Open Pantry Deal in the Works

7-Eleven would return to Badger State with anticipated acquisition

DALLAS -- 7-Eleven Inc. and Open Pantry Food Marts of Wisconsin Inc. acknowledged for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that they are in talks for the Dallas-based convenience giant to acquire the stalwart Wisconsin chain.

"We are working with Open Pantry on an acquisition," 7-Eleven spokesperson Margaret Chabris told the newspaper. "It's not going to close until next month."

As reported in a Raymond James/CSP Daily News Flash yesterday, Chabris said 7-Eleven plans to buy "the majority" of the Open Pantry stores, but not all of them. 7-Eleven has 6,800 stores across the United States, but none in Wisconsin.

Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based Open Pantry was founded in 1966 by Robert W. Buhler, father of current president and CEO Robert A. Buhler. It has 26 stores, almost all of them in Wisconsin, in the Madison and Milwaukee markets, with one in Crystal Lake, Ill., not too far from the Wisconsin border.

Open Pantry has designed its newer stores to attract more female customers, according to CSPedia. The high-end stores includes 72-inch gondolas, flat-screen TVs above the coolers in lieu of signage, and a beer cave glowing with ice-blue lighting and stocked with a huge microbrewery beer offering. Restrooms feature granite countertops and hotel quality furnishings.

Willow Creek Coffee is the centerpiece for the new bistro-like Open Pantry stores.

Chabris added that 7-Eleven initially would run the former Open Pantries as corporate stores, but probably would seek to franchise them in the future.

The privately held company added about 600 stores in the U.S. and Canada last year, and is looking to add more.

"We have been on an accelerated growth pattern for at least the past three years," Chabris said. "Rent and purchase prices are more favorable than they were before 2007. We have a strong balance sheet. We're an investment-grade tenant."

In 1996, 7-Eleven opened about 15 stores in southeastern Wisconsin, but left the market about 10 years ago, said the report.

Open Pantry COO Jim Fiene declined a CSP Daily News request to comment on the deal; Chabris also declined a request for further comment.

7-Eleven operates, franchises or licenses more than 9,200 7-Eleven stores in North America. Globally, there are more than 46,000 7-Eleven stores in 16 countries. During 2011, 7-Eleven stores worldwide generated total sales of approximately $76.6 billion.