C-Store Keepers of the Flame Among 2013 Hot Retailers

Nation's fastest-growing retail companies include eight convenience chains

WASHINGTON -- Convenience stores were well-represented among the nation's "hottest retailers," published by the National Retail Federation's STORES magazine. Susser's Stripes (No. 24), RaceTrac (No. 56), QuikTrip (No. 57), Cumberland Farms (No. 65), 7-Eleven (No. 73), Casey's (No. 74), VPS (No. 82) and Pilot Flying J (No. 89) all made the list that was topped by grocer Bi-Lo Holdings.

The Hot 100 Retailers an annual ranking of the nation's fastest-growing retail companies, determined by increases in domestic sales between 2011 and 2012; all retail companies with domestic sales in excess of $300 million were eligible. Hot 100 retailers averaged year-over-year domestic sales growth of 15.4%. This is substantial movement over last year's average of 12.7%, and indicative of inflationary factors as well as strong growth in specialty apparel, online and electronics segments.

The most successful retailers will be those that "best present their business's value proposition to consumers," said Bryan Gildenberg, chief knowledge officer at Kantar Retail, which compiles the list.

Whatever the economy is doing, consumers were out and about in their cars more often in 2012 than 2011, as evidenced by the presence of eight convenience store chains on the Hot 100 Retailers chart, up from seven last year. Kantar's researchers said c-store chains are growing through "acquisition of smaller chains and independents, rapid organic store growth and big investments in store remodels, foodservice and private-label merchandise." The numbers back that up: At the end of 2012, there were nearly 150,000 c-stores in the United States, according to Nielsen Research--accounting for a little more than a third of all retail stores in the country.

As much as a quarter of the population says it shops c-stores as often as supermarkets, according to a study released in June by Imprint Plus. The survey, which polled 1,000 consumers, also found that 60% of respondents bought something at a c-store at least once a week.

C-store sales are segregated into two major categories: Fuel sales, which last year amounted to $501 billion, according to the recently-released State of the Industry Report by the National Association of Convenience Stores; and in-store sales of $199.3 billion. The three hottest categories for in-store sales were "alternative snacks" like meat snacks and health/energy/protein bars, which grew 12.2% year over year; liquor, up 11.6%; and cold dispensed beverages, up 11.3%.

The highest-ranked c-store chain on the Hot 100 Retailers chart is No. 24 Stripes, owned and operated by Susser Holdings. Stripes, which has locations throughout Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, has opened eight new stores so far this year. The company recently brought in Sid Keswani from Target stores to serve as senior vice president of store operations.

No. 73 7-Eleven, owned by Japan's Seven & i Holdings, is the largest c-store chain among the Hot 100 Retailers in terms of sales and has plans to double its North American footprint over the next several years, both through takeovers of small operators and increased penetration of urban areas.

The chain "could increase … store numbers to 20,000 or even 30,000," said Toshifumi Suzuki, chairman of Seven & I, declining to specify a timetable for the expansion. The company acquired more than 650 stores last year and controls nearly a quarter of the North American market. 7-Eleven has also invested heavily in remodeling and renovating both its own older units and acquired stores. It has been an industry leader in improving the quality and freshness of its offerings along with increasing the amount of private-label products.

Click here to read the full STORES report. And click here for the full chart.