Kotler Gets Back in the Game

Former GPM leader returns with big acquisition, foodservice goals

Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News

RICHMOND, Va. -- The new chief executive officer of GPM Investments LLC is anxious to grow his two convenience-store chains, Fas Mart and Shore Stop, but he doesn't want to raise a ruckus about it.

"We're trying to be quiet, but at the same time we are very aggressive in the market place right now," Arie Kotler told CSP Daily News in an exclusive interview. "We have liquidity, and we would like to grow the company through the opportunities available to us."

Kotler is hardly a household name in the U.S. convenience-store industry, but he should be a familiar one. In 2003, the Israeli businessman orchestrated the purchase of the Fas Mart c-store chain, rescuing it from bankruptcy and creating GPM Investments.

He left his role as chairman of the company in 2006, but kept an eye on the business. And when he heard about recent struggles, including being without a CEO for several months, he got involved again, ultimately buying back into the company through a $50-million injection of credit and taking the top role at the company himself in August.

Even that move came with little fanfare, just a press release about the recapitalization that didn't mention Kotler at all, or his new role in the company.

Kotler remains matter of fact about the deal.

"One of my companies is a public company out of Israel, and we were familiar with the previous owners [of GPM] because they were a public company out of Israel," he said. "I got in touch with them, and we started to structure a deal. … We closed the deal in August. We capitalized the company with close to $30 million in new equity. We finished the refinancing, and our goal is really to grow the business.

"We are looking to grow this company and become one of the largest [c-store chains] in the Mid-Atlantic states and be one of the big national companies."

Acknowledging that his expertise is on the financial side, Kotler said he'll rely on others to maintain the convenience stores and the services and products they provide, with a particular emphasis on foodservice.

"I'm counting on the people around me, and we are talking to a few professionals" to help grow foodservice and store development), he said. "I believe at the end of the day, one of the pieces we have to be strong in is foodservice. The best thing we can do for foodservice is bring in professions--chefs or others who understand the food business. And that's what we are going to do."

So will there be many changes to the executive lineup at GPM?

"Tweaks here and there," he said. "We are going to get involved in areas that need some help, which is foodservice. We are looking to grow our foodservice business over here."

Kotler is also chairman and CEO of Arko Holdings Ltd., an Israel-based venture-capital firm specializing in seed, start-up, early stage, mid venture, growth capital, and emerging growth.

GPM Investments LLC is based in Richmond, Va., and operates 213 convenience stores and supplies more than 115 independent dealers in Virginia, Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Tennessee.

Steve Holtz, CSP/Winsight By Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News
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