Polly Flinn has a message for any privately owned c-store chains looking to sell: Join the Giant Eagle family.
“This isn’t a transaction for us; we want to welcome people into our family,” says Flinn, who has led Giant Eagle’s GetGo Cafe & Market c-store operations since 2016 after a career that included figuring out fuel for Walmart and rolling out retail and marketing for BP.
“One great thing about the c-store sector is it’s usually family-owned businesses, and it’s been grown this way,” Flinn says. “This is one family that’s looking for another family. Hopefully we’ve been able to demonstrate with the Rickers transaction that that’s how we like to do business.”
When supermarket and c-store heavyweight Giant Eagle Inc. acquired Ricker Oil in 2018, many industry watchers were surprised by the match. But Ricker’s 56 Indiana c-stores fit hand in glove with Giant Eagle, which already had several GetGo Cafe & Market c-stores in the area. And its foodservice-centric, tech-savvy culture paralleled that of the fresh-forward supermarket giant. Giant Eagle has fresh food in its DNA, Flinn says, which can benefit other c-store operators who have not been able to realize their foodservice ambitions through their current capabilities or capital.
“Those who are interested in having their business join a family … and would like to see their portfolio grow into a food-first c-store offer, we have a really strong track record and differentiating offer that other acquirers in marketplace don’t have,” she says.
GetGo, which has more than 200 c-stores in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, northern West Virginia, Maryland and Indiana, plans to add to the count, both organically and through acquisition. It has a pipeline of new sites planned, with a focus on 2-acre sites that can support a 5,000- to 6,000-square-foot store, about 60 parking spaces and perhaps a car wash. Potential acquisitions would ideally offer something similar, although the Ricker’s acquisition has given Giant Eagle the confidence that it can insert its GetGo Cafe & Market kitchen into sites as small as 3,000 square feet and get a quick return on investment. These aggressive growth plans demonstrate Giant Eagle’s bullish take on c-stores’ future chances.
“This is the golden moment for the small format,” Flinn says. “It’s up to us as innovators to really understand how … we maximize consumers who are moving forward and not really caring about the box that carries these things.”