OOMCO launches new Ahlain c-store format developed with Shopworks

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Posted on 16 April 2021 in ; ;

Oman Oil Marketing Company ‘OOMCO’, is transforming its non-fuel retailing operations across five key touch points and delivering a strongly unified and differentiated customer experience that is meeting motorists and shoppers’ needs both in the Sultanate and wider GCC (Gulf Corporation Council) region.

Launched in 2003, OOMCO operates one of the largest networks of service stations in the Sultanate and has a leading market share of around 40% in Oman’s domestic fuel business.

Hussain Jama Bait Ishaq, Acting CEO at Oman Oil Marketing Company, said: “Our vision is to become the most customer-centric marketer in GCC, and sustainably transform the fuel industry into an integrated service hub. We have developed a road map for the company’s future within the region and internationally. We are implementing a forward-thinking strategy, exploring new investments, joint ventures, and growing non-fuel revenue while continuing to invest in human capital. OOMCO remains committed to build a ‘beyond the pump’ brand, while achieving sustainable growth for shareholders, customers, and the company at large.”

The network comprises 230 forecourt locations, 74 Ahlain-branded convenience stores and 30 unbranded sites plus more than 50 car wash locations; all serving over 250,000 motorists every day.

OOMCO launched a new five-year strategy in 2016 with growth in non-fuel retail at its core.

For Ali Muqaibel, OOMCO’s General Manager for Retail International, it’s been a transformational journey and the story is far from over. “We are still trying to realize the benefits of the strategy but we are very well positioned for growth,” he says. “We have invested in a down cycle, which is a risky strategy but the fuel business has been under attack with margins squeezed and demand hit hard,” he says.

OOMCO’s five-pronged approach includes:

  • The launch of a new Ahlain c-store format, developed in conjunction with the UK-based retail design agency Shopworks
  • A new car care centre brand – Optimo Swift – featuring state-of-the-art car wash technology plus new services
  • The launch of three master food and beverage franchise programmes
  • New strategic partnerships in delivery, collection and entertainment services
  • A new digital loyalty programme with a mobile app for online payment and a virtual fuel card

Combined, the five elements connect and bring cohesion to the customer journey; which OOMCO readily admits was missing before.

Previously, for example, the flagship Ahlain convenience store brand was managed by a third party, who controlled the product offering and pricing; only a handful of service stations had ties with major bands like Burger King and McDonald’s; car washes were largely unbranded and managed by a third party and there was a very basic mobile app with no differentiation in fuel.

“We had a huge network but it was not talking to each other or providing a unified experience – there was no incentive to come to us,” recalls Mohammed Al Shanfari, OOMCO’s Senior Manager Marketing and Digital. “In 2018 we have realized that the business has the opportunity to mitigate the disconnection over the business channels,” he continues. “What we are trying to do and, have succeeded in doing, is to connect it.”

New c-store format

The new-look Ahlain store was debuted in February 2021. Developed with Shopworks, the store layout has been optimized based on both the customer journey and data insights to offer an improved user experience and boost sales.

The format is designed to flex according to the store location, reports Ramzi Mejri, Shop Food and Services Marketing Manager at OOMCO.

OOMCO has created three different store sizes offering a coffee corner, fully-fledged food offer plus drive thru. “The size optimization is based on sales analysis and meeting consumer needs and behavior and recognizes that we can’t offer a standard format in every location,” Mejri says.

Mejri reports OOMCO has remained tightly focused on providing the right layout, product offer and levels of innovation, removing both unnecessary duplication of merchandise and CAPEX.

In particular, the business has focused on how it drives customers through the store – an imperative given that 70% of sales are counter-based, Mejri says. In response, the retailer has opened up the counter display area and incorporated more space for impulse categories to prompt purchasing.

The new design features a grey, orange and white colour palette with natural wood accents for a contemporary look and feel with key c-store categories including confectionery, grocery, bakery, dairy, refreshment, household tobacco, essentials and accessories etc all clearly signposted. Critically, OOMCO has now taken ownership of the category management for the c-store, controlling both the product list and pricing.

More fresh produce has been added too, alongside gondolas featuring healthier products. New categories such as coffee, popcorn, ice cream, laundry, pharmacy and parcel drop off/pick up are also being introduced via shop-in-shop style concepts. “We are working on additional services in order to optimise the space and be innovative with customers,” Mejri says. The aim, he adds, is to differentiate both the look and offer to improve the overall customer experience.

Mejri reports OOMCO is planning to launch a further four new Ahlain concept stores this year. With a modern look and an enhanced customer experience, the fuel marketing company continues to set benchmarks in the Sultanate’s fuel marketing industry.

Optimo Swift

In tandem, OOMCO has launched a new car care centre concept called Optimo Swift. Three have been opened to date and there are a further three in the pipeline. Like Ahlain, there’s a completely new look and feel to the concept and a modern new layout, which incorporates a waiting room for both men and women.

Optimo Swift is more than just a new brand for Oman, however. It includes new equipment and technology in car wash, offering eco-friendly chemicals, water recycling and soft brushes – all fully automated by a German company to provide innovation in car washing, but also to save costs through reduced energy and water consumption. According to Mejri, the car wash is a hit with women drivers who prefer to remain in their vehicles while at the site. The technology, meanwhile, enables OOMCO to monitor and analyse sales via location, providing an opportunity for promotions and ‘happy hour’ events.
Alongside the car wash facility, Optimo Swift provides new services including minor mechanical repairs plus tyre change, supported by an experienced local partner and its associated supply chain.

OOMCO is looking to reduce its carbon footprint elsewhere at its service station network. The retailer has introduced EV charging at three locations and launched two ‘green’ service stations, featuring a raft of environmental features including vehicle recharging, LED lighting, solar panels to generate electricity, a Vapour Recovery System and biodegradable bags.

Master franchise agreements in F&B

The third pillar in OOMCO’s new strategy is developing a truly differentiated food and beverage offer to other service station providers in Oman and the GCC. In a 10-year plan for Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and other markets, OOMCO has signed master franchise agreements with three leading F&B brands: Café Amazon (coffee) from Thailand, Steers (burgers) and Debonairs Pizza, both from South Africa.

A bold and inspired move, the agreements give OOMCO control of the increasingly important retail food and coffee business moving forward.

To date, OOMCO has opened 10 Café Amazon stores, including five with drive thru formats, and is targeting 11 branches by the year end. According to Mejri, the Café Amazon format is experience-driven with a welcoming look and feel and high quality coffee offer. This appeals to groups of consumers, such as students, who use the Café locations as a meeting place, he says.

The first Steers store, also including a drive thru, is being piloted with plans for four branches by the end of 2021 and three Debonairs Pizza are scheduled to open this year too.

Mejri suggests the franchises bring a USP to the region and, as with the new c-store format, OOMCO will be able to leverage its retail estate and tailor the food and beverage offer according to the location ie transient or residential.

Mega sites or hubs are also under construction in Oman including the newly opened Sultan Qaboos University location plus a site at Al Sawadi, which is 90% complete. A further complex at Maabela is in the pipeline for later this year. These sites offer a broader range of services with OOMCO’s forecourt, convenience, QSR and car service offers sited alongside other retailer brands.PreviousNext

New partnerships

New strategic partnerships are also on the cards. These include the ARAMEX drop box service, launching in April and targeted to open at 10 convenience stores; plus delivery tie ups with online food delivery providers TALABAT, AKEED and TMDONE for OOMCO’s c-store, Café and food offers. OOMCO has also partnered with beIN Sports to offer entertainment subscriptions and has exclusivity within the petrol forecourt channel.

Digital developments

No retail transformation would be complete without a digital piece and for OOMCO that’s no exception.

The once ‘basic app’ has been replaced with a digital loyalty and rewards programme, which is unique in Oman. It enables users to collect points from all OOMCO stores and stations; view their loyalty points balance using the OOMCO World App; collect free loyalty points and badges; redeem points for e-vouchers in OOMCO stores and at its partners, including fast food chains, supermarkets and jewellery stores etc; and track their loyalty points and transactions using the app. There’s also a linked virtual fuel card and wallet –  Basma Plus and Basma Plus Virtual – and users can pay for fuel using the OOMCO World app.

Mejri reports the loyalty programme, app and virtual card, in particular, have been invaluable during the Covid pandemic as consumers have chosen to go ‘cashless and touchless’. “We have been innovative with the app and respectful of the guidelines surrounding hygiene,” he says.
OOMCO intends to enhance the rewards programme further in 2021 by adding Gift Cards to the OOMCO World programme.

Future developments look assured too with OOMCO looking to deploy the latest smart technologies in new retail formats and harness machine learning and AI to help pinpoint future opportunities.

Moving forward, OOMCO will continue to work on its digital transformation, building on smart fueling and expanding ways of digital access to its customers. The company will continue to focus on other growing trends like green and clean energy. It’s already ahead in adopting sustainability practices as the first fuel marketing company to go green and eco-friendly in the Sultanate.

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