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202 of My Favorite Things

To all the chains I’ve loved before

CHICAGO — Welcome to my favorite CSP highlight of the year: the Top 202 ranking. It is significant for a number of reasons:

  1. The Top 202 list has become a hallmark of CSP and the industry, highlighting the convenience-store chains that have made a significant effort to grow over the past year, while also reminding us just how fragmented the c-store industry is.
  2. This is the only time this year you’ll see many of these company and chain names in print. Our annual check-in with each one is an opportunity to reconnect and find out what’s new.
  3. The companion digital list provides even more insight into each chain. From it, we can draw many conclusions about how retailers are looking to grow and excel. The award-winning package is traditionally our most viewed content of the year.
  4. The Top 202 is one of our first partnerships with our sister research company Technomic. The information you see here in print and on CSPDailyNews.com just scratches the surface of the larger collection of information in Technomic’s Ignite platform at www.technomic.com/ignite.

But after the excitement of cataloging how the c-store industry has evolved over the past year, I can’t help but be surprised by just how much things have changed—and how unprepared we are for many of those changes.

As we collected data this year, we ceremoniously crossed off names such as Andeavor, Kroger and E-Z Mart. These were big names in our industry for a long time. Removing such illustrious brands requires a sense of purpose and recognition of the past.

Written by Angel Abcede and Jackson Lewis, our cover story and analysis of the Top 202 aptly catalogs the forces driving these moves while setting the stage for what might come next for the industry.

Change-Makers

Want to really feel nostalgic? Go back to our first list—then the Top 101—from 2014. We’ve since bid farewell to nearly half of the chains in that year’s top 10 alone, including CST Brands, The Pantry and Hess Corp.

It’s evidence of a channel in flux, not just now but for the past several years. And for those chains that have remained on or climbed up the ranking, it’s a testament to the creativity industry leaders have used to remain relevant and keep growing.

Few of us used the word “disruption” in 2014, but today it’s coming from all angles and in unexpected forms: frictionless checkout, e-commerce crossovers, electric vehicles and the like.

But success has come from surprising places, too. A decade or so ago, retailers were trying to figure out how to make a profit on zero fuel margins. Then just this past April, NACS reported the most robust fuel margins (23.8 cents per gallon, on average) in the industry’s history, essentially noting—and not for the first time—that gasoline saved our bacon!

“Who in the world would have thought … we would have a five-year run in fuel margins that would be between 22 and 23 CPG?” said Billy Milam, chief operating officer of RaceTrac Inc., Atlanta, at the 2019 NACS State of the Industry Summit. “You’d have eyes rolling, heads shaking at you. No way.”

No wonder Big Oil is revisiting the retail market, private-equity firms are investing and international chains are increasingly finding a home in the U.S. It’s because of these trends that we know already that several industry mainstays, including Thorntons (acquired by BP and ArcLight Capital Partners) and NOCO (acquired by Marathon), will be crossed off our list in 2020.

So as you look at our latest Top 202 ranking, consider the trends that have led some of the most prominent names in our industry to sell. But keep in mind: The expectations of the future we have today aren’t necessarily the realities of tomorrow. From that point of view, there’s no such thing as a done deal and there’s no such thing as a bad idea.

Click here to see the complete Top 202 report.

Steve Holtz is content director of Winsight’s Convenience Group. Reach him at sholtz@winsightmedia.com.

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