Originally created 07/08/03

Pump 'N Shop gets new fuel, fresh look



When it comes time to gas up the car, there are two types of people: those who are brand-loyal and those who buy whatever is cheapest.

Pump 'N Shop wants both kinds of customers.

The local convenience store chain has historically sold big oil brands such as Shell and BP and is now pushing its independent Spirit brand to lure motorists away from discount competitors such as RaceTrac and Enmark.

Two of Pump 'N Shop's three newest stores, including one under construction on Furys Ferry Road, are flying the red-white-and-blue logo of the Spirit brand that was created by an association of station owners.

"It has allowed us to go after the unbranded customer," said Jimmy Holt, a Pump 'N Shop co-owner and the chief operating officer. "It's allowed us to diversify."

Convenience store operators who sell independent brands tend to have lower prices because they are free to shop among competing fuel suppliers. Operators who sell a specific oil company brand are bound to purchase that brand at prices set by the oil company.

"The costs can be really high," said Holly Tuminello, the spokeswoman for the Petroleum Marketers Association of America, which created the Spirit brand last year. "We're trying to keep the costs low so the marketers can be competitive with Wal-Mart and other hypermarkets."

She said there are about 75 Spirit stores nationwide, primarily in the Southeast and West.

Pump 'N Shop's first Spirit location was its store off Interstate 20 in North Augusta. Its second opened two weeks ago on Washington Road at the National Hills property formerly occupied by Bryant's Food & Fuel. Pump 'N Shop's Surrey Center store, another former Bryant's location, was converted into a Shell station a month ago.

The third Spirit store, under construction near the entrance of West Lake subdivision on Furys Ferry Road, brings Pump 'N Shop's number of area stores to 21.

Mr. Holt said Pump 'N Shop will always have a certain number of stores selling major brands to appeal to brand-conscious consumers. However, some of the company's existing Shell stations could be rebranded as Spirit locations during the next five years.

"The response has been overwhelming," Mr. Holt said. "People like the image; they like the way it looks."

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.