Arie Kotler can sum up GPM Investments’ M&A strategy succinctly: “There is no deal too big or too small.”
In the past nine years at the helm of GPM Investments, Kotler has grown the company from about 200 convenience stores to nearly 1,400, making GPM the sixth-largest c-store chain in the United States.
“Our strategy has always been to grow through acquisitions, which we expect to continue in the foreseeable future,” Kotler says.
Recently, that has meant moving beyond the company’s East Coast roots into the Midwest and Texas, including an agreement to acquire Dallas-based Empire Petroleum Partners LLC.
“The strategy is less about geography and more about the right company, with the right people where we believe we can add value and improve operating margins and EBITDA,” Kotler says.
CSP asked Kotler to expand on that strategy.
Tell us about GPM Investments’ recent growth. How has your store count changed? How does that break down in acquisitions vs. new construction?
We’ve had a very busy growth spurt over the last three years. When I purchased the company in 2011, there were approximately 200 company-operated stores. Today we operate close to 1,400 stores. My goal has always been to get to scale. While you are never really at scale, I feel we are in a meaningful place today. We acquired 273 E-Z Marts in the Southwest in April of 2018, and since then 18 Town Star stores in Florida, 63 Riiser stores in Wisconsin and five Cash & Sons in Arkansas. I think you can see by the diversity of stores; there is no deal too big or too small.
What are your growth plans for 2020?
Our strategy has always been to grow our store base through acquisition. That doesn’t mean we will never build new stores. As a matter of fact, we build our first store in Virginia last year and have two in planning stages in South Carolina and Texas. But right now we believe the best return on investment is through acquisitions.
As you acquire new stores, how are you addressing legacy sites to keep them relevant?
We immediately reset them to a consistent set of plan-o-grams to include food and beverage services. With the new marketing team starting to take shape, we are constantly looking for new ways to drive traffic, sales, basket and market share. I can tell you that we use the phrase "customer relevant" a lot around the store support center.
What are your plans for store branding? Will you maintain the multiple brands you have today?
We get this question quite a bit. We believe it is a strength to have the local brand that consumers are used to in our markets. In select cases, we may decide to change the brand to a stronger brand that borders the geography. Please remember that most of the chains we bought are family-owned, third and fourth generation, and many of them are more than 40 years in business and have brand recognition and brand equity in the markets we do business.
What are your thoughts on industry consolidation overall? What does it mean for the channel?
Industry consolidation in inevitable. We see it in all industries. You don’t have to look far to see the consolidation that has happened in both the food and drug space over the last 20 years. The convenience-store channel is experiencing the same phenomenon. The right consolidation where we can deliver a better product to our customers is always right for our channel and industry.
Anything else to add?
I’d like to take moment to thank the thousands of GPM associates in our stores and across the entire company that are taking care of our customers every day. I don’t take for granted the many sacrifices that our associates make each and every day for our company and our customers. Thank you for all that you do.