Puma Energy is on a mission. The integrated global energy company, which operates 3,105 retail sites across 49 countries and serves over 5m people per day, is now growing its convenience retail business globally and in the Americas in particular.
Rodrigo Zavala, Puma Energy’s chief executive officer for the Americas, is leading the charge in Central and Latin America.
Puma Energy has spent the last six to seven years working to grow the network in America and the rest of the world, mainly by acquisition but also by organic growth, Zavala reports.
During that process, it has developed a new service station concept, Super7. First launched in Australia in late 2015/early 2016, Super7 ushers in a new look and feel and a more modern ambience. Zavala reports the concept is delivering like-for-like sales growth of 8%.
“Now we are in the following stage and building up the convenience retail organization globally and in America,” Zavala reports.
It’s an aggressive three-year plan. In Central America, where Puma Energy operates 600 service stations and 124 stores, it plans to double the chain size to 260 convenience stores. In Latin America, where it operates 1,350 service stations and 150 c-stores, it plans to grow the convenience business to 380 stores.
The new stores will feature the Super7 concept, which was first introduced into Latin America in 2017. It provides a number of flexible formats, ranging from a simple coffee shop offer through to a full QSR concept but all focused on fresh and healthy food such as wraps and fruit.
Puma Energy’s investment in convenience retail runs much deeper than a new store concept, however. “It’s a comprehensive plan. We are not just investing in the building but the customer experience - through the quality of products and systems,” Zavala states.
It’s a huge step change for the Puma Energy business, which up until now has been focused on growing its global footprint and supplying quality fuel to those markets.
“Only now are we looking at the convenience retail business and looking to develop it,” Zavala states.
The move is bringing Zavala back to the retailing coal face, which he last experienced at the Brazilian oil company Petrobras, where he served as retail market director, developing convenience stores on forecourts in Chile.
He joined Puma Energy in 2011 to lead the transition and integration process during the acquisition of Exxon’s downstream assets in six Central American markets, to later take on the role of Puma Energy's general manager in Paraguay, where he increased the company’s retail network and oversaw a new trading and storage facility project. He was appointed CEO in 2014. During his seven years of management experience with the company, Zavala has consolidated operations in 12 countries of the Americas, including the entry into new markets such as Colombia and Peru, and has expanded business lines in key sectors such as aviation, mining, supply, B2B and retail, positioning Puma Energy as a global leader in the markets of the Americas.
Puma Energy’s new focus on convenience retail spans all the key pillars - category management and value proposition, supply chain, systems, store layouts, teams and training.
“We are now looking at those pillars to re-invent the customer experience in a Super7 stores and we are working with Spanish and British consultants to redefine the foundations of our franchise for our dealer operated networks,” Zavala reports.
Zavala reveals the development work entails pilots with cameras, including facial recognition technology, to measure traffic at Puma Energy’s service stations - the number of cars on the forecourt, how long they take to be served, how many customers go into the store etc. It’s all geared to improving the customer experience, he says.
Technology also spans a new app, Puma Fast Pay. Launched in Puerto Rico, it enables customers to pay at the pump with their phones. According to Zavala, the app’s features are also being developed to digitally interact with customers and payment will be enabled in the convenience store too by the end of September.
The app will be extended to Central America although the market there is 90% full serve, whereas Puerto Rico is primarily a self service market, Zavala adds.
A loyalty programme is also on the cards once new PoS, head office and back office systems are in place to provide the right information platform for a scheme.
“We are planning the development of loyalty programme but need to roll out new PoS and back office systems to be able to manage the loyalty programme. We will roll it out as we expand our network. New systems will be introduced in all stores in two years,” Zavala reports.
The popularity of convenience stores is apparent in the Americas and Puma Energy is exploiting the trend. “The proximity shop is something the customer wants - we recognize that,” Zavala states. “Competitors are developing small format stores and there is an opportunity for us to develop on service stations and provide a service to the community with a more convenient offer, closer to where they live. There is an opportunity to expand.”
It is, however, a huge challenge, Zavala concedes. But Puma Energy is a lean business and is building a dedicated convenience organization to oversee and be responsible for the plan, he says.
Expertise is being brought on board too. The company has hired a US professional as its retail category manager for food and beverages in order to segment the offer and appeal to the tastes of different customer profiles. It is also recruiting a convenience retail regional manager and working with Jeff Murphy, NACS regional representative Latin America, on developing and defining its convenience value proposition and on hiring and training the team. Zavala joined the International Board of NACS in October 2017 and is active within the organization; while the wider business is involved with events like the NACS Show and attend Insight’s store study tours.
On the supply side, while Puma Energy is a significant player in convenience in Central America, outside of the region it is the company’s dealers who provide the more interesting counterpoint for suppliers, Zavala reports. However, given Puma Energy’s growth plans that may soon change. “The shift to becoming a regional player and of a bigger size with a more consistent offer will change the balance of power with suppliers,” he says.
Zavala also anticipates heightened competitiveness within convenience in future and more digital interaction with the company. “We are gearing up for that,” he says. “There will be less human interface so we need to focus on having the right product offer and customer experience,” he says.
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