'A natural fit': Marketing expert says Quickie-MacEwen union a winner

Arnold Kimmel
Entrepreneur Arnold Kimmel co-founded the Quickie convenience store chain in 1973. Photo by Mark Holleron

MacEwen Petroleum’s acquisition of Quickie Convenience Stores is a marriage of two “really well-managed brands” that will pay long-term dividends for the eastern Ontario-based gas retailer, a local marketing expert says.

“It seems like a natural fit,” University of Ottawa professor Mike Mulvey told OBJ. “You’ve got two local family-run businesses here, well-established, well-liked in the community. Why wouldn’t they get together?”

The companies announced the deal on Tuesday. Quickie co-founder Arnold Kimmel said that after nearly five decades in the retail business, he was ready to retire and felt MacEwen – another enterprise with long-standing ties to the region that already runs its own chain of convenience stores – was the perfect partner.

Mulvey agreed. 

The marketing professor at uOttawa’s Telfer School of Management said Quickie and MacEwen have thrived despite being relative minnows fighting for market share against global giants such as 7-Eleven and Esso.

So much so, in fact, that Quickie ultimately bought out 7-Eleven's Ottawa stores more than a decade ago, solidifying its stature as the region's top dog in the industry.  

“They’re fighting above their weight and doing quite well,” Mulvey said. “It’s two really well-managed brands that have been pretty diligent about keeping modern and keeping up standards in their facilities. It seems like a good match.”

Consistent branding

The deal expands MacEwen’s network of convenience stores to 108 locations across Ontario and western Quebec. The Maxville-based chain plans to rebrand all its stores as Quickies, a move Mulvey predicted will pay off as MacEwen replaces a “patchwork quilt” of store logos with one instantly recognizable name and format.

“It’s the same look and feel – it doesn’t matter which (location) you go to, you know what you’re going to get,” he said. “To me, that’s sort of the hallmark of a really well-run company is that they set those standards and maintain them. I think that consistency is going to serve them well going forward.”

Mulvey said Quickie emerged as the dominant regional player in the space thanks to a winning template that focused on delivering staples such as bread and milk along with “vice products” like cigarettes – all in spaces that were brighter, cleaner and more generally more inviting than the “dingy” corner stores that were once a fixture of local neighbourhoods.

“In a way, they’re delivering the classic convenience store model,” he said of the Ottawa company, noting the stores lived up to their name by being easy to navigate for customers who were in a hurry.

“They really understood their client base. They understood that it’s not just about the milk and the bread and the cigarettes – the environment within which you buy that matters to some consumers.”

Customer loyalty

The chain’s decision in the late 1970s to open filling stations connected to retail stores also helped it cultivate customer loyalty, Mulvey added. 

At the time of the sale to MacEwen, Quickie operated 22 gas stations in eastern Ontario and western Quebec, most of them under its own banner and a few affiliated with big oil companies such as Petro-Canada.

“Filling up for gas is a ritual,” Mulvey said. “People become creatures of habit and they go to the same gas station, which means if you can get your convenience store attached to those places, you’ve got a built-in business. It becomes a symbiotic thing.” 

In addition, he praised the company for its ability to generate goodwill in the community through initiatives such as the charity Tour de Quickie bike race, which it sponsored for several years in the 1980s and ’90s, and its Quickie Community Foundation. 

Over the years, the retailer donated millions of dollars to organizations including local hospitals, the Ottawa Mission and the United Way.