Interview: Judy Glover, Circle K

04 Mar 2020 | 01.19 pm

Interview: Judy Glover, Circle K

A rebrand with a retail philosophy

04 Mar 2020 | 01.19 pm

Dispensing fuel may be the main function of service station brand Circle K, but the company’s heritage is rooted in convenience retail, according to Judy Glover

Circle K is a relatively new brand in Ireland, introduced in 2018. The logo adorns 410 service stations, most of which used to be under the Topaz banner. Circle K is part of Canadian multinational Alimentation Couche-Tard, which bought the Topaz business in 2016. Couche-Tard and Circle K both have their origins as convenience stores, and that’s very much reflected on the forecourts now.

Circle K was established by Fred Hervey in El Paso, Texas, in 1951. The chain kept growing, until Couche-Tard bought the business in 2003. The Canadian retailer was established by Alain Bouchard in 1980, and with an aggressive acquisition strategy the company has grown to about 9.900 stores in North America. In Europe the network extends to 2,700 stores, all of them fuel-related. Couche Tard/Circle K is market leader in Scandinavia and the Baltics — and in Ireland.

With a heritage like that, serious thought goes into the product offering in Circle K stores around the country. Judy Glover, senior market director, leads the marketing, category management and buying teams. Glover was formerly a buyer with Tesco and joined Topaz Energy in 2009.

One difference between Topaz and the new Circle K regime is that budgets have expanded. “We also have help from the global teams, who have developed suites for marketing fuel, and the way we’d market our coffee, and we just adapt them for the customer,” says Glover. “My marketing team have great fun translating the fuel or coffee offer to our local market.”

The Circle K rebrand exercise commenced two years ago. This involved integrating eleven new systems into Circle K Ireland, removing the Topaz canopy at 400 locations and applying the rather in-your-face Circle K signage. That cost €22m, and there was additional spend on advertising using Irish staff to remind consumers that though the owners have changed, the people on the ground have not.

To reinforce the Ireland association, Circle K’s main sponsorship drive centres on Ireland’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The campaign launched last October and a new phase, Let the Games Begin, will emerge in the coming months. 

According to Glover: “Our brand score now for aided awareness is 80%, which is on par with the Topaz score, and the 18% top-of-mind brand score is just a little bit behind where Topaz was. From where we benchmarked ourselves and set our targets, we’re exactly where we need to be.”

Alain Bouchard didn’t become a billionaire without a lofty retail philosophy. Glover says that Circle K’s vision is to become the world’s preferred destination for fuel and convenience retailing. 

“One of the pillars is to make our customers’ lives a little easier every day,” she adds. “That means that convenience is not just the location of the store but how long the store is open, the products we serve, making sure we’ve got breakfast in the morning and lunch items in the middle of the day. 

“Our marketing campaigns focus on fuel, coffee, food and carwash, the most popular items in our service stations. There’s no point in advertising irrelevant information to the customer. It’s important that we focus on those categories, and we advertise from the roadside or we’ll go with radio, whatever has the best reach to our customers.”

 

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