CHICAGO -- The biggest convenience-store stories of 2016 ran the gamut from intense and stressful to odd and unexpected. A year ago, who expected one of the five largest c-store chains in the country would be acquired? Was anyone prepared for a completely new c-store company to attempt a fictional leap into the industry?
Take a look at CSP Daily News' collection of the eight most significant industry stories of the year ...
1. CST Brands sold
Late in 2015, two shareholders began questioning CST Brands' value. By February, the San Antonio-based chain was being shopped for a possible sale, among other options being considered in a strategic review.
Canada's Alimentation Couche-Tard came away as the winning bidder for the chain's more than 1,300 c-stores in a yet-to-close deal that puts the company's Circle K chain within 1,100 stores of industry leader 7-Eleven's North American store count.
2. Amazon, Wal-Mart and Dollar General
Convenience stores sit at an enviable place in the retail universe. Other channels—grocery, drug and mass—provide for specific consumer needs, but convenience, by definition, satisfies accessibility and the need for speed at which those requirements of life are fulfilled on the go.
So it’s not surprising that other channels—traditional or otherwise—have threatened and will continue to threaten to take a piece of convenience for their own, and will look for new ways to do it.
The latest and most serious threats come from Amazon, Wal-Mart and Dollar General. Two of the three—Amazon and Wal-Mart—opened their own versions of c-stores this month, while Dollar General has released plans for a new, smaller-format store, branded DGX, that closely resembles a c-store.
3. TravelCenters of America's c-store growth
TravelCenters of America, long known for just that—travel centers—has made a strategic move to embrace its convenience-store pedigree. For the first half of 2016, the Westlake, Ohio-based chain gobbled up c-stores to expand its Minit Mart stand-alone network. In August, it took a break from acquisitions to focus on incorporating those c-stores—more than 200—into its system and improve sales.
“Many of our acquisitions are not yet performing to their full stabilized potential,” CEO Thomas O'Brien said. “Second-quarter 2016 is a return to our march toward achieving our ramp-up goals, and I've been pleased by how things came together in these three months.
4. EMV deadline extension
Upgrading fuel dispensers to accept EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) chip cards stands as one of the most expensive standards efforts to hit many c-store retailers. So the industry breathed a collective sigh of relief in December when Visa and MasterCard agreed to delay the Oct. 1, 2017, deadline three years.
Retailers now have until Oct. 1, 2020, to install the new pump technology or face fines.
San Francisco-based Visa said it is “attempting to proactively address marketplace realities and known challenges” in implementing the EMV rules.
5. Speaking of pumps, meet Miles
In November, BP launched its first-of-its-kind, interactive fuel pump—Miles—in Chicago, setting a new standard for customer engagement during a fill-up, according to the London-based company.
The refiner also partnered with The Onion “to help develop a unique personality for Miles that is both hilarious and uplifting.” Audio partner, Pandora, allows users interacting with Miles to select the genre of music they prefer to bring a unique music listening experience to the pump.
6. Fuel demand is back
It was only a few years ago that many were reporting on the inevitable and transformational decline in gasoline consumption. While this will still likely come to pass, the timeline may need to be stretched out a bit.
With gasoline prices averaging just north of $2 per gallon for much of 2016, consumers responded with record amounts of driving. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) have risen each month since April 2014. In 2016, drivers logged more than 2.4 trillion miles during the first nine months of 2016, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
7. More tobacco regulation
As the August deadline for the FDA to "deem" authority over additional tobacco categories and products came and went, retailers assessed the repercussions of the expensive and complex compliance steps. Ultimately, the future looks bleak for new products in the cigar, OTP (other tobacco products) and vaping categories.
8. The Guess Corp.
The Guess Corp. was fishy from the start. It presented itself as a multitiered business playing in yachts, lumber, chocolates, diamonds and much more, yet its executive staff showed little experience in the industries they allegedly led.
As the company set its sights on the convenience-store industry, promising 1,000 stores within a year, it took emails, phone calls, legal and court document reviews and, finally, knocking on doors to uncover the truth: The company was little more than an ex-convict searching for his next prey and conning his eager-to-please employees along the way by plying them with six-figure salaries—salaries that were never paid.
Five days after CSP Daily News published a revealing expose, that ex-con was back in jail.