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In a year marked by exceptional turmoil in fuel prices and the economy, and overall contraction of total number of stores, some of the nation's largest convenience store chains managed to pad their store counts through acquisitions, mergers and a little organic growth.
Canada-based Alimentation Couche-Tard, which operates the largest number of company-operated stores in the c-store business, added 319 stores to its U.S. store count over the past 12 months, according to the exclusive Convenience Store News Top 100.
The second-fastest growing c-store retailer in the U.S. over the past year was Cumberland Farms, which benefited by its merger with Gulf Oil earlier this year. 7-Eleven, the nation's largest c-store chain in total store count (company-operated plus franchised or licensed stores), added 100 stores to its industry-leading store count of 6,371 units. The Dallas-based retailer ramped up its efforts to convert independent c-stores to the 7-Eleven banner through its new Business Conversion Plan.
Valero Energy Corp., which just missed the top 10 in overall store count, was the fourth fastest-growing chain, adding 90 stores, while Landmark Industries, which operates Timewise Stores in Texas, acquired 80 stores from various small independent operators last fall.
The CSNews Top 100 is the c-store industry's annual ranking of the largest c-store chains based on U.S. store counts. The list is compiled by TDLinx, a sister Nielsen company to CSNews.
The top 10 c-store companies remained unchanged from last year, and maintained their same rankings by store count. After 7-Eleven, the next largest c-store chains in the U.S. are: BP, Shell Oil, ExxonMobil and Chevron. Alimentation Couche-Tard, Speedway SuperAmerica, CITGO, Sunoco and The Pantry round out the top 10.
Stores operated by the top 10 chains represented 61.6 percent of the Top 100, about the same as the 61.8 percent share they comprised last year. The total CSNews Top 100 store count represented a slightly larger share of total industry stores -- 39.8 percent, compared with 39.6 percent in 2008.
The top 10 chains list continued to be dominated by petroleum companies and franchise operators, while the second tier is dominated by chains with corporately run stores. Franchised or licensed stores comprise 72 percent of the total stores operated by the top 10 companies, but only 51.6 percent of the Top 100.
After Couche-Tard, which operates the Circle K brand in the U.S., the next largest corporately operated companies are 7-Eleven, The Pantry, Speedway SuperAmerica, Casey's General Stores, Hess and Valero (all with more than 1,000 corporately run units).
The total store count for the Top 100 stores declined 343 units for the 12-month period ended June 30. That 1.2-percent drop mirrors the overall decline in store count that the convenience industry experienced last year and continued to suffer during the first half of 2009. As reported by CSNews Online earlier this year, the total number of c-stores in the U.S. declined by 1,419 stores, or roughly 1 percent. For the first six months of 2009, the total industry lost another 696 stores, or another half-percent so far this year.