ENOC, the Emirates National Oil Company, is expanding its forecourt network and ZOOM convenience store chain in the UAE and introducing new foodservice concepts and smart technologies. Fiona Briggs reports
ENOC, the Emirates National Oil Company owned by the Dubai Government, is in expansionist mode with plans to extend its fuel station network and ZOOM convenience store chain. But it’s not simply a site numbers game because ENOC is marrying the growth ambitions for its Retail businesses stream with a raft of innovations and concepts to meet consumers’ evolving needs and keep it considerably ahead of the convenience curve.
The company currently operates 114 forecourt sites in Dubai and the Northern Emirates but has a target to expand by 40% by 2020 with a further 54 sites in the UAE, reports Zaid Alqufaidi, Managing Director of ENOC Retail.
ENOC is also the first forecourt operator to cross the border within the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council)/Arabian Peninsular with entry to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in 2011. It operates six forecourt sites in Saudi and is targeting a total of 14 by the end of the year, Zaid adds.
Every ENOC forecourt features a ZOOM convenience store along with a full service offering including AutoPro automotive services and ProWash car wash, Quick Oil Change and the proprietary food and beverage brand, Pronto.
Paavo’s Pizza, an American fast food franchise from South Dakota, is another recent addition - eight sites are currently open with a planned roll out to some of the new service stations too. ENOC has also just opened its first Popeyes Chicken franchise, a southern American fried chicken concept, and has more sites under development.
In addition to the acquisition of master franchises, ENOC leases station space to third-party operators including McDonald’s and Burger King.
According to Zaid Alqufaidi, Managing Director of ENOC Retail, the food and beverage concepts are driving customer dwell time.
“We call them community centres,” he says. “People are spending time at these locations. We used to focus more on conversion but stores are now becoming more of a destination.”
ENOC’s foodservice offer has been evolving since 2007 under the Pronto brand. There are now 53 Pronto sections within the ZOOM network, which are a destination for people travelling to work in the morning or on their lunch break. Additional new products, many exclusively imported and only available in ZOOM stores in the UAE, are a further magnet on sites, says Zaid.
And the offer is not just about food. ENOC has tied up with Starbucks through the brand’s master franchisor in the region and all Pronto sites now sell Starbucks coffee. Where there’s no Pronto within a ZOOM convenience store, sites offer Starbucks On The Go self-serve kiosks.
Zaid reports services are another essential footfall driver for the business and help transform sites to one-stop shops. These are offered from a dedicated ZOOM Services counter and include utilities, airline ticketing, credit card bill payment, gift cards, online gaming wallets, local and international mobile top up, with more in the pipeline.
ENOC’s newest smart station site, opened on 2 April at the Dubai Internet City, showcases these services and more besides.
It follows the opening of the first Green Station in the region in 2009 but takes initiatives at that site to a new level. It is the first completely solar powered station in the UAE, featuring solar panels across the entire canopy.
Zaid reveals the clean energy site actually generates 30% more energy than required, and the surplus is sold back to the main grid. The site also features a vapour recovery system, which converts 99% of fumes back to fuel; and motion sensor LED lighting, which has reduced electricity consumption by half. The car wash uses only recycled water and the petrol pumps have retractable hosing so that drivers can easily refuel from either side of their cars, speeding traffic flow through the site and enhancing customer convenience.
The new store, like others in the chain, is north facing to reduce the impact of the sun. Features like these are taken into consideration at the design stage, says Zaid. Another innovation at the smart station, which will be rolled out across the new forecourt sites, is digital signage. All in-store static posters and banners have been converted to digital wall displays and there are also video displays at the petrol pumps. Zaid reports ENOC will use the digital technology for its own messages and communication initially but since the business processes 90m transactions per year, there’s clear potential for targeted brand and supplier advertising too.
Technology is a rich seam and one that ENOC is certainly prepared to mine in order to speed customer journeys and deliver increased convenience.
Payments - the Dubai government is targeting a move to a cashless society by 2020 - provides rich pickings in this respect and ENOC is developing a raft of payment modes to help transform the business from cash to cashless.
“There’s more open direction by government towards cashless and adoption is happening,” reports Zaid. “We are moving very aggressively on that.”
In 2014 ENOC launched RFID technology for fleet customers under the VIP brand, providing a postpaid wallet so that customers can quickly ‘fill and go’. In April 2016, the service was extended to personal use.
“It automates the payment transaction and helps to reduce congestion on the forecourt,” says Zaid, who reports 30% of ENOC’s customers now use this technology.
In addition, the company has teamed up with Beam Wallet - an established digital wallet in the UAE - and is the only fuel retail partner. This month also sees the launch of the ENOC pay app, which enables motorists to pay for fuel from within their car or via the app for in-store purchases; and the inclusion of ENOC Retail services in a new government app, Dubai Now, to facilitate mobile payments for government-related services.
“We will be the first retailer to go into this wallet,” says Zaid. “We are empowering the customer - enabling them to use whichever payment method is the most suitable for them, and not just for use at ENOC - we are keeping everything open.”
Technology and apps in particular are being harnessed to drive non-fuel sales too.
ZOOM has tied up with the Instashop grocery app, which enables customers to place orders and get deliveries from ZOOM stores to their homes, and is now testing the app for order and delivery to the customer in their cars on the forecourt.
Zaid also reports that the initiative will help reduce queues at stations but is also part of a new omni-channel approach. “In some locations staff are deployed to take those products, which don’t require ID, out to vehicles,” he says.
Initiatives like these have helped to drive the conversion of forecourt to c-store customers from 14% to 16-18% and the proportion is heading towards 20%, says Zaid. That 2% gain is significant given ENOC’s c-stores have an annual turnover of 1.2bn dirham.
In another fuel retailing first, ENOC is developing its own loyalty app; which it hopes to have up and running by the end of the year. It will cover the entire retail offer ie fuel, convenience store and automotive services.
According to Zaid, the app will be deployed to build a loyalty database of its customers but over time could be expanded outside the ENOC empire to include tenants such as McDonald’s for instance and other retailers who may not operate their own loyalty programme.
Off the forecourt, ENOC is expanding its ZOOM store format within the Dubai Metro -station network - currently 41 sites with two additions planned - as well as standalone locations around the UAE. There are three key formats - convenience stores, self-serve supermarkets (ZOOM Market) and ZOOM Kiosk, within commercial buildings and lobbies. Eleven sites have been added in Abu Dhabi, where ENOC has set up a branch office, and more are planned. By 2020, ENOC aims to add a further 100 ZOOM stores, including the 54 forecourt sites.
The retailer is also expanding via a partnership with the Emaar Hospitality Division, which operates Rove Hotels. Three hotels are already operational with ZOOM stores; while more hotels are under construction.
These openings have been great vehicle for brand image and marketing, as Zaid acknowledges.
“It’s a big help for the brand,” he says. “The hotel industry is thriving in Dubai and a lot of people are moving in from the surrounding region so there’s a constant flow. Exposure for the brand is critical. Hotels also want us to expand with them regionally as well and not just in the UAE but in Saudia Arabia, for example.”
In addition, ZOOM has opened outlets in a number of iconic developments, including the Cayan tower, the tallest twisted tower in the world; Sheraton Grand complex; Sofitel Down Town complex; and the Sustainable city, the first fully green and sustainable development in the UAE and the retailer won the CSNews Best Store Design award in 2016 for its store at Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
ENOC is spreading its wings via the franchise route too. “We’ve been exploring franchise when it comes to ZOOM but with mixed results,” says Zaid. “It’s challenging because we want to make sure the market and franchisees are ready for starting up stores. We’ve done a few in the UAE but we are fine tuning the offer in that space - it’s more a test scenario.”
Inspiration for new concepts and developments is garnered on international store visits and at events.
Many trends originate in the US, Canada and UK but the pace at which they are implemented in other markets has quickened considerably, says Zaid.
ENOC has eyed the trend for healthier foods and organic products and the uptake in its business has been good, Zaid adds. The business has also spotted the move to ‘foodvenience’, driven by leading US c-store operators like Wawa, Sheetz and QuikTrip.
It’s encouraged ENOC’s acquisition of food and beverage franchises in the UAE and the launch of ‘made to order sandwiches’ under the Pronto brand for a more personalised approach.
Learnings have been won from educational sessions too, in particular the benefits of a tie up or association with other brands.
Zaid reports that as a result of ENOC’s partnership with Starbucks, its own bakery sales have more than doubled, for instance.
The company has also taken inspiration from the gift card category in the US, which it is now championing in the UAE; plus convenience stores in South Africa, which sell a raft of services including air line tickets.
“Convenience stores are selling time, not a tangible product,” Zaid concedes. And, with that very notion in mind, he reveals the business is testing a drive-through convenience store format, designed to alleviate waiting time that’s not helped by 45˚C+ heat.
“The waiting time here is annoying so we are experimenting with a drive-through store as well, which enables customers to remain sitting in their cars,” says Zaid. It’s a neat and convenient proposition that meets shoppers’ needs and keeps ENOC well ahead of that convenience curve.
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