2014 Top 20 Growth Chains: Growth is GPM's Investment | ConvenienceStoreNews

2014 Top 20 Growth Chains: Growth is GPM's Investment

Bigger is better, according to the convenience store chains that earned a spot on this year’s Convenience Store News Top 20 Growth Chains ranking.

 

This is the third year that CSNews has partnered with Nielsen TDLinx to identify the c-store retailers that added the most convenience stores in the past year. TDLinx defines a convenience store as a store that includes a broad merchandising mix, extended hours of operation and a minimum of 500 SKUs. Fueling stations with small kiosk stores do not meet the official definition of a c-store and thus are not reflected in TDLinx’s store count figures.

 

This year’s Top 20 Growth Chains added 1,080 stores to their portfolios year over year. Nine companies have earned a spot on the CSNews list all three years.

 

2014 Top 20 Convenience Store Growth Chains

1 7-Eleven Inc.*
Store count Jan. 2013: 7,987
Store count Dec. 2013: 8,245
Increase: 258 (3.2%)
2 GPM Investments LLC
Store count Jan. 2013: 212
Store count Dec. 2013: 468
Increase: 256 (120.8%)
3 Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.*
Store count Jan. 2013: 3,658
Store count Dec. 2013: 3,772
Increase: 114 (3.1%)
4 Casey’s General Stores Inc.
Store count Jan. 2013: 1,731
Store count Dec. 2013: 1,778
Increase: 47 (2.7%)
5 Military
Store count Jan. 2013: 639
Store count Dec. 2013: 683
Increase: 44 (6.9%)
6 QuikTrip Corp.
Store count Jan. 2013: 641
Store count Dec. 2013: 681
Increase: 40 (6.2%)
7 Wawa Inc.
Store count Jan. 2013: 613
Store count Dec. 2013: 648
Increase: 35 (5.7%)
8 Lehigh Gas Partners LP
Store count Jan. 2013: 172
Store count Dec. 2013: 204
Increase: 32 (18.6%)
9 Sheetz Inc.
Store count Jan. 2013: 434
Store count Dec. 2013: 464
Increase: 30 (6.9%)
10 RaceTrac Petroleum Inc.
Store count Jan. 2013: 666
Store count Dec. 2013: 694
Increase: 28 (4.2%)
11 Shell Oil Co./Motiva Enterprises
Store count Jan. 2013: 4,953
Store count Dec. 2013: 4,978
Increase: 25 (0.5%)
12 Murphy USA Inc.**
Store count Jan. 2013: 154
Store count Dec. 2013: 178
Increase: 24 (15.6%)
13 Panjwani Energy LLC
Store count Jan. 2013: 69
Store count Dec. 2013: 92
Increase: 23 (33.3%)
14 Tesoro Petroleum Corp.
Store count Jan. 2013: 366
Store count Dec. 2013: 388
Increase: 22 (6%)
15 Susser Holdings Corp.
Store count Jan. 2013: 559
Store count Dec. 2013: 580
Increase: 21 (3.8%)
16 Pilot Flying J
Store count Jan. 2013: 540
Store count Dec. 2013: 558
Increase: 18 (3.3%)
17 Maverik Inc.
Store count Jan. 2013: 246
Store count Dec. 2013: 262
Increase: 16 (6.5%)
18 Speedway LLC
Store count Jan. 2013: 1,464
Store count Dec. 2013: 1,478
Increase: 14 (1%)
19 Kwik Trip Inc.
Store count Jan. 2013: 396
Store count Dec. 2013: 409
Increase: 13 (3.3%)
20 Sunoco Inc.
Store count Jan. 2013: 2,001
Store count Dec. 2013: 2,013
Increase: 12 (0.6%)
*U.S. stores only
Source: Nielsen TDLinx

Numbers confirmed by companies where possible
**Murphy Express stores only

 

GPM Investments LLC

 

When Convenience Store News spoke with leaders from GPM Investments LLC in fall 2012, all agreed that the Richmond, Va.-based company was setting itself up for strategic growth. They weren’t kidding. By summer 2013, the operator of FasMart and Shore Stop convenience stores had let its intention to stake a strong presence in the Southeast be known — loud and clear.

 

In a surprise move in June, GPM Investments inked a deal to acquire VPS Convenience Store Group’s Southeast division and form a whole new division, GPM Southeast. The move gave GPM 264 company-operated units plus 33 dealer locations. Retail brands involved in the deal were Scotchman, Young’s, Li’l Cricket, Everyday Shop, Breadbox and Cigarette City.

 

Broken out by brands, the company’s portfolio now includes 17 Breadbox locations, 17 Everyday Shop locations, 74 Li’l Cricket locations, 120 Scotchman locations, 32 Young’s locations and three Cigarette City locations. The newly formed GPM Southeast, based in Wilmington, N.C., also boasts a foodservice portfolio of 26 branded quick-service restaurant locations and 46 proprietary delis, said Chris Giacobone, chief operating officer of GPM Investments.

 

The retailer, however, did not stop there. In a smaller move, GPM acquired five convenience stores from Hurst Harvey Oil. The GET & ZIP stores, all with branded fuels, are in northern Virginia — the same area where GPM Investments already operates 55 Fas Mart locations.

 

These two actions, which both became official in August, made GPM Investments the fastest-growing retailer on the CSNews Top 20 Growth Chains list this year. GPM is the top grower based on percentage increase by a wide margin, while7-Eleven Inc. is the top grower based on number of stores added, eking out GPM by only two stores: 258 to 256.

 

Store count figures provided to CSNews by TDLinx, a service of Nielsen, show that GPM upped its holdings by more than 120 percent, growing from 212 stores in January 2013 to 468 in December 2013. While all 468 are company-operated, GPM also has 127 dealer-operated sites.

 

According to Giacobone, GPM Investments secured the year’s top ranking predominantly from the VPS Southeast division and Hurst Harvey deals. The majority of the new stores, he said, are in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. GPM also operates c-stores in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

 

Now that it’s been more than six months since all the “I”s were dotted and “T”s crossed, the company is ready to tackle integration of its new assets, and it will be applying the same strategic philosophy of its growth plan to its integration plan.

 

“We are reviewing every store by market,” Giacobone said. “If we convert any brands, they will likely be branded Scotchman or Fas Mart.”

 

Regardless of future decisions on which banner flies above the stores, the acquisitions have been seamless from a customer point-of-view. “We have shared key marketing/promotional strategies and implemented a number of operational initiatives and efficiencies. However, from our customers’ perspective, we have stayed true to our brands,” he said.

 

In terms of shared strategies, several of GPM’s convenience store brands, including Fas Mart, Scotchman and Li’l Cricket stores, recently launched the Million-Dollar Scratch Card Game, which benefits both participating customers who can win up to $1 million, and local nonprofit organizations that could win a $20,000 donation from the company.

 

The retailer also has developed food and beverage brands that will be positioned across many of its store brands. “Our intentions are to continue to operate various brands as we grow the company,” Giacobone explained.

 

As for whether GPM is planning a repeat growth performance this year or perhaps even aiming to outdo itself, he declined to tip his hand, simply saying the industry should stay tuned.

 

— Melissa Kress

 

7-Eleven Inc.

 

Getting to the top is one thing, but staying there is a much harder feat. For the third consecutive year, Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. has managed to maintain its title as the top grower in the convenience store industry based on number of stores added.

 

7-Eleven increased its U.S. store count by a net 258 stores in 2013, according to TDLinx data. While this was a far cry from the 961 stores the chain added in 2012 — a record growth year in the company’s history — it was just enough to eke out GPM Investments’ 256 additional stores.

 

“We did a large number of acquisitions in 2012, and 2013 was a year of integrating these new outlets,” 7-Eleven spokesperson Margaret Chabris said, explaining the slowdown. She noted that last year’s growth was more organic compared to the retailer’s 2012 buying spree.

 

Asked what factors drove 7-Eleven’s store-count growth last year, Chabris pointed out the company has been accelerating its expansion since 2006 and continues to be well-positioned for growth thanks to its strong financial capabilities and excellent balance sheet; flexible development program; and the growing demand for convenience and value among time-starved consumers.

 

Most recently, 7-Eleven’s organic unit growth has been focused on the greater New York City and New Jersey areas, as well as in Texas and Los Angeles.

 

— Linda Lisanti
 

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.

 

No matter how many convenience stores Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. acquired or built organically in 2013, it would be tough to beat its prior year’s performance, when the company scooped up 2,300 locations in one fell swoop with its purchase of European-based Statoil Fuel & Retail ASA for $2.8 billion.

 

Although the parent of Circle K Stores Inc. in the United States didn’t generate as many acquisition headlines in 2013, the retailer had another banner year in terms of growth. Couche-Tard grew its store base by 3.1 percent by adding 114 stores last year, placing it third on the CSNews Top 20 Growth Chains list.

 

Last year’s activity was headlined by Couche-Tard’s November purchase of 23 stores in New Mexico from Albuquerque Convenience and Retail LLC, as well as 13 locations in Florida and Georgia from Publix Super Markets Inc.

 

“We are just trying to apply the same approach [as prior years],” Chief Financial Officer Raymond Parè told CSNews regarding the company’s 2013 growth. “We are always actively trying to find opportunities within the same discipline.”

 

The company has grown more via acquisitions than organic growth, but Parè stressed that Couche-Tard will continue to “focus on both [avenues] in order to create value as we always did.”

 

The Laval, Quebec-based c-store retailer’s efforts appear to be paying off as the company’s shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange advanced an impressive 60 percent in 2013 alone, approximately twice the gain seen by overall markets.

 

Hence, the operator of 6,215 c-stores worldwide will keep the status quo regarding its growth plans moving forward. “The only goal is to continue with the same approach looking for opportunities,” said Parè. “Our capacity in terms of balance sheet allows us to be active, but with the same historical discipline.”

 

— Brian Berk
 

Casey’s General Stores Inc.

 

2013 proved to be a busy year for Casey’s General Stores Inc., coming on the heels of its 2012 expansion into three new states. The Ankeny, Iowa-based chain didn’t slow down as it continued developing its existing14-state footprint, as well as expanding its borders.

 

“Our goal in fiscal 2014 [which ends April 30,2014] was to grow units 4 [percent] to 6 percent, which equates to 70 to 105 stores,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Bill Walljasper, adding that Casey’s is on pace to achieve this goal.

 

In 2013, Casey’s started the year with 1,731 stores and ended with 1,778 for a net growth of 47 stores, placing it at No. 4 on CSNews’ Top 20 Growth Chains. The majority was new builds, many of which are located in Casey’s newer states of Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.

 

Casey’s most notable achievement was the continued success of its pizza program. Last summer, it opened its first Pizza Express store in Pleasant Hill, Iowa. The test location offers pizza whole and by the slice, along with chicken wings, breadsticks, fountain drinks and a self-serve frozen yogurt bar. In December, Casey’s revealed plans to build five more pizza-only stores in the Des Moines metro area. Other pizza-related initiatives include the addition of flatbread pizza to its menu, expansion of its home delivery service and plans to add an online ordering component.

 

“In addition to our unit growth goals, we will continue to remodel stores, convert stores to 24-hour formats where applicable, as well as expand our pizza delivery rollout,” Walljasper said. All of the stores Casey’s is currently building reflect the company’s new larger store design, he added.

 

Casey’s also plans to break ground on its second distribution center in fiscal 2015.

 

“Upon completion of the second distribution center, there will be a reduction of transportation costs associated with shorter routes and less miles driven,” Walljasper said. “It will also allow Casey’s the opportunity to efficiently expand our market territory.”

 

— Angela Hanson
 

Kwik Trip Inc.

 

Kwik Trip lands in the No. 19 spot in this year’s Top 20 Growth Chains. The Midwest convenience retailer started 2013 with 396 stores and ended the year with 409 for a net change of 13.

 

The additional stores — all new builds — were evenly distributed across the retailer’s markets in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Additionally, Kwik Trip rebuilt eight of its existing locations, John McHugh, manager of corporate communications, told CSNews.

Some of these locations offer motorists compressed natural gas (CNG), an alternative fuel the retailer has spearheaded. Kwik Trip plans to add 10 to 15 more CNG locations this year.

 

“Kwik Trip believes that in order to be successful, it needs to drive both natural gas vehicle adoption and simultaneously build a functional infrastructure for its guests. Kwik Trip will leverage its vertical integration model to help foster the growth of natural gas vehicles in its market,” the company stated in a recent news release.

 

Kwik Trip opened its first CNG location in April2012 and has since continued to develop a CNG fueling infrastructure across 22 c-stores. CNG is locally produced and is purported to be cleaner burning and cheaper than its traditional petroleum counterpart.

 

Continuing its CNG expansion across existing stores will not be Kwik Trip’s only focus in 2014. The retailer plans to build more than two dozen new stores as well.

 

“We’re actually going to [have] as many as 30 new stores and the reason being [is] we’ve invested a lot of money in our infrastructure,” McHugh said. “Most of the [previous] expansions are finished now so we can take our capital expenditures and use it toward building more stores.”

 

— Samantha Negraval
 

Lehigh Gas Partners LP

 

Last year, Lehigh Gas Partners pursued a convenience store acquisition strategy. The Allentown, Pa.-based master limited partnership saw its convenience store count grow nearly 19 percent, from 172 locations in January 2013 to 204 by the year’s end. This strategy led to the company claiming the No. 8 spot on the Top 20 Growth Chains ranking.

 

In its third-quarter earnings call, Lehigh Gas reported that it acquired 17convenience stores from Rogers Petroleum Inc., which along with a 34-site gas station acquisition helped in “adding meaningfully to [the company’s] bottom line,” said Chairman and CEO Joseph Topper.

 

In the same quarter, Lehigh Gas assumed 50 commission agent site leases and related assets from its Lehigh Gas-Ohio LLC affiliate, an entity managed by Topper.

 

Lehigh Gas also leased 19 of its c-stores to 7-Eleven Inc. in March. The company retained ownership of the sites, while 7-Eleven rebranded the stores under its banner and took over the management of store operations. Meanwhile, Lehigh Gas-Ohio LLC continues to own and operate the retail fuel business at the sites.

 

Lehigh Gas is a wholesale distributor of motor fuels and owns or leases more than 500 sites in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Florida, New York, Massachusetts, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Maine. It began aggressively acquiring c-stores following its October 2012 initial public offering (IPO). In November, the company reported having purchased 121 sites since the IPO.

 

Going forward, Lehigh Gas will begin to report quarterly results in its retail and wholesale divisions separately — an indication of its continuing commitment to retail.

 

— Samantha Negraval
 

Maverik Inc.

 

Recognizing the need to boost market presence and share in some of its traditional markets in Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming, Maverik Inc. added a net 16 stores last year, solidifying its spot as one of the convenience industry’s top growers.

 

Although Maverik added one more store in 2013 than it did the prior year — jumping from 246 to 262 convenience stores — the North Salt Lake City-based chain is still hungry for more.

 

“Obviously, we feel good about the growth. Would we like more? Sure,” said Brad Call, vice president of adventure culture at Maverik, where the tagline is “Adventure’s First Stop.” He noted, though, that Maverik is not interested in just throwing new stores up.

 

“We want to grow smart. We’re being very critical about the corners we choose and that has resulted in fewer stores being built than we would have liked,” he explained.

 

In addition to filling out established markets, Maverik is working to stake a claim in two relatively new markets for the company: Denver and Las Vegas. Throughout its service area, customers come out in droves to celebrate new store openings, according to Call.

 

“We’re just really proud of our new stores and their financial performance. They seem to be well-received in the communities, especially in the more rural communities,” he added.

 

Although “the jury is still out” on what Maverik’s growth will be this year, Call expects the number of new stores to be the same or just slightly lower, and in the same markets.

 

— Linda Lisanti
 

Military

 

The branches of the U.S. military continue to open new stores as they aim to reach military families across the globe. On the way to that goal, the branches collectively grew their convenience store count by 6.9 percent in 2013, jumping from a total portfolio of 639 stores to 683 stores.

 

Proving that the military exchanges will go anywhere the armed forces are, the U.S. Navy opened a Navy Exchange (NEX) in Jebel Ali, Dubai in September. The Navy Exchange Services Command (NEXCOM) operates a variety of retail and service formats that range in size from a 4,000-square-foot Mini Mart to a 250,000-square-foot flagship Exchange. Typical construction costs range between $225 per square foot for smaller format stores to $170 per square foot for larger sites.

 

According to NEXCOM, the organization does not target a specific number of new stores or remodels to roll out each year. Major renovations are conducted on a seven- to 10-year cycle dependent on the level of customer throughput each location supports. Store replacements are programmed when an existing outlet has reached the end of its useful life, NEXCOM explained.

 

As for new builds, stores are constructed to accommodate changes in customer demographics and Navy mission expansions; to capitalize on market growth opportunities; and to consolidate operations to improve customer convenience and reduce operating expenses, NEXCOM told CSNews.

 

In addition to the NEX, the other retail chains operated by the military branches are the Army Air Force Exchange (AAFES), the Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) and the Coast Guard Exchange (CGX).

 

— Melissa Kress

 

Murphy USA Inc.

 

Murphy USA was an official company for only four months in 2013, so it’s safe to say it was a banner year for the pure-play retailer, which was spun off from Murphy Oil Corp. on Aug. 30 and began trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol MUSA on Sept. 3.

 

The operator of Murphy USA convenience stores and gas stations — primarily located in Walmart store parking lots — hired a new CEO, R. Andrew Clyde. Joining Clyde on the company’s board of directors is James Keyes, former CEO of 7-Eleven Inc. from 2000 to 2005.

 

While Murphy USA could have easily stopped there, choosing to simply get its feet wet as a standalone company, it continued with its growth targets. The retailer opened 24 new stores in 2013, good enough to be No. 12 on the CSNews Top 20 Growth Chains list.

 

Among these 24 stores was a milestone. The company opened its 1,200th convenience store on Dec. 11, fittingly in its hometown of El Dorado, Ark. The milestone store features Murphy’s new larger design format, which expands the space for traditional snack, tobacco and beverage offerings to include cold beverage dispensers, coffee and cappuccino, along with a greater variety of snacks and non-food items.

 

Just one day after opening its 1,200th location, the company achieved yet another milestone when it became the first retailer to offer E15 in Arkansas. The fuel blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use in cars released in the model year 2001 and newer.

 

Expect Murphy USA’s growth plans to accelerate in 2014, which means the company could show up on next year’s Top 20 Growth Chains list. As of Dec. 31, the retailer had 18 new stores under construction.

 

— Brian Berk
 

Panjwani Energy LLC

 

Star Stop, operated by Houston-based Panjwani Energy, is a convenience store chain whose rising star shows no signs of dimming. Appropriately named for its presence in the Lone Star State, the chain added 23 locations in 2013, ending the year at 92 stores and earning a place at No. 13 on this year’s Top 20 Growth Chains list.

 

The new stores were acquired from 7-Eleven Inc. and are located in Star Stop’s key markets of Houston, Austin and San Antonio, a Panjwani Energy spokesperson told CSNews.

 

Recently, the company joined the social networking site LinkedIn to attract potential employees. “Our drive to grow and learn is unparalleled as we implement the use of technology, which essentially increases efficiency not only for us, but our employees as well,” the company states on LinkedIn. “The job opportunities are endless with Star Stop as our demand for passionate and determined job seekers is increasing, from positions of location cashiers and managers to corporate data analysts and IT (information technology) personnel.”

 

Inviting customers to “Experience the Difference,” Star Stop is growing its social media presence further by offering exclusive prizes to fans who follow the chain on Twitter and Facebook. Recent prizes included Houston Rockets tickets and Beats headphones.

 

This year, Star Stop’s goal is to add eight additional stores to reach the 100-store milestone, the spokesperson told CSNews.

 

— Samantha Negraval
 

Pilot Flying J

 

Despite a trying year during which it faced legal penalties and lawsuits for alleged fraud in its fuel rebate program, Pilot Flying J persevered and grew. The Knoxville, Tenn.-based chain of travel centers and travel plazas started 2013 with 540 locations and finished with 558 for a net gain of 18 sites. The company expects to continue that same growth and momentum in 2014.

 

Its placement on the Top 20 Growth Chains list shows that Pilot Flying J hasn’t slowed down with age — the chain celebrated its 55th anniversary last year and marked the occasion by offering customers 55-cent cups of coffee.

 

“When I think about how we’ve grown over the years, it really is remarkable,” said James A. “Jim” Haslam II, who opened the first Pilot location on Nov. 20, 1958. “As we reflect on 55 years in business, we recognize our loyal customers and dedicated employees, without whom none of this would be possible.”

 

Pilot Flying J’s development efforts in 2013 went beyond expanding its number of units. Throughout the year, the company made numerous improvements to many of its locations. In April, it opened its first urgent care sites in Knoxville and Oklahoma City, with plans to open as many as 100 more through a partnership with Urgent Care Travel.

 

The company also got fresh with the debut of a fast-casual dining concept PJ Fresh Marketplace, which focuses on offering food items that are “fresh, healthy and quick,” such as hot breakfast platters; soups; entrees such as meatloaf and chicken pot pie; grab-and-go items like fresh-made salads; a frozen yogurt bar; and premium coffee, cappuccino and tea. More PJ Fresh Marketplace locations are expected to open in the coming months.

 

“We’re committed to making life better for professional drivers, as well as motorists, travelers and all of our customers, and we look for new travel center and travel plaza locations that will complement our complete network of more than 650 [sites] and continue to provide customers with a great experience,” Anne LeZotte, communications manager for Pilot Flying J, told CSNews.

 

“In 2014, our stores will continue to focus on providing superior amenities such as the best coffee on the interstate; expanded food and dining options; DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) at the pump; completely new restrooms to complement the recently remodeled showers; and more.”

 

— Angela Hanson
 

QuikTrip Corp.

 

Deliberate, measured growth is the name of the game for QuikTrip Corp., so it’s no surprise the Tulsa, Okla.-based chain is making its third appearance in CSNews’ Top 20 Growth Chains.

 

“We don’t just build stores for the sake of building stores. It’s got to fit our model or else we just don’t do it,” explained Mike Thornbrugh, manager of public and government affairs.

 

Last year, QuikTrip added slightly fewer stores than the prior year — 40 vs. 54 — but that was still enough to secure it the No. 6 ranking for the second straight year. The company found sites that were “the right fit” in its newest market of the Carolinas, as well as in some of its existing, more mature markets such as Dallas-Fort Worth, according to Thornbrugh.

 

At the same time QuikTrip is building new stores, the chain spends “an awful lot of time” on relocation of existing stores, which plays a part in its growth strategy. The retailer completed 12 to 14 relocations last year. There are various reasons why QuikTrip chooses to relocate a store, including traffic-pattern changes or a site’s inability to handle its Generation 3 format.

 

“Gen 3” stores are larger, have multiple entrances and offer outdoor seating. Inside, customers find an expansive array of hot, cold and frozen dispensed beverages; a large selection of QT Kitchens single-serve and take-home prepared foods; and a specialty beverage and soft-serve yogurt/ice cream bar staffed by associates. To date, there are more than 120 Gen 3 stores.

 

At some point, the goal is to have all the stores reflect this design, Thornbrugh confirmed.

 

As for 2014, QuikTrip is planning to post similar growth numbers as last year. If all goes as planned, the chain should be celebrating the 700-store milestone very soon.

 

— Linda Lisanti

 

RaceTrac Petroleum Inc.

 

RaceTrac Petroleum is making a repeat performance on the Top 20 Growth Chains list. The Atlanta-based retailer takes the No. 10 spot after seeing its footprint increase by 4.2 percent in 2013 — jumping from 666 convenience stores in January to 694 stores in December.

 

RaceTrac is a familiar face among the top growth chains. In 2012, the chain came in at No. 14 with 6.4-percent growth and in 2013, the retailer landed at the No. 11 spot with 3.9-percent growth.

 

RaceTrac has a strong presence in markets around Atlanta; Baton Rouge, La.; Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla.; Dallas/Fort Worth; Miami; New Orleans; and Orlando, Fla. In addition, it has been making inroads in other areas of Florida, notably Daytona Beach in Volusia County.

 

The retailer is not only growing in store count, but its stores are growing in size. RaceTrac debuted a new prototype, RT6K, in early 2012.

 

According to the company’s website, RaceTrac’s current plans for future development are stronger than ever. The ideal location for corporate-owned RaceTrac stores is high-volume, high-traffic metropolitan areas, with a 6,000-square-foot building and 18 to 24 fueling positions. In addition, the retailer looks for 1.5- to 2-acre tracts of land that have the ability to handle a 24-hour operation.

 

— Melissa Kress
 

Sheetz Inc.

 

How many can we do and do well? The answer to this question guides the number of new stores and scrape-and-rebuilds that Sheetz Inc. puts on the drawing board each year.

 

Sheetz, based in Altoona, Pa., is one of nine convenience store chains that have appeared on the CSNews Top 20 Growth Chains list every year since its inception three years ago. This time around, the company takes the No. 9 slot (up from No. 12) with the addition of 30 stores in 2013. Last year, Sheetz went from being a chain of 434 stores to a chain of 464 stores.

 

Growth in its newer markets was largely concentrated in North Carolina, while growth in its more-established markets saw a lot of activity in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pa. This ramp-up in the Keystone State was not exactly intentional, but rather a matter of coincidental timing.

 

“We work with a three-year pipeline. We have 100 to 110 sites in some form of permitting at any one time,” explained Joe Sheetz, president and CEO. Last year, it just so happened that several pipeline properties in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg became ready for development.

 

In recent years, Sheetz’ growth strategy has called for the chain to open 28 new stores annually and do 10 to 12 scrape-and-rebuilds, for a total of up to 40 projects a year. What it really boils down to, Joe Sheetz said, is how much investment they want to make in any one year. “We’ve settled on that number of 40 projects. We don’t want to overextend ourselves,” he added.

 

Sheetz’ growth goal for 2014 is in line with this strategy, although the chief executive noted that this year will see more “onesies” — single stores built to fill in existing markets. Such markets will include the Pittsburgh area, eastern Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Northern Virginia is also on the radar with properties there already in the pipeline, albeit at the tail end.

 

“We’re not forging new ground like we are in North Carolina, but based on the population, we have room to grow,” Joe Sheetz said. “There’s a ton of people there and a ton of opportunity.”

 

— Linda Lisanti
 

Shell Oil Co.

 

Marking its third consecutive appearance on CSNews’ Top 20 Growth Chains list, Shell grew by 25 units in 2013, going from 4,953 convenience stores to 4,978, according to TDLinx data. This year, the oil company ranks No. 11, up from No. 15 the previous year.

 

According to Shell, it boasts the largest retail gasoline network in the United States, with more than 14,700 branded sites coast to coast and a presence in all 50 U.S. states. Shell also sells unbranded gasoline to commercial and retail customers. Motiva Enterprises LLC, a 50/50 joint venture between Shell and Saudi Refining Inc., supplies more than 8,600 of these sites. Shell Oil Products US supplies more than 6,000 sites.

 

“We are always looking to grow where it makes sense,” the company stated in an email to CSNews. “We believe we have a well-positioned, competitive brand offering for our existing and potential future customers.”

 

Shell’s growth strategy includes expanding program opportunities that help fuel wholesalers provide expanded offerings to loyal customers, including more savings on their regular fuel purchases and specials on c-store merchandise.

 

“Shell continues to develop innovative loyalty programs and build on our industry-leading programs, from our payment cards to our loyalty alliances with grocers to the Fuel Rewards Network right at the dispenser, and [we] offer high-quality fuels that consumers want,” the company wrote. “We continue to expand on our existing grocer loyalty programs, while the Fuel Rewards Network continues to add new participants and grow membership.”

 

— Samantha Negraval
 

Speedway LLC

 

Early in 2014, Marathon Petroleum Corp. President and CEO Gary R. Heminger predicted that the company’s best days are yet to come. If that’s true, then Marathon Petroleum can look forward to a bright future as it comes off a solid 2013, during which its retail arm Speedway LLC added a net 14 convenience stores to reach a total of 1,478 locations.

 

Speedway actually opened 32 stores last year, but this was partially offset by some store closings. More than two-thirds of the added stores were new builds, with the remainder being acquisitions.

 

In addition to increasing its store count, Speedway also added two new states to its area of operation, bringing it to a total of nine states served. By entering western Pennsylvania and Tennessee, where it now operates five and seven locations respectively, Speedway made good on its plans to expand into regions adjacent to its current footprint.

 

“We are excited about Speedway’s future growth opportunities,” a company representative said. “From 2014 through 2016, we plan to invest $925 million in capital to grow the Speedway brand in our existing as well as new markets. This program will include adding 60 to 65 new-build or rebuild stores per year. Additionally, Speedway plans to look at high-quality, opportunistic acquisitions, but remains disciplined to only invest where it is complementary to our brand and where we can achieve solid returns on our investments.”

 

In the year to come, Speedway also plans to continue developing its foodservice program, making the chain a dining destination along with being a source for convenience items.

 

“We have a prototype store that we’ve been building for several years that accommodates the needs of our customers. Where it makes sense, we are building stores with a made-to-order food offering that we call Speedy Café,” the company representative added.

 

Speedy Café is a fast-casual restaurant where customers place their orders on a self-serve ordering kiosk. The food is freshly prepared and features Paninis, subs, specialty dogs, customizable pizzas, hand-crafted beverages (lattes, mochas, smoothies and frappes), breakfast sandwiches and sides.

 

— Angela Hanson

 

Sunoco Inc.

 

When it comes to growth at Sunoco Inc. last year, the one transaction that immediately comes to mind is its October acquisition of Mid-Atlantic Convenience Stores (MACS).

 

Richmond, Va.-based MACS owns and operates 71 convenience stores in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Washington, D.C., which were rebranded to Circle K locations earlier in 2013 — prior to the sale. MACS also has an exclusive development agreement with Circle K.

 

“We are very excited about the addition of MACS to the Sunoco retail network,” Robert W. Owens, president and CEO of Sunoco, said at the time of the acquisition. “MACS has developed a strong and successful retail organization that fits well with Sunoco’s existing operations and footprint.”

 

The MACS deal came as quite a surprise to nearly everyone in the convenience store industry for several reasons. Chief among them, a widespread belief that once Sunoco became a division of Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP), its retail division comprised of approximately 5,000 convenience stores in 24 states would go on the sale block.

 

Dallas-based ETP purchased Sunoco in October 2012. Although it has staunchly defended its position that no such sale would take place, the MACS purchase — as well as its place on this year’s CSNews Top 20 Growth Chains — certainly backs up its retail commitment.

 

So far in 2014, ETP (a master limited partnership) has further demonstrated its desire for retail growth by opening a new Sunoco APlus flagship store in Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 10. The store features custom-crafted sandwiches, touchscreen ordering kiosks, and barista-brewed coffee, drinks and smoothies. It also includes a Craft Beer Exchange, which offers a selection of seasonal craft beers available on tap or to go in 64-ounce growlers.

 

“We are very excited to see our first fans at the new location, and we look forward to providing you with the tradition, quality and performance you know and trust,” Sunoco APlus wrote on its Facebook page in January.

 

— Brian Berk

 

Susser Holdings Corp.

 

Although the U.S. economy continues to sputter along, one state has repeatedly bucked the trend. Thanks in part to the Eagle Ford natural gas shale, Texas is the No. 1 state for job creation and No. 2 for birth rates. With booming population growth, there are more consumers who need to fill up their gas tanks and grab food on the go. Susser Holdings Corp. has taken full advantage of this and will continue to do so.

 

In 2013, the parent of Stripes convenience stores and the Laredo Taco Co. quick-service restaurant business added 21 net stores, closing out the year with 580 retail locations.

 

“We continue to develop superior facilities on great locations in growing communities,” said Chief Financial Officer Mary Sullivan. “We have been building new big-box stores since 1999, which allow us to include our proprietary Laredo Taco Co. offering. The strong performance of these new stores, along with our overall business performance and improved capital structure, has allowed us to accelerate our new store growth and build our pipeline for coming years.”

 

Susser’s strategy includes both organic growth and acquisitions. According to Sullivan, the company looks for three things when building or acquiring stores: growing same-store sales; building large-format stores with plenty of parking to support both the Laredo Taco Co. concept and expanded fueling facilities; and acquiring high-quality assets.

 

“We strive to be selective and thoughtful on acquisitions,” she said. “We evaluate expected long-term return on investment, and our new stores have been producing historically consistent and attractive cash-on-cash returns. Acquisitions have historically helped us achieve scale, bring great team members to Susser and sometimes give us quick access to new markets, making them attractive in our overall growth strategy.”

 

Susser is already well on its way to appearing on CSNews’ next list of top growth chains with the January closing of its acquisition of 47 Sac-N-Pac stores. As of press time, the retailer had not released specific new store guidance for 2014, but Sullivan said the publicly traded company anticipates “new unit growth in terms of 4 percent to 5 percent per year.”

 

— Brian Berk

 

Tesoro Petroleum Corp.

 

Last year, Tesoro had some big shoes to fill to outdo its 2012 growth performance. That year, the company had perhaps its most active year ever in terms of acquisitions, picking up 174 locations from Thrifty Oil Co. and 49 Albertson’s Fuel Express gas stations and convenience stores formerly owned by Supervalu Inc.

 

Although 2013 wasn’t as busy for Tesoro, it was still a solid growth year for the operator of convenience stores and gas stations under the Tesoro, Shell, ARCO, USA Gasoline, Exxon and Mobil brand names. The company added a net 22 stores last year.

 

This increase places Tesoro at No. 14 on the Top 20 Growth Chains list. The unit gain can be attributed to several new store openings, as well as a host of small acquisitions.

 

2013 will also be remembered for one large sale completed by San Antonio-based Tesoro. The company sold its Hawaii operations in September to Hawaii Pacific Energy LLC, a division of Par Petroleum Corp., for $539 million. Thirty-one convenience stores and gas stations were included in the transaction.

 

“We are pleased to have reached this positive outcome for the company,” Tesoro President and CEO Greg Goff said when the sale was first announced. “While the Hawaii operations do not align with our strategic focus, we believe they offer a great opportunity for Par Petroleum.”

 

Although not included in the official CSNews Top 20 Growth Chains count, it’s also important to note that Tesoro did make one large retail-related acquisition last year. The company purchased BP plc’s Southwest U.S. refining and marketing business for $2.425 billion. The transaction included 835 branded jobber/retail locations in southern California, Nevada and Arizona marketed under the ARCO name, as well as a master franchisee license for the ampm convenience store brand. In November, Goff reported that this acquisition has significantly contributed to profits at Tesoro’s retail division.

 

— Brian Berk

 

Wawa Inc.

 

Wawa has gone through a growth spurt over the past several years, notably in 2013 with a 5.7-percent increase in its store count. The Pennsylvania-based company saw its total unit count grow from 613 in January to 648 in December, pushing it to the No. 7 spot on the Top 20 Growth Chains.

 

The new stores garnering the most attention are popping up in Florida. The retailer entered the Sunshine State in 2012, making it the sixth state in its footprint. By the time the first anniversary of its inaugural Florida store rolled around in July 2013, Wawa was operating 14 stores in the state with plans for an additional 12 stores in the Orlando and Tampa markets. In total, 33 Wawa locations opened in Florida in the past year, with more than half of them in the Orlando market.

 

Last year saw Wawa spread its wings in its existing markets as well — New Jersey, especially. The convenience retailer set up shop in northern New Jersey for the first time. Wawa opened its first Hudson County store in Kearny, N.J., in January; its first Union County store in Elizabeth, N.J., in April; and its first Bergen County store in Lodi, N.J., in October. Plans call for 10 more Wawa stores in the northern New Jersey market by 2015.

 

— Melissa Kress

 

 

Repeat Performers

Chain 2014 Ranking 2013 Ranking 2012 Ranking
7-Eleven Inc. 1 1 1
Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.  3 4 6
Casey’s General Stores Inc. 4 7 4
Military 5 2 9
Murphy USA Inc. 12 9 16
QuikTrip Corp. 6 6 19
RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. 10 11 14
Sheetz Inc. 9 12 (tie) 17 (tie)
Shell Oil/Motiva Enterprises LLC 11 15 2
Nine companies have earned a spot on the CSNews Top 20 Growth Chains list the past three years.

 

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