LAVAL, Quebec -- Alain Bouchard is known for his bold growth and acquisition goals. He has now set another.
Laval, Quebec-based Couche-Tard’s global retail network includes more than 12,300 locations, primarily under the Circle K brand. In recent years, the expanding company has acquired or is acquiring CST Brands, Sevenoil Est, Topaz, A/S Dansk Shell, The Pantry and Statoil, among others.
In a Q&A with The Financial Post, Bouchard, founder and executive chairman of global convenience-store retailer Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., predicts that he and his team “will double the size of this company again.”
Click through for more insights from Bouchard …
Financial Post:You’re in 24 countries. Have you discovered a world convenience-store model?
Bouchard: Oh, yeah. We’ve seen a lot of convenience stores all over the world. We adapt. When we are in Hong Kong or mainland China, we don’t sell the same products in these stores that we sell here in Montreal or in the United States, or even in Europe. We have to adapt. It’s a concept that works because the main product we sell is time. We sell time because we are convenient. You can, as a customer, decide to go in a supermarket, in a big box; why do you come to our store? Because it’s fast, easy, quick in, quick out. That’s a challenge too, though.
Financial Post:What are the challenges?
Bouchard: The problem I have is that we try to convince our customer to buy more, and when we have to serve them quickly, it’s contrary to that because they don’t have much time to look at the other stuff we want to sell. We try to convince them to buy impulse stuff. That’s why we have to be very focused not to lose the purpose and why the customer comes to us. They come to us because it’s quick.
Financial Post:What is the culture of Couche-Tard that is so magic?
Bouchard: I would say, in one word: empowerment. It’s a decentralized business where people have a lot of say. They run their business of 400, 500, 600 stores, and they have 5,000, 6,000, 10,000 people that work in that division, and they have a lot of power. All the people who work in development, in HR, in buying. … All the departments in that business, they are like the CEO of Midwest or California or Quebec. They are empowered. That means a lot for a human being that works in an environment where they can take a lot of decisions.
Financial Post:How do you get the store managers or their managers to think like an entrepreneur?
Bouchard: It goes with the empowerment principle. We all need our self-esteem. For me, the store manager has to act and feel like he owns the store. The way we accomplish that is to give them a lot of power at the store level on product mix, on what they think about our directives of putting this stuff on the counter. When they think it’s not the right product, they can change it. So they can take decisions and ask for some stuff that applies to their stores and not necessarily to all the chains. So they are an entrepreneur.
Financial Post: What do you look for in terms of hiring senior executives?
Bouchard: The first thing we look at is the values, the attitude, ego is important--but too big an ego is a trap. I don’t like to see people with big, big egos that can mislead in some decisions. A good worker, but not a crazy worker that wants to work 80 hours a week--I’m not a believer in this. I often say to people: Hey, go home, it’s late, don’t stay here all night. I think people need to clear out their mind to be productive.
Financial Post:If you have 10 more years as executive chairman, what would you like Couche-Tard to be in 10 years? What is your vision?
Bouchard: I think we will double the size of this company again. We need to adapt to the new reality of electric cars and the new technology and everything. Many of our colleague retailers are suffering from home delivery from different products. There is a threat there too for us eventually, I don’t see it clearly because we are so close to our customer, but still, it’s something that we have to pay attention to. Other than doubling the company, there are a lot of things we need to do to keep our traffic and attract our customer day after day.
Click here to view the full Financial Post interview.
For more insights into Bouchard’s career, click here for an exclusive CSP Q&A.