.”

In addition, Clark is expanding its footprint in Wisconsin, another of its legacy states, and is branching out to penetrate states in the Western U.S. for the first time in its history, including Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.

The inspiration to grow westward came after marketers in the region heard about the Clark business model and expressed interest in joining the brand. The Western push also allows Clark to tap regional markets where independent operators have had little exposure to the Clark brand in the past.

“We saw a common ground with marketers looking for flexibility and new branding relationships in some markets where we wanted to grow,” Goodhouse said. “We said, ‘We offer a licensed brand. We’re not going to require you to buy any supplies from us—what we’re doing is developing a licensee relationship with you. And if you want to license the Clark brand in New Mexico, Texas or Arizona, we’re willing to do that for you.’”

Defining the Brand
As Clark expands in new markets, it is seeking the right marketers to grow the brand. When an interested marketer approaches Clark Brands, Clark’s team assesses the potential of each new location and works with its partners to produce a successful image package.

In addition to licensing its fuel brand, Clark also offers marketers the option of licensing the On the Go convenience store brand, which Clark Brands LLC inherited when it was created as Clark’s holding company in 2003. Clark continues to maintain the logo and image package for customers who want a top tier backcourt look to complement the Clark forecourt. The company allows licensees the option to license either the On the Go c-store brand or to use their own c-store banner, in conjunction with the Clark gasoline brand. It’s just this flexibility that has made Clark a popular option among independents.

“We’re proud to have a low-cost branding option that brings polish and great street presence to each Clark branded location. Imaging costs vary, but a Clark location can expect to spend about half or less of what a reimage to a major brand would cost,” said Gregory Mauro, communication & marketing manager for Clark. “On the Go does give Clark locations an integrated c-store look that is easily executed. As Clark’s own c-store brand, it completes a full image package for any location–picking up on our red and blue color scheme and motion line graphics.”

Clark prides itself on the fact that it doesn’t require its marketers to sign long-term contracts, but brings independents a recognized brand, plus a selection of marketing programs, allowing marketers to fit their location and budget.

“One thing our marketers love is the flexibility and that we’re not a cookie cutter offer. A lot of dealers in particular are looking for a professional presence, but also something that suits them directly instead of having the rules handed down to them,” Mauro said. “They want someone to collaborate with them instead of saying, ‘This is how you have to do it and these are the products you have to buy.’ Customization is the key to the Clark image and the way we operate.”

In-Store Success
That customization extends to the in-store offerings. Customers who license the On the Go brand have full control over whether or not to offer foodservice, as well as which food offering they will employ. Some Clark marketers feature sub shops, pizza stores and even some national QSR chains. Clark offers the Four Corners Coffee brand as an option as well. Goodhouse said many Clark marketers have the expertise to do foodservice better than if Clark dictated an offering. “So we said, let’s let them do what they do well, and we’ll worry about branding and providing a suite of payment processing services in their stores.”

Because payment processing remains an integral part of a store’s profitability, Clark is committed to ensuring its independent marketers are equipped to compete head-on with the major brands by controlling operating costs with its payments services.
The company provides a full suite of payment processing options to its marketers from credit, debit, gift and ultimately multi-store gift cards. Currently, Clark is piloting a check processing program that provides locations financial assurance when accepting checks. Clark is also set to debut a multi-store gift card program this spring that would allow marketers to offer a branded gift card customized for a marketer’s set of locations.

Clark is also evaluating loyalty as an optional service during 2012 and beyond.

“One of the things we do well as a company is we listen to our marketers,” Goodhouse said. “We don’t want to dictate. We want to listen and provide the services our customers need and want. Our customers, in turn, have referred us, which has provided us the opportunity to enter new markets. As we’ve listened they’ve turned around and said, ‘This is a company that will listen to what it is we’re looking for.’ That is how Clark Brands was founded and that’s how we hope to continue doing business with our customers going forward.”

At a Glance: Clark Brands LLC

Clark Brands was founded in 2003, but the Clark legacy can actually be traced back to 1932 when Emory Clark, a general contractor, opened the first Clark’s Super Gas station in Milwaukee after the customer he originally built the station for couldn’t pay his loan. From there, Clark Oil was born, and Clark grew his brand through the upper Midwest, operating some 1,400 locations at its peak in the 70s.
Locations: Clark provides fuel and payment processing services to more than 900 stations in 30 states. Some 450 stations in the U.S. are branded Clark.
Headquarters: Naperville, Ill.

Clark Management Team:
Karl Goodhouse, President and CEO
Steve Rogers, Senior Account Manager
Gregory Mauro, Communication and Marketing Manager

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