O&A Masthead

Colorado News —
February 2016

Columnist — Joyce Trent

DENVER — Western Convenience Stores Inc., a Centennial CO-based chain with 43 locations in Colorado and Nebraska, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to thwart a takeover by one of its creditors.

Suncor Energy USA was seeking to foreclose on 37 of the properties to satisfy a $7 million debt for which Western was held liable after losing a payment dispute with the fuel supplier. The bankruptcy would shut down that effort and give the chain time to restructure.

In documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Denver, attorneys for Western Convenience said it needs the funds it has to pay its 369 workers, most of whom live paycheck to paycheck. The petition asks for permission to use otherwise restricted funds for that and for inventory replacement to stay open.

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Founded in Centennial in 1989, Western is an independent discount retailer that sells unbranded fuel. An expansion enabled the chain to take in more than $250 million from sale of fuel and other products. Most of its fuel is purchased on the spot market although it has a fuel-supply contract with Phillips 66 for 600,000 gallons a month.

In addition to its obligation to Suncor, Western owes secured debts to gasoline supplier Offen Petroleum and two banks, High Plains Bank and Vectra Bank. And it lists unsecured debts to several other creditors, including the Colorado Lottery.

Company officials said they hope to come up with a reasonable payment plan.

ASPEN — A former businessman who had been homeless for six years had an abrupt turn of fortune recently when he won $500,000 on a scratch lottery ticket at a convenience store.

Gabby Garcia, a clerk at the Shell Service Station who sold the winning ticket, said Michael Engfors would usually buy a $1 or $2 ticket but this day invested $10.

"He came running back in the store saying, 'I won.'"

Jeremy Kowalis, who runs the Aspen Homeless Shelter where Engfors often stays, said, "Michael has seen a bottom that has pushed him right to the edge (loss of his business, divorce and alcoholism), but he never gave up. He knew that if he kept pushing on, eventually his luck would change."

Kowalis told a TV station that after confirming he was a winner Engfors went to a local church for the weekend to safeguard the ticket until he could be driven to state lottery headquarters to collect.

Asked what he would do with the money Engfors reportedly said he wanted to find his daughter whom he hadn't seen in 20 years. He also wanted to buy some skis.

PUEBLO — During the recent Powerball contest people were scrambling to buy lottery tickets at the convenience store that has received a reputation as "lucky."

Since 1987 more than a hundred people have won at least a thousand dollars at the M and M Convenience Store here.

When the Powerball jackpot topped $1.4 billion the manager said he sold 10,000 tickets in one week.

One of the customers, Ruben Aguayo, said he had a good feeling he could win if he bought tickets there. "This is the lucky store," he said.

DENVER — Transparency is vital to building a solid customer base, says John Griffin, CEO for Griffin Fast Lube, which operates 57 Jiffy Lube stores in Colorado, Utah and Nevada. And he wanted a software program that would do just that.

The answer was a visual story platform which allows sales and service technicians to pull out an iPad Mini, inspect the vehicle, and then provide the customer with a transparent 3D model that spins and rotates so the customer can see everything from the transmission to the brakes.

People are already suspicious they will be overcharged as soon as they enter stores like his, Griffin said. "In some cases the contempt level is extremely high. They feel they are being pressured and taken advantage of."

So Griffin Fast Lube formed a separate company, G5 Technologies, which developed the visual story platform.

"You can view what's necessary and add and remove repairs as desired. A customer can take a look either in the store or in their vehicle.

The program, called iShift, was developed with help from Citrix.

It was not an easy task to get there. Griffin explained they had to pull from legacy databases containing customer vehicle information and to merge that data with real-time information collected on the iPad.

The program was greeted with enthusiasm. Griffin estimates ninety percent of the customers use it, and many of the stores experienced a fifty percent a month increase in sales.

"We have witnessed the largest sales increase in the company's franchise history," said Griffin. "It is the most profitable initiative we have ever developed."

COLORADO SPRINGS — Usually convenience store robbers want to get in and get out quickly, but a guy who used an ax to break into a Shell station was still there grabbing tobacco and lottery tickets behind the counter when police arrived.

Michael Statler was so engrossed that it was his undoing, police said, as the clerk managed to flee and contact authorities. The thief was captured without incident.

GRAND JUNCTION — A woman arrested here apparently liked a convenience store so much she didn't want to leave, barricading herself inside the office.

When police arrived at the Western Convenience store the clerk said he had stepped outside for a smoke only to hear someone banging around in the office when he returned. He tried to talk her out but she had locked the door and refused.

The woman told police she couldn't come out because she had a broken leg but after half an hour officers forced the door. The woman identified herself as Amber Miller but authorities said they learned she was Lindsey Adams. And her leg was not broken.

She later said she did not know how she ended up in the office. She was charged with criminal mischief, trespass, and impersonation.

GRAND JUNCTION — Then there was the woman, police said, who lost her car wash to foreclosure and returned to burglarize it after it was sold.

The Redlands Canyon View Car Wash had its vending machine emptied of cash ten times in four months before police conducted a surveillance that netted former owner Roxanne Lewis, 58.

They said they saw Lewis arrive at the car wash at 8:30 P.M., the usual time of the burglaries, enter and remove money from the vending machine.

She had kept a key when the car wash closed in 2013.

Police said she only admitted to five of the burglaries.

COLORADO SPRINGS — "Please, for the love of God, make it stop," cried a homeless man who said loud Christmas music piped from a building housing a 7-Eleven was interfering with socializing with his friends.

Details of a proposed ordinance that would forbid sitting or lying in the area are still being worked out, but the music definitely thinned the crowds of homeless over the holidays.

Thomas O'Reilly, a homeless man who is a fixture at the site, said the decibel level and the repetition of the songs have driven him and some of his friends nearly mad.

A code enforcement officer who responded to the complaint tested the decibel level. He said it was over twenty decibels higher than the allowed sixty decibels. He reported the problem to the police department.

Building owner Randy Case said the music was just meant to be festive and said he had not heard from the city. He did change the playlist a bit.

Meanwhile, the city, under threat of lawsuit from the ACLU, has watered down the proposed ordinance. There still would be a fine, but jail would come only on repeat offense. That, say homeless advocates, constitutes reviving debtor's prison, which was abolished over a century ago.

Business people in the area complained to the city that crowds of the homeless were doing everything from aggressive panhandling to sleeping on the sidewalk in front of their businesses to defecating in the doorways. It was driving away customers at a time when officials are trying to attract people to downtown, they said.

AURORA — Mister Car Wash has acquired the Auto Spa Express here. Spokespeople said they expect it to be one of their highest volume locations.

Mister Car Wash operates 160 car washes and 34 express lubes in 19 states.

The Aurora facility is a double tunnel exterior only car wash located in Southland, the largest outdoor mall in the country.

FRUITVALE — Rocky Mountain C Stores is expanding in Colorado. It recently opened a Wienerschnitzel and Tastee Freeze in a Shell store, its fourth in Colorado, and plans another early this year in Grand Junction.

The firm already has co-branded Wienerschnitzel and Tastee Freezes in Grand Junction, Montrose and Parachute.

The Fruitvale operation is open seven days a week. Wienerschnitzel Express offers breakfast all day as well as hot dogs.

COLORADO SPRINGS — Authorities believe a convenience store manager and her boyfriend concocted a scheme to set fire to a bank drop box to conceal their theft of almost $100,000 from the store.

Joy Tomlinson, 26, the former manager of a Circle K store, and Lee Laurie, 32, have been charged with theft and arson.

The money was to have been deposited in the bank drop box the store used. A jar of gasoline was set ablaze in the box, but the plan backfired when the flames blew back into the face of the man who placed it.

A surveillance video showed a man, later believed to be Laurie, lighting the jar and putting it through the drop box. He fled on a BMX bike.

He was not identified however until a "robbery" at the store two weeks later that drew suspicion because the male robber seemed to know too much about where money was kept and allowed the manager to move around, transacting business, while her assistant was locked in the cooler.

The robber went directly to the safe and store ATM before hitting the cash register, as most do.

Also, $32,000 was on hand, an unusual amount to be left lying around, and an investigation revealed no money had been deposited in the bank for five days.

An audit showed a series of missing deposits going back a month. In all, $93,585, was reported taken.

A search of the couple's home turned up a BMX bike and an incriminating log of their personal bank deposits.

ASPEN — A car wash owner whose lease was abruptly terminated believes it is politically motivated because he opposed the landlord's plans for the property. But the landlord maintains he is just trying to get adequate revenue from the site.

Mario Zulian has operated his Eco Steam Wash auto-detailing business at the Main Street Conoco since 2008. He is an immigrant from Brazil who came to the area as a competitive snowboarder.

Mark Hunt bought the property in 2014 for $6 million. He sought city and voter approval to construct a lodge that would require zoning breaks.

Zulian went before the city council suggesting an alternative plan—a green gasoline station. Zulian is ecology-conscious, using a system for his car wash that can do one vehicle with a gallon of water.

The station would sell alternative fuels, have a high-speed charging unit for electric vehicles, a recycling collection point for motor oils and aerosol cans, a healthy grab and go snack shop, and his steam car wash.

One of the contributors to a Vote No campaign was Zulian. Hunt's proposal was rejected by voters by a big margin.

Then, in December, Zulian wrote a letter to the editor reviving his plan which he called "revolutionary and audacious, with potential to become the new franchise option for gas stations wanting to go green.

"Instead of demolishing the old Conoco, this project would focus on remodeling it with elegant and futuristic designs.

"It would save an enormous amount of resources and funds that can be used elsewhere. It would also minimize the construction and noise impacts of developing the site," he wrote.

Six days after the letter was published Zulian said he received a notice his month-to-month lease would be terminated in January.

"I'm one hundred percent certain it was because of the letter," Zulian said.

But Hunt said he was getting only $1200 a month, down from $2,000 last summer, from Zulian for one of the two bays. The other bay was vacant.

"He pays one-tenth of the market value," Hunt said. He estimated the two bays could rent for more than $10,000 and he has signed a deal with a local business to take over both. "As a business person, as someone who bought a piece of property, I had to do what's right for the property."

Zulian said he had not been given the opportunity to pay more. He said he is in a quandary because he has contracted to detail cars that will be part of a Maserati test drive event in February and, although he has another location, it was not as good a place to do the job.

He has three employees in the winter and seven in the summer who will be put out of work, he said.

He dreamed of a state-of-the art operation which he believes he has achieved with Clean Cars Car Wash.

It sports a Hot Water Laser 400 Touch-Free Automatic, anti-ice floors, and a perimeter heat system. Vending supplies, carpet shampooer, vacuums and foamy brush systems are also included.

There's also a large self-service bay for large trucks and RV's.

COLORADO SPRINGS — Why go out to have an oil change when the oil change can come to you? That's the philosophy of the owner of the new Go Mobile Lube.

"Time is our customers' most valuable asset," said owner Robert Milroy. "That is why we cater to the clients and work around their schedules, coming to change their oil where and when it is most convenient for them, whether that be at their home, office, school, or even grocery store while they are shopping."

He provides the same service for fleet operators so the owners don't have to pay their employees to stand in line at a lube shop doing nothing.

He will even go thirty miles to Pueblo or out to the prairie where the small town of Yoder sits.

Other services include radiator work and transmission repair. But heavy repair is excluded.

He has been in business since 2011.

DENVER — Some robbers need a little more work on their technique as demonstrated in two cities last month.

In Colorado Springs, a man walked into a 7-Eleven but didn't put on his mask until he went into the bathroom. When he emerged he went up to the counter and demanded the clerk hand over the cigarettes. The clerk, hoping for a show of more stupidity, asked for identification, but the robber wasn't falling for it. He brandished a gun and walked off with the smokes. Police are hoping to catch him soon.

A group of men who robbed seven stores — nearly every 7-Eleven in the Montebello neighborhood of Denver — allowed a customer to walk out during one stickup and new customers to come in. The customer who left had to be the most laid-back witness to a robbery ever. He was on his cell phone when he seemed to slowly comprehend what was going on. He simply turned and walked back out without a word from the robbers. He was still on his phone.

And of all the stuff in the store, a cop said the gang "only took blunt wraps and stuff like that, along with a small amount of money." Police hope to catch them soon.

FORT COLLINS — No one is sure as to how it got started but now it has turned into what locals are calling "The Great Gas War of 2015."

Just before Christmas a convenience store on one corner dropped its price for a gallon of unleaded below two dollars.

Then a gasoline station across the street cut its even more, and each day after that they tried to outdo each other. Soon it was forty cents below market level.

A frustrated Christian Yepello, manager for the Western Convenience store, said the price was $3.05 when the war started. At press time it was $1.55.

Robert Zipperstein, district manager for Empire Petroleum dba Diamond Shamrock/Valero, whose store is on the other side of the front lines, said he wasn't trying to start a war. He said his company routinely does surveys, finds the lowest price in town and matches it. But when Diamond Shamrock dropped its price to the lowest, Western Convenience sliced its by four cents. It has been penny for penny ever since.

"When we go to match him he goes four cents below," Zipperstein said. "He wants to be four cents below us for some reason. We decided to go down to match, but at some point we have to decide enough is enough."

Right now the increased volume is keeping both stores afloat. It will be a while before the two competitors know if the volume can sustain them.

For the cops it is a huge headache. With all the cars vying to get into the two stations traffic is backing up.

It's also causing a dilemma for the other stations in town, who can't afford to cut prices so drastically. They are just trying to outprice each other.

COLORADO SPRINGS — If motorists think they have it good now, they must have been amazed as a list of the gasoline prices in 1940 came out in the Gazette recently.

After freight, companies agreed to a reduction in rates to benefit motorists gasoline started selling for 17, 19, and 21 cents a gallon per respective grade.

FORT COLLINS — Robbers are starting their careers at an earlier age.

Police said a fourteen-year-old boy was arrested after he flashed a handgun at a clerk at a 7-Eleven and made off with cash.

A tip resulted in the arrest of the teen who was released to his parents pending formal charges.

ARVADA — It was a lucky day for a convenience store clerk here when the robber did a double take and abandoned the attempt because he knew him.

The hooded man was captured on camera as he gave a thumbs up to the clerk at the Quick Save as he exited the premises.

The clerk said the would-be robber walked in at lunch time wearing a blue hoodie, jeans, blue bandana, and red and yellow shoes, and started to give his spiel. Then he looked at the clerk and said, "(Expletive!) I was going to rob this place, but I know you."

But he covered his tracks, asking if the clerk recognized him. When he said no, the suspect said, "Good," and left flashing a thumbs up.

A clerk at a 7-Eleven a mile and a half away on the same road wasn't so lucky a short time later. A man meeting the description of the first suspect went ahead and held him up.

DENVER — Empire Petroleum has expanded its presence in Colorado by acquiring thirteen former CST Corner Store locations.

"Empire is excited to be doing business in the great state of Colorado," said Michael O'Brien, vice-president of mergers and acquisition for the Dallas-based company. "Colorado represents an opportunity to expand our footprint further into the western U. S. The acquisition further solidifies our relationship with Valero, a relationship we hope to continue to build in the Rocky Mountain region and elsewhere."

He said the company intends to keep on as many former CST employees in its stores as possible.

THORNTON — Kum & Go opened a new store here in January, the second in northern Denver.

The store has 5,000 square feet, designed to provide fast service with a wide variety of food options including made-to-order pizza, baked goods and breakfast and deli sandwiches. The station sells diesel and E-85 along with other fuels.

Kum & Go now has 54 stores in Colorado. The corporation has 82 LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) sites, the most of any convenience store chain in the nation, according to a press release.

LAKEWOOD — The owner of an auto repair shop found that constructing a quick-lube right next door came in very handy and increased profits dramatically.

Green Mountain Auto World and Havoline Xpress Lube work hand-in-hand, said Mark Rodenburg, who owns both.

For instance, if a torn CV boot is spotted during the lube job the car can be fixed next door immediately.

Business flows regularly from the lube shop that attracts customers who generally return at least three times a year. About 35% to 40% of quick-lube customers also use the repair shop, Rodenburg estimates.

He said the lube business is very demanding these days. "People are in a hurry," he said. So he sets a goal of performing an oil change in fifteen to twenty minutes. It would be impossible, he said, if he didn't have the pits he has. He said three techs work on a single car, one in the pit, one under the hood and another doing the courtesy inspection.

He saves money with used motor oil utilized to heat the buildings as well as a stand-alone car wash he also owns.

Promotions are a necessary part of business, he says, along with a little extra customer service. He offers a five dollar car wash with every oil change. Many times those who take their car in for repair find that it has been run through the car wash with no charge.

To reach the on-line crowd he is putting a video on his Yelp listing to help attract new business.

The business is a family affair. Daughter Erin runs another business he owns, a Shell station and convenience store. She studied for the telecommunications field but decided Dad's business was a better fit. His son, Todd, came back to work after getting his college degree. Even his mother helps stock the convenience store once a week.

FORT COLLINS — The city has joined the environmental push against over use of plastic bags.

The City Council has adopted a five-cent charge per single use bag that takes effect in April.

Originally published in the February 2016 issue of the O&A Marketing News.
Copyright 2016 by KAL Publications Inc.

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