Following the Cool Guys

Most of us want to get recommendations from others that are like us and, at the same time, cooler than we are, writes Ron Lamberty of ACE. In the case of gas stations, Sheetz, Mapco and Murphy are a few examples of high-profile innovators.
By Ron Lamberty | May 14, 2015

Every year, surveys are performed by advertising and marketing companies to try and measure trust.  Who or what do people trust when they are looking for the answer to a question, a recommendation on a purchase, or information about a controversial topic? While the results reshuffle a little bit each year, near the top of the list in every survey is “someone like me,” or “people I know.”

In reality, sure, we want to know what people like us think, but come on, if you were offered advice from, let’s say, Pat Hawkins, a guy I grew up with in Hilltop, or noted theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, you’d listen to the guy who is considered one of the greatest minds of our time, right?

Not me. I’m going to listen to Pat, because—I forgot to mention this—the subject is “winning strategies for ‘cans,’” a game that was invented by Pat, my brother Greg and me … and maybe Todd Nussbaum… I don’t remember.  Anyway, we would all kick Hawking’s butt in cans. And I bet he can’t give you any tips on hot-waxing a pop can either. Pat could. Pat was awesome at that. If you’re looking for that kind of advice, you can just say, “thanks for nothing, Professor Hawking.”

I guess the point is, for most decisions, studies and spokespeople are important, but most of us still want to get the recommendations of “people like me.” However, we prefer the opinions of leaders and innovators, like Pat. Guys who care enough to find out if waxing a pop can makes a difference, and who don’t mind if it doesn’t, because now they know (and it still looked cool).

The convenience store industry is often described as one where “everyone wants to be first to be second.” Maybe that’s true of most industries, and the meaning is the same in all of them: Before business owners invest time and money in a new product or new line, they want to see it in action. And, whenever possible, they want to talk to people who have already been there and done that, to find out how it’s really working out. Fuel marketers go to trade shows and petroleum industry events to see that stuff and talk to those people.

The challenge for a new product like E15 is most marketers don’t know a station owner who sells E15, and what they think they know has been warped by the ongoing E15 smear campaign. The American Coalition for Ethanol’s Flex Forward campaign introduces fuel marketers to other real, live marketers, who saw through those ghost stories, added E15, and made more money. We can’t bring experienced E15 marketers with us to every trade show or workshop ACE attends, so we’ve done the next best thing. We’ve brought their stories to ethanol.org and flexfuelforward.com where they will be available 24/7, for marketers who live and work in the 24/7 convenience store world.

Beyond that, in the c-store world, just like every other “world,” there are operators who are watched more closely by other retailers. They are the innovators, retailers who try things nobody else has tried. When it works, they reap the rewards, if it doesn’t, they find a way to make it work. That’s why it was a big deal when Sheetz Inc. announced it will be putting E15 in 60 stations this year.  Sheetz is one of those companies. They have a reputation for being an innovator. If you doubt that, the next time you’re talking to a prospective E15 retailer, just drop this into the conversation: “Sheetz is going to sell E15 in 60 of their stores.” Watch for the reaction.

A lot of time and money has been spent to encourage some high-profile retailers to offer E15. The only way that investment pays off is if other fuel retailers notice and want to “be the first to be second.” Drop those names. Not just Sheetz. Mention Mapco. Murphy. Whoever sells E15 in your area. Every chance you get, let station owners know “someone like you” is selling E15. And it’s one of the cool guys.

Author: Ron Lamberty
Senior Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol
605-334-3381
rlamberty@ethanol.org