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    Open Pantry to Focus on New "Up Image" Prototype

    Wisconsin retailer will sell 10 sites in Midwest to fund investment in future new builds.

    PLEASANT PRAIRIE, Wis. -- August 31 -- Open Pantry Food Marts of Wisconsin plans to use the revenue generated from selling off nearly a third of its 36 Open Pantry convenience stores to open more new units based on its new trend-setting design.

    In an interview with CSNews Online yesterday, CEO Robert A. Buhler said that the 10 locations up for sale are all profitable, strong performers but that either their physical space cannot accommodate the retailer's new vision or making the necessary changes would be cost-prohibitive.

    "Good retailers don’t hold on to their cash cows that they know won't be cashing three to five years from now," said Buhler. "We believe that by selling these stores to -- most likely -- independent operators, they will continue to do well in these neighborhoods that won't accept our new offering."

    Open Pantry's new offering is based on elements of its New Berlin, Wis., store, which include such up market features as leather chairs, a high-end coffee bar, two computers for customers to access the Internet (as well as Wi-Fi availability in the store), and its made-to-order Santa Fe Grill burrito bar.

    "Unlike the traditional convenience store, this store is designed to have the c-store customer slow down," said Buhler.

    Buhler told CSNews Online that Open Pantry will apply the proceeds of the sales into 10 to 30 new sites in the Milwaukee-Madison, Wis., market that the company has targeted for growth. Buhler said the retailer has grown through small acquisitions of one to seven store chains. "We believe there are many sellers out there looking to exit the business," he said, adding that Open Pantry would be on the lookout for strong corners that need an up-image remake.

    "We are diligently looking at growth trends or new strategic locations to acquire and apply our up image look to reposition the c-store experience in the minds of consumers," said Buhler. "The 10 non-strategic sites that are up for sale are all strong performers, well-imaged, including eight that are owned and operated by Open Pantry and two that are dealer sites." All properties are convenience stores with gas. The Energy Exchange, based in Chicago, is handling the sale.

    Privately-held Open Pantry Food Marts of Wisconsin is celebrating its 40 year anniversary this year. It is currently consists of 33 corporate stores, three franchise stores and 11 dealer locations throughout Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. The Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin-based company is the second largest convenience store chain in the state. It has been in business since 1966, under the ownership of Robert W. Buhler, and, since 1997, under the ownership of Robert A. Buhler.

    According to Phil Boyd, Managing Director of The Energy Exchange, "Dealers buying these units have the opportunity to walk into modern convenience stores that are profitable units. For Open Pantry, it is not just about candy, chips and gas anymore. The company is redefining how the c-stores of the future should look as well as operate."

    Questions concerning the sale can be directed to The Energy Exchange at 866.906.7499 or www.energy-xchange.com. The Energy Exchange is a Chicago-based commercial real estate firm specializing in the sale of service stations and convenience stores nationwide. Philip Boyd, managing director, and Mark Raccuia, executive vice president, of the Energy Exchange, are named as the real estate advisors in the sale.

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