BP upgrades gas stations

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Shoppers at the Wild Bean Cafe can sip gourmet coffee and munch on fresh bagels and pastries. Or they can browse the Internet for news and traffic updates while waiting for their made-to-order sandwiches to be wrapped at the deli counter. Then they can go outside, top off the their tanks and drive out of the gas station.

Welcome to BP Connect. The London-based oil giant BP PLC is spiffying up its convenience stores and food offerings. as part of a global strategy to expand profit margins. The marketer has plans to open more than 300 BP Connect stores by the end of 2001. Roughly half will be in the U.S.

The first BP Connect opened in London in December. U.S. stores have been revamped in Indianapolis, Atlanta, Cleveland, and suburban Chicago. New York and New Jersey are on the schedule for 2002, said David Welch, director of global communications-research at BP.

BP has varying advertising challenges in different markets, depending on whether they have the BP brand, the Amoco brand it acquired in late 1998, or both. The new sites sell Amoco-branded gas but the stations are branded BP, with a yellow and green motif.

Until the rollout reaches a critical mass to warrant national media, BP is driving traffic with local radio and TV. Eire, Chicago, created direct mail for BP and Amoco's credit card customers.

WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, handles U.S. creative. O&M, London has the global account.

The first TV spot draws on the equity of Amoco fuel and explains the Amoco station is going to change but offer the same fuels. The tag is "Going beyond." Four other TV spots are based on the theme of "what if we spoke with your dog, your husband or your wife and got inside information about your needs and used that to create a store with you in mind," said Jack Rooney, senior partner-exec group director at O&M.

"It's almost as if BP knew what you were looking for," he said. "If you are offering at least as much in speed convenience and accessibility, you'll get your fair share of heavy users but to get to the [less frequent users] you have to offer more than your competition. BP Connect has done that."

Mr. Welch said the new BP sites won't just compete with ExxonMobil Corp.'s sites, but fast feeders like McDonald's Corp. and chains like Wal-Mart Stores. He declined to discuss ad spending. BP spent $93 million in U.S. measured media last year and $13 million in the first quarter, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Like other oil giants, BP isn't hurting financially. Last month, it announced second-quarter income of $3 billion on revenues of $48.7 billion vs. income of $2.79 billion on revenues of $39 billion.

While the bulk of revenue comes from gasoline, Tom Rinando, a BP Connect manager, expects store profits to eventually eclipse gasoline profits. "We'll draw them in with the gas, but once they're inside we'll give them what they like."

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