Finding the Right Brand Partner

Choose what fuel to carry wisely—it’s an ongoing partnership.

April 12, 2023

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—NACS Magazine interviewed Fred McConnell, director of brands and fuel marketing, Sunoco, about the relationship between a brand partner and a c-store operator.

If an operator is looking to switch fuel partners or is considering going from unbranded fuels to branded fuels, what are some of the most important things to consider?

The power of a brand plays a large role in your consumer’s willingness to consider you. Trust, perceived higher-quality fuel and the drive for higher-margin premium fuel sales are all key considerations for operators. Brands can bring with them established programs such as loyalty, private-label credit cards and other gallon-driving partnerships, such as grocery loyalty or other exclusive relationships. Marketing support from the brand, inclusive of national partnerships and sponsorships, is also a differentiator for a station owner’s customers. Value-added programs such as Sunoco’s industry-leading dispenser equipment discount program provide significant savings to station owners and imaging programs also offer business benefits: Sunoco’s centennial program drives more than 10% gallon growth when a site rebrands.

Flexibility is a key part of the value proposition any partner provides, but what does that mean in practice?

Flexibility means finding ways to meet your customers where they’re at today and to give them what they need to continue to be successful in the future. Sunoco recognizes every business is unique and has its own criteria for success. Our flexible financing options are unique in our industry: We’re able to provide capital up front if that is what a customer needs and update term options and pricing when those situations arise.

Having a flexible approach means more than offering a range of financing options; it speaks to a brand’s commitment to its partners in communication and customer support, too. One of Sunoco’s biggest differentiators is accessibility. Sunoco’s customers can pick up the phone and call anyone within their account team organization, including our leadership.

Flexibility isn’t just about the deal, but about how you manage the relationship moving forward and meeting station owners where their needs are.

After a partnership agreement is signed, what are some ongoing ways a partner can help an operator?

One of the first things our new station customers read in their onboarding kits is: “Your success drives ours,” because Sunoco is successful when our stations are successful.

This involves supporting operators with programs and partnerships driving business to their station(s), including generating demand through digital avenues (e.g.: location-based Google ads), regional/national advertising and more. Our Sunoco Go Rewards app helps station owners generate demand by offering discounts on fuel. As a company, we invest in consumer research to fuel innovative solutions and programs. The Sunoco mystery shop program helps operators gauge how their stations appeal to consumers and details what can be done to create the safest, most approachable station possible. And the brand provides ongoing quarterly point-of-purchase (POP) promotions to continue to promote the brand and a station owner’s business.
What is Sunoco’s value proposition within the realm of fuels?

Sunoco’s value proposition is first and foremost about the fuel quality itself. High-quality fuel is a top consideration driver for consumers—behind only price and convenience. Sunoco Ultratech is a top-tier certified fuel proven to make your engine run cleaner and last longer. This is evidenced by Sunoco’s 20 years as the exclusive fuel provider of NASCAR, where we’ve done 20 million miles across three different fuel blends, and we’ve never had a defect. It’s a testament to the quality of our fuel and the excellence of our operations team. We fuel every race, every driver, flawlessly every time. Sunoco puts the same focus and care into the fuel at its stations as it does for the fuel that powers the fastest racing machines around the world. And as the largest fuel distributor in the country, Sunoco’s reliability as a fuel supplier is something our operators appreciate.

Sunoco revamped its fuel brand image. What was the motivation for that, and what are the results?

In our consumer research, consumers’ perception of station safety showed to be a significant determining factor when they selected where to refuel. When updating our fuel brand image, we focused on making safety a priority by adding additional lighting, as well as making LED mandatory at every station. The result is a modern, clean and simpler design for the next generation of Sunoco consumers. We leveraged our heritage to bring back the iconic Sunoco diamond to the canopy and our dispenser valences. We place an emphasis on our product quality with Sunoco Ultratech as well as being the official fuel of NASCAR. We introduced a new POP element dedicated to communicating the benefits and quality of Sunoco Ultratech fuel. These culminate in a big impact for our operators: We see more than 10% gallon growth at the stations that receive the new image.

To learn more about branding with Sunoco, click here.