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    Couche-Tard Plans More U.S. Expansion

    CEO Alain Bouchard announces plans to acquire more than 100 stores a year, ultimately controlling 10 percent of North American market.

    LAVAL, Quebec -- At the company's annual meeting Wednesday, Alain Bouchard, chairman and CEO for Couche-Tard, outlined plans to expand in the United States by the hundreds each year.

    Through acquisitions of smaller and regional chains, the company, which operates more than 5,100 Mac's and Circle K convenience stores in North America, will rope in 100 to 130 stores per year with the goal of controlling 10 percent of the North American convenience market, Bouchard told The Gazette. Such plans will be "very, very easy," he said at the meeting, citing the slowing U.S. economy and the fragmented quality of the convenience industry. Bouchard also plans to increase profit from 15 percent to 20 percent annually.

    Bouchard did not discount a major acquisition as a part of the growth plan, however, and did state that the company would prefer to partner with a major gas company. He said that Couche-Tard is not discounting a move to another continent, adding that Mexico and Asia would be a possibility.

    Couche-Tard does not have much debt and its market value is approximately C$5 billion, Bouchard said. It would be feasible for the chain to pursue acquisitions exceeding $1 billion without issuing new shares, he added.

    The company has risen to its giant status over the last 20 years with Bouchard at its helm. It has grown through a series of major acquisitions, including the Perrette and Provi-Soir stores during its infancy, and several U.S. based stores, including Dairy Mart and most recently Sparky's Oil Co. and Holland Oil. Its biggest purchase was in 2003, when the company bought Circle K, grabbing more than 1,600 corporate stores in 16 states with the purchase.

    Bouchard told CSNews earlier this year that success comes from the company's buy-in. "If I am not able to convince the division of an idea, I'll say, 'Okay. You think I am wrong, so the only thing I will impose will be for you take 20 stores, and try it my way. If I am still wrong, I will back up and you can keep things the way you think they should be.' That's how we effect change."

    Couche-Tard suffered a 1.2 percent drop in profit for its fourth quarter to $32.1 million, in spite of rising revenues due to gasoline sales. On Wednesday, Couche-Tard shares closed down 77 cents at C$22.39 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, confirming reports by Bloomberg News that a slowing U.S. economy and a lessened demand for Canadian exports will have some impact on Canadian companies.

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