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Petro-Canada Cookstown is a next-generation refuelling station

Suncor leaders talk about how the integrated travel centre, located south of Muskoka cottage country, puts customers (and their four-legged friends) at the heart of the journey.
Petro Canada Cookstown
Photo: Supplied

Picture this: You’re part of the team responsible for refuelling station site development. A challenge at the best of times, considering you need to forecast what’s going to drive results for your company roughly a decade out. But what if the first global pandemic in a century lands on your doorstep in year eight? What then? How do you take what’s already been set in stone and make it work for a new set of circumstances? Or a new reality?

Sometimes, when reality bites, you need to bite back. That’s just what the Suncor team did as they forged ahead with their plans to open Petro-Canada Cookstown, strategically located on Highway 89 in Innisfil, Ont., a stone’s throw from Highway 400, on the verge of Muskoka cottage country.

According to Pat Ritchie, vice-president sales and marketing for Suncor, what allowed them to bite back was a robust site development process that’s been over 30 years in the making.

“The Cookstown site falls in line with our existing plan, so it made sense no matter what,” says Ritchie of the location that opened in May 2021. “It’s a highway strategy to support both wholesale and retail traffic. We estimate that 60% of our traffic there is wholesale and 40% is retail. The site supports commuter traffic in the area and sees a big surge in the summer as people head to cottage country.”

The location is referred to as an integrated travel centre, a designation to describe a facility with a Petro-Canada retail component and a Petro-Pass truck stop all-in-one. As such, it’s been designed to not only cater to both audiences, but to provide a few surprises along the way. Some of these features are being test-marketed at Petro-Canada Cookstown for possible roll-out in more locations down the road.

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Petro Canada Cookstown off-leash dog park
Photo: Supplied

Example: the off-leash fenced dog park. 

In the wake of the pandemic, a handful of key activities, hobbies and sports skyrocketed in popularity. Cycling was one. Pickleball was another. But possibly the biggest trend of all was dog ownership. Everywhere you looked, there were dogs. For good reason, too: Our canine compatriots have a reputation for providing owners with much-needed emotional support. 

People take their dogs to the office. Families take their dogs for weekends away. And truck drivers? Well, they’re pretty much joined at the hip with their dogs, the result of countless miles on the road together. Viewed from this lens, if you want to make your service station a necessary stopover for wholesale and retail customers, an off-leash dog park is an inspired choice.

“We had a strategic initiative to look at the customer experience, both at retail and wholesale, so we mapped out a journey together with the customer,” Ritchie reports. “We sat with retail customers in their living rooms, rode with them in their cars. Then, we did the same with truck drivers. The whole process took a year, then we did market research for about two month ands follow-up for another month.” 

The research led to the uncovering of key insights—and more than a few surprises. 

“We always wanted our sites to be a destination, but the feedback suggested they’re not destinations, they’re stopovers on a journey,” says Ritchie. “They’re like an airport, a place you need to get to somewhere else. You still want a quick and seamless experience at that stopover, you still want a place that supports your mobility. This insight really fed into a lot of our design decisions.”

inside with Pizza Forno and Kernals popping machine
PizzaForno and Kernels popcorn machines (Photo: Supplied)

The development team first needed to “check the expected boxes,” making sure that Petro-Canada Cookstown offered a baseline of typical features. So the location has a large convenience store, clean washrooms and a full-size A&W Restaurant. But there’s also a lounge area with a fireplace, an innovative PizzaForno vending machine, phone-charging receptacles and, for truck drivers, hotel-style shower rooms.

There’s also free Wi-Fi throughout the location. Research indicated that some people prefer to sit in their cars and scroll the news or watch their favourite streaming service, so the signal strength has been boosted to encompass the entire parking lot.

In their research, the development team at Suncor worked with an anthropologist to better understand their customers’ lives and how a location such as Petro-Canada Cookstown might make those lives easier. Of course, speed and convenience are key factors. But at highway locations, customers are often looking to take a break in the middle of a long drive. 

Petro-Canada Cookstown Charging station
Photo: Supplied

The location also has two DC fast-chargers for electric vehicles (EVs); by necessity, these customers sometimes have to pause for longer before continuing their journey. The stations can provide up to 80% charge in less than 30 minutes. (Using the dedicated Petro-Canada EV mobile app for iOS and Android devices, drivers can search for the next charging station along their journey, monitor charging sessions and pay for charging using their smartphone.)

While the research might suggest that Petro-Canada Cookstown is not a destination, it certainly has a lot of the elements one would look for in a destination. Great food options, fast and courteous service, and a whole lot more. So the next time you’re driving along Highway 400 between Toronto and Barrie, maybe take the Highway 89 exit and visit this next-generation integrated travel centre for yourself.

Just don’t be surprised if you feel the need to linger there a bit longer—or if your dog feels likewise.

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