Circle K: Behind the Rebrand

How is Couche-Tard dealing with logos, cups, other “heritage” decisions?

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

Couche-Tard Circle K Brian Hannasch Darrell Davis

Brian Hannasch (left), Darrell Davis

LAVAL, Quebec -- Rebranding of the current global Couche-Tard convenience-store and gas-station network begins in January 2016, with The Pantry’s Kangaroo Express stores, as well as existing Circle K locations, in the Southeast, then moving westward across the continent in a modern version of commercial manifest destiny.

Couche-Tard is consolidating its Circle K, Kangaroo Express, Mac’s and Statoil retail brands under one refreshed banner worldwide, creating a new convenience brand, Circle K. Following the start of U.S. conversions--the company said it expects them to take about three years to complete--customers will see it on gas stations in Europe starting in May 2016, while Canadian customers outside Québec will see the new Circle K brand starting in May or June 2017.

But this focus on rebranding existing stores does not mean Couche-Tard is still not making acquisitions. As president and CEO Brian Hannasch announced the rebranding initiative at a meeting and conference call on September 22, the company was closing a deal to acquire 13 Fast Max convenience stores in Indiana from Kocolene Marketing LLC, Seymour, Ind.

“We do acquisitions all the time,” Darrell Davis, senior vice president of operations, Couche Tard, told CSP Daily News. “Any new-to-industry (NTI) stores will get the new Circle K brand image as soon as it’s available.”

He said that the Fast Max stores “are being considered NTI.” The chain would not rebrand these stores to the current Circle K identity now only to replace it in January with the new Circle K branding. “But as soon as it is available, they will get the new Circle K image.”

Davis is taking the lead for the Kangaroo Express transformation, which the company will complete within six to nine months.

Davis provided some insights into the rebranding decision.

“The executive team met for over a year and a half. We ‘arm wrestled’ all of our different brand, and we asked, ‘Do we continue to have all these different brands, or do we unite under one brand?’. What are the advantages and disadvantages of both? We all agreed on the advantages of one global brand. The second question was ‘What’s the right brand?’ Circle K is a global brand now. … We decided Circle K had more brand awareness than the other brands. … The advantages of a global brand just make sense—from advertising, to procurement, to synergies, to recognition, to similar products.”

He said the main disadvantage, of course, is loyalty to the old brands.

“You’ve got the heritage brands that have value in the markets that they are in,” he said. “Do we want to risk that? But we came to the conclusion that we’re all about good people. So we’re not changing any of the people in any of the markets or any of the stores; therefore, being united under one brand, we think that what our people do day in and day out would give us confidence that we can overcome that disadvantage.”

According to Hannasch, market research suggested that consumers would favor the rebranding.

Continued on next page.

Part of CSP's 2015 Convenience Top 101 retailers