Mergers & Acquisitions

U.S. C-Store Count Down Slightly

Convenience faring better than other channels, but number of small companies declining, NACS says
Photograph: Shutterstock

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The U.S. convenience-store total stands at 152,720, a decline of less than 1% from last year’s 153,237 stores, according to the 2020 NACS/Nielsen Convenience Industry Store Count. The annual count is based on stores open as of December 2019.

The slight decrease in the number of convenience stores was mainly due to a dip in the number of single-store operators (95,108 in 2019 vs. 95,445 in 2018), which account for 62.1% of all c-stores, NACS said. The decline among the smallest operators is part of continued consolidation in the industry. The smallest companies—those with fewer than 200 stores—are shrinking from the channel as they are acquired by larger chains or struggle with profitability, the Alexandria, Va.-based association said.

Operators with more than 200 stores continue to expand, mainly through mergers and acquisitions. From 2015 to 2019, half of the 20 largest chains went through some sort of merger or acquisition, consolidating a major portion of stores, NACS said, citing its 2019 State of the Industry Survey data.

Comparing 2019 to 2018, companies with one to 10 stores saw a drop of 569 locations; 11 to 50 stores, a decline of 249 locations; 51 to 200 stores, a drop of 145 locations; 201 to 500 stores, an increase of 134 locations; and more than 501 stores, an increase of 312 locations.

  • Click here to view CSP's 2019 Top 202 ranking of U.S. c-store chains by number of retail outlets.

“Historically, c-stores have been unique in the retail channel in that new companies could enter the market relatively easily and succeed with a simple business model,” said Andy Jones, president and CEO of Sprint Food Stores, NACS board member and vice chairman of the NACS Research & Technology Committee. “That’s not the case anymore. What we have been seeing during the past few years—and especially in 2019—is that the small operators are either going out of business because the model for success has changed, or they mastered the old business model—and maybe the new one as well—to be profitable enough to be bought by a larger company.”

Overall, the industry is seeing less contraction than the grocery and drugstore channels, which are down 1.6% and 1.7%, respectively, while the dollar-store channel continues to grow, adding 1,565 stores in 2019, NACS said.

The c-store count represents more than one-third (35%) of the brick-and-mortar retail universe tracked by Nielsen in the United States. Except for the dollar-store channel, all other major channels had fewer units at year-end 2019, Nielsen said.

“Accelerated change defined another deal-heavy year in convenience retail,” said Jeffrey Williams, senior vice president of retail and U.S industry relations for Nielsen, New York. “The dynamics within the industry are shifting, and bringing investor value is now a top priority for many players in the space. Since convenience has been relatively sheltered from the disruption of e-commerce, retailers in 2020 will continue to prioritize physical store growth to scale and grow the industry at large. That said, digital transformation and the consumer's growing desire for frictionless retail are headwinds on the horizon that should not be ignored.”

The number of c-stores that sell motor fuels remained steady at 121,988 stores, according to the report. Overall, c-stores sell about 80% of the motor fuels purchased in the United States, NACS said.

Among the states, Texas continues to lead in store count at 15,856 stores, or more than one in 10 stores in the country. California is second at 11,990 stores, followed by Florida (9,811), New York (8,489), Georgia (6,668), North Carolina (6,024), Ohio (5,635), Michigan (4,917), Pennsylvania (4,754) and Illinois (4,715). Texas gained 111 stores, California added 60 and Florida added eight, while the other states in the top 10 lost stores. The three states with the lowest store counts are Alaska (194 stores), Delaware (344) and Wyoming (352).

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