United Refining Company and its Kwik Fill branded gasoline outlets and convenience stores illustrate how independent companies can compete against industry giants.
By Eric Slack
Founded in 1902 in the cradle of the world petroleum industry, United Refining Company still stands out for its many years of successful operations as an independent refiner and marketer of petroleum products. Since the 1980s, the organization has also flourished through the expansion of its network of 282 Kwik Fill and Red Apple convenience stores and the acquisition of 75 Country Fair locations that are located in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Today, United Refining owns and operates a modern, fully equipped refinery in northwestern Pennsylvania that produces a full range of petroleum products. They include unleaded, midgrade and premium gasoline, Kerosene, premium diesel, No. 2 home heating oil, industrial fuels, liquefied petroleum gas, propane and several grades of asphalts.
Operating 24 hours per day and seven days a week, the refinery averages up to 70,000 barrels of crude per day through its Warren, Pa refinery. United’s retail, wholesale and asphalt marketing teams promote the products in the company’s market area, and the efforts of its teams - combined with its diverse modern refinery - has the company positioned as a leading energy provider.
United Refining Company employs upward of 4,000 employees to include the Warren, Pa. refinery, corporate office and its chain of retail convenience stores.
“We fuel cars, pick-up trucks and big rigs, as well as farm and construction equipment. Fleet fueling programs, retail credit cards, gift cards and an online retail store locator are some of the valuable services that Kwik Fill offers to its customers,” Director of Merchandising Cliff Brazie says. “We credit much of our success to the personnel who manage at all levels of our retail organization.”
In addition to operating a strong retail system, United Refining owns its own retail trucking operation, terminal operations in Rochester, Tonawanda and West Seneca, N.Y., as well as Springdale, Pa. United also owns an asphalt terminal in Cordova, Alabama and maintains an office in Calgary and Alberta, Canada for their crude supply.
United Refining Company has continued to grow through the years by expanding and optimizing its refinery along with acquiring and building new store locations for its portfolio of retail gasoline and convenience stores, truck stops and restaurants.
Kwik Fill has had success over the years with full-serve gasoline locations. Many have developed into higher volume locations when rebuilt to include a small snack shop format of about 1,100 square feet. Kwik Fill has found that full-serve adds a very profitable niche to its marketing area.
At present, Kwik Fill/Red Apple has 31 large format food locations, which include pizza, subs, salads, breakfast sandwiches and much more. Kwik Fill also operates three Subway locations, a truck stop restaurant and several Chester Chicken locations.
The company’s future plans include rebuilding existing sites and to include its food program. Through two recent c-store acquisitions in Painted Post and Lindley, N.Y., the company is now able to offer what it called pizzeria style pizza, which also has been included in one of its recently remodeled stores in Jamestown, N.Y.
“We rolled out in the spring of 2016 a new Kwik Rewards program, which offers an instant savings of three cents off each gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel purchased, in addition to the Kwik Fill charge card that allows our customers to receive five cents off, or a savings of eight cents when used in combination together,” Brazie says.
“Our advertising department, under the direction of Lance Pangborn, had developed our Kwik Fill Driving America campaign focused on North American crude and American-made gasoline, which has had a huge success in driving new gasoline and merchandising sales to all of our Kwik Fill retail locations,” he adds.
Brazie says that Kwik Fill has also invested in pay-at-the-pump capabilities for all locations that will accept all payment options. Additionally, the company is looking at investing in new graphics for the interior and exterior of its locations for a new fresh look.
“During the early part of 2016, Kwik Fill rebuilt locations in Hamburg and Tonawanda, N.Y.,” Brazie says.
“Management has been working closely with the Kwik Fill retail field team, which is reviewing future sites for new rebuilds,” he explains. “Four of our locations have been recently approved for new rebuilds and are now going through the permitting stage. Construction could start as early as this fall 2016 or the spring of 2017.”
The Long Haul
Building and maintaining strong vendor relationships are also critical to the services United looks to provide at its stores. The company has enjoyed strong vendor support and participation over the years.
“We look for vendors that support our locations not only at the store level, but also for special events in our markets such as grand opening events and community support,” Brazie says. “Our vendors are willing to work with us to find innovative ways to grow both of our businesses.”
Thanks to its commitment to refining North American crude oil, American made gasoline and building a strong footprint of retail locations, United Refining Company, Kwik Fill and the entire organization have every reason to be positive about the future. The company is prepared for the challenges ahead and has established priorities that will help it achieve its strategic goals.