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Why TA Is Stepping Away From Convenience Stores

Retailer shifting focus to small-format truckstops following sale of Minit Mart chain

WESTLAKE, Ohio --TravelCenters of America LLC is stepping away from the stand-alone convenience-store business with its sale of 225 Minit Mart stores and other related assets to EG Group. “The transaction will mean more time and expertise devoted to our travel-center operations,” said TA CEO Andy Rebholz on a conference call on Sept. 4 to announce the deal.

TA has agreed to sell all but five of its Minit Mart stores to the U.K. forecourt retailer for approximately $330.8 million. Rebholz said on the call that the remaining five stores are either part of a joint venture or are being converted into TA Express locations, the travel center’s more compact version of its standard truckstop offering.

Rebholz also revealed some details around the marketing process for the sale during the call. He said the process started in late May, shortly after Memorial Day, and there were about 40 parties invited to participate. The parties were reportedly a mix of c-stores and financial private-equity buyers. Twenty of the potential parties were involved in round one of the process. “We didn’t know for sure until recently that we had a deal,” said Rebholz. He said bids were received through the summer until about a week and a half ago, before TA came to the deal with EG Group.

Rebholz clarified that the sale of stand-alone stores does not mean the company will stop growing its travel-center locations. “We may franchise, convert or acquire” more small-format TA Express locations, he said. He also said TA may open standard, full-scale travel centers in markets where there is demand for them.

The sale is expected to close in fourth-quarter 2018. Additionally, TA positions eliminated due to the sale should be done “fairly quickly” after the deal closes, William Meyers, executive vice president, CFO and treasurer for TA, said on the call.

The announcement of the Minit Mart sale comes less than two months after TA launched GoGo Rewards, the new Minit Mart loyalty program, in order to keep the stand-alone stores competitive. The program includes a points system and the digital equivalent of a punch card program.

The sale follows Blackburn, U.K.-based EG Group’s purchase of 672 c-stores from The Kroger Co., based in Cincinnati, earlier this year. The various Kroger c-store brands in the deal included Turkey Hill, Loaf ‘N Jug, Kwik Shop, Tom Thumb and Quik Stop. The addition of the Minit Mart portfolio puts EG’s U.S. portfolio at about 1,000 stores and secures its place among the top 10 of CSP’s 2018 Top 202 U.S. c-store chains by number of company-owned retail outlets.

EG Group is an independent fuel and convenience retailer with a diversified portfolio of sites in eight European countries and the United States. It operates nearly 5,000 sites globally, generating revenues of more than $20 billion. On the fuel side, it partners with Esso, BP, Shell and Texaco. In convenience retail, the business has cultivated relationships with Carrefour, Spar and Louis Delhaize, with food-to-go partners including Starbucks, KFC, Burger King and Subway.

TA operates 256 travel centers along the U.S. Interstate Highway System in 43 states and the province of Ontario in Canada, 231 c-stores in 11 states and stand-alone restaurants in 13 states. The Westlake, Ohio-based company's travel centers operate under the TravelCenters of America, TA, Petro Stopping Centers and Petro names and offer diesel and gasoline fueling, full-service and quick-service restaurants, truck maintenance and repair services and c-stores and other goods and services for professional drivers and other motorists.

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