Lisa van der Pool reports in the Boston Business Journal that in 1939 Vasilios and Aphrodite Haseotes purchased a farm in Cumberland, R.I., bought a few dairy cows and started to sell milk.
The Greek couple and their children eventually grew Cumberland Farms into an extensive chain of convenience stores across 11 states worth billions of dollars, known for its orange and blue logo and a radio jingle (“The stop that keeps you going!”) that sticks like glue.
Last October their grandson, Ari Haseotes, 34, took over Cumberland Farms’ reins as president and COO.
Despite his third-generation status, Haseotes was not simply stepping into his rightful inheritance. He worked his way up the chain, and when he reached the pinnacle he executed his long-held vision to embark on a massive rebranding across all of the chain’s 575 stores.
The new stores, which started rolling out in February, still have the convenience store hot dog rolling machines. But those hot dogs are gourmet. High-quality coffee, handmade shakes and flatbread sandwiches are also on the menu at the new stores, which feature soothing earth tones, easily accessible shelving and fresh donuts and pastries.
In other words, this is not his grandfather’s Cumberland Farms.
Before designing the new prototype stores, Haseotes and his team visited food retailers including Panera Bread, Whole Foods Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks. And yes, Haseotes hopes to not only speed his company’s growth, but also offer real competition to places like Dunkin’s and Starbucks.
“Our job is to get people in and out quickly and to just make their life easier,” said Haseotes. “That’s the most fundamental part of the way we thought about our new format. Yes, you can get a great cup of coffee in Starbucks. But if you need to get gas and you want to get a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich and a bottle of Tylenol, you can’t do that at Starbucks.”
Haseotes’ vision to convert 80 to 100 stores annually over the next five years has a $200 million price tag. To date, the company has rolled out the concept in five stores.
The undertaking is the most significant of Cumberland Farms’ 70-year history. Cumberland Farms generates about $10 billion in revenue annually. Included in that revenue is money generated by Gulf Oil. Cumberland Farms purchased the Gulf “license in perpetuity” back in 1986 from Chevron. The company has 6,500 employees.
Revenue from Cumberland Farms retail stores accounts for about $3.5 billion of the total $10 billion in revenue. Haseotes became the president of the retail divison last October when Harry Brenner retired.
Even as a child, Haseotes knew he wanted to join the family business. Before he was able to operate a cash register, he worked in his father’s stores, stocking soup cans, scrubbing coolers or pumping gas.
Upon graduation from Boston College in 1996, he trained at Cumberland Farms to become a store manager. For nearly a year, he worked 85-hour weeks, through holidays, and double shifts when he couldn’t get enough help.
“It was hell, to be honest,” said Haseotes. “It really opened my eyes, but I didn’t like it at the time. I wanted to go out with my friends.”
Haseotes began thinking of ways he could improve his family’s company, but after his managing gig he needed to do something different, so he launched a storage company, StorageMax, and ran it for several years. Today his brother-i-law runs it.
In 2001 Haseotes attended Harvard Business School and after graduation headed back to Cumberland Farms as a marketing and business development manager. When he got the nod to head up marketing in 2007, Haseotes started work on a blueprint to differentiate Cumberland Farms’ stores from the pack.
“It was clear that if we didn’t do anything different, we were going to grow at inflation and we were concerned about that because costs go up every year. You can’t grow at inflation and expect to move the needle.”
Besides giving the “legacy” stores a much-needed facelift, Haseotes also wanted to change up the advertising, so he tapped Full Contact Advertising to handle the company’s rebranding. Perhaps not coincidentally, Full Contact co-founder Marty Donohue is well-known in the ad business for his work as a copywriter on the Dunkin’ Donuts account while he was at Hill Holliday.
“It’s refreshing to see someone this dedicated and motivated and at the same time, there’s a guy who’s been part of this family business since he was born,” said Donohue. “But he is in no way resting on the laurels of that.”
Inking a deal as the Boston Red Sox convenience store sponsor, complete with a large electronic sign in the right field roof area, is also part of the company’s new competitive strategy.
“It’s about upping our game,” said Haseotes. “We’re competing with the big boys. More importantly, our employees have found it to be a source of pride. It’s an icon for the future for them.”
Although this summer has brought much positive change for Haseotes, he’s had to face the future without his most important mentor — his father, who died on Memorial Day.
“It’s been kind of surreal for me,” said Haseotes, who spends his spare time with his wife and two young children. “My dad taught me that I could do anything. I think a lot of people say that, but I really truly believe it. And my father put that mindset in me.”