CHICAGO — For the first time in more than 10 years, the U.S. c-store count fell. The largest chains continued to grow through acquisitions, while smaller players sold or exited the business. Who’s doing the buying?
Four of the top 10 chains by store count are now foreign-owned. Private-equity investors and large oil companies have shown renewed interest in c-stores, attracted by the relative stability of the industry and in-store margins. This is as rising real-estate costs make organic growth an increasingly difficult growth option for retailers.
The following are the most notable acquisitions and the biggest Top 202 shifts of the past year …
1. 7-Eleven, oh thank Sunoco
Perhaps the most influential industry shift in 2018 was Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven’s completed acquisition of Sunoco’s more than 1,000 convenience stores. The deal did not close until January 2018, after last year’s CSP 2018 Top 202 cutoff date, but the sale represented such a dramatic shift for the industry that the Sunoco units were included in 7-Eleven’s 2018 total. As such, 7-Eleven’s year-over-year store count growth from the 2018 to 2019 list has not increased as much as it might have otherwise, though the chain retains its No. 1 position as of Dec. 31, 2018.
2. Making waves
The Sunoco purchase spurred the creation of Frisco, Texas-based Cal’s Convenience (No. 36), a chain that formed after acquiring more than 200 Stripes-branded c-stores not included in the deal between Sunoco and 7-Eleven. This also placed the brand-new Cal’s Convenience into CSP’s Top 40 update of the largest c-store chains earlier this year. Meanwhile, Sunoco’s Top 202 rank dropped from No. 31 to No. 87 with its store count of 75 sites spread across Hawaii, New York and New Jersey.
Meanwhile, GPM Investments LLC of Richmond, Va., retained its No. 6 spot on the 2019 Top 202, even though it added 273 units through its purchase of E-Z Mart Stores Inc., a deal that closed in April 2018.
3. British invasion
Other chains no longer appear on the list, including Cincinnati-based Kroger, which sold 762 of its c-stores to EG Group, now also based in Cincinnati with global headquarters in the U.K. But the foreign firm did not stop its U.S.-based acquisitions with Kroger. The chain acquired 225 Minit Mart stores—enough to secure a spot at No. 8, edging Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip (No. 11) out of the top 10. Meanwhile, the seller of the Minit Mart stores, TravelCenters of America, dropped from No. 17 to No. 28.
4. A marathon of M&A
Enon, Ohio-based Speedway LLC (No. 3) completed its acquisition of Andeavor’s SuperAmerica stores in October 2018, which are being rebranded as Speedway. Then in November, Speedway closed on the purchase of Petr-All Petroleum Consulting Corp.’s 78 Express Mart convenience-store and petroleum marketing assets, after divesting five sites to Sunoco LP to settle Federal Trade Commission antitrust concerns. Expect more growth from Speedway in 2019 now that the company has agreed to acquire 33 of NOCO Energy Co.’s (No. 162) convenience stores in western New York.
6. Growth in a Jiffy
Global Partners LP (No. 26), Waltham, Mass., acquired multiple chains in 2018. Perhaps most notable was the retail fuel and convenience-store assets of Champlain Oil Co. Inc. and its Coco Mart Inc. c-store operating company. The transaction included 37 company-operated gas stations with Jiffy Mart-branded c-stores in Vermont and New Hampshire and about 24 fuel sites that were either owned or leased.