Flexing Forward With E15

The American Coalition for Ethanol is launching a new fuel retailer-focused campaign called Flex Forward in 2015. It is designed to reach marketers who have not yet responded to other industry efforts, Brian Jennings writes.
By Brian Jennings | April 11, 2015

Market development has always been an important part of our DNA at the American Coalition for Ethanol. Our founding members recognized that the ethanol industry would only grow profitably by developing new markets for our fuel. Fifteen years ago, ACE hired our now-senior vice president, Ron Lamberty, who had established himself as an ethanol promoter while working in the retail and wholesale fuel business, to serve as market development director at the time. His initial focus was helping retailers understand the math of E10 and to see ethanol as a profit opportunity. Today, ACE applies this proven approach to E15, flex fuels and blender pumps.

As retailers consider changes or additions to their fuel slate, they rely upon ACE to help them get past the avalanche of anti-E15 propaganda they’ve been exposed to, and help them see the opportunities available with flex fuels. ACE is equipped to make sure retailers are aware of the growing market for E15, with 16 million cars and light trucks built and under warranty for E15 in the last three model years, and automakers building 8 million more E15-compatible vehicles every year. 

Fuel marketers get information in many ways, but among their most trusted sources are their competitors, their peers. To that end, ACE is launching a new retailer-focused campaign called Flex Forward in 2015, based on the real-life experiences of retailers who were able to break free of oil company restrictions, get over the “blend wall” and make money by offering E15, E85 and flex fuels to their customers. 

A facet of the Flex Forward campaign is a video documentary we produced, featuring the CEO of a wholesale distributorship that owns and operates 21 convenience stores that sell flex fuels, the first retailer in America to offer E15 and a single-store station owner who distinguished himself from the two major chains in his town by offering E15, E85 and midlevel ethanol blends. We have also produced short video clips of these retailers answering the kind of questions their peers will no doubt ask when they consider adding E15 or flex fuels as product options.

•   Did they have the equipment to make the change to E15 and flex fuels? If not, what did they do?
•   What did the change cost?
•   Did they get any help?
•   What about regulations and the “blend wall”?
•   What almost made them not move to E15 and flex fuels?
•   How many complaints have they had? How many repair bills?
•   And finally, how has it worked out for them? How are sales? Can you really make a profit selling          E15 and flex fuels?

Flex Forward is focused on retailers and their equipment suppliers and will include earned and paid advertising, engagement at fuel marketer trade shows (where retailers go to make decisions about new products), webinars and retailer workshops. ACE has specifically designed the Flex Forward campaign to reach marketers who have not yet responded to other industry efforts, and make them aware of all of the tools available to help them succeed with E15 and flex fuels.  It would make no sense—financially or otherwise—for ACE to try to duplicate the shock and awe of the NASCAR E15 program or the Prime The Pump Fund. However, in order for these programs to translate to meaningful real-world volume, someone has to be the boots on the ground who takes that message to the independent retailers who own two-thirds of the nation’s convenience stores. Furthermore, fuel marketers need someone to turn to for information and technical assistance on an ongoing basis and the ethanol industry needs expertise to tackle issues such as Reid vapor pressure, UL certification and ASTM specifications over the long haul. No organization is better-suited and prepared for that mission than ACE. 

To learn more about Flex Forward, go to www.ethanol.org and check out the E15 and flex-fuels section or our new website designed specifically for retailers, www.flexfuelforward.com.
Author: Brian Jennings
Executive Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol