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    Village Pantry Sets New Path with Acquisition

    Purchases Imperial Co., operator of 33 "Next Door Store" c-stores in Mich., northern Ind.

    By Mehgan Belanger

    INDIANAPOLIS -- Village Pantry Inc., a 146-unit convenience store chain and affiliate of Sun Capital Partners, Inc., revealed its future strategy as it acquired Imperial Co. Inc., operator of 33 Next Door Store convenience stores in Michigan and northern Indiana.

    "It logically fit in with our geographics," Mick Parker, president and CEO of Village Pantry, said in an interview with CSNews Online yesterday. "It is a very well-run organization, and a good fit operationally for us."

    As CSNews Online reported first in a newsflash yesterday, Imperial sells Marathon-branded fuel at more than 25 of its locations; the remaining are independent branded. The chain also operates four Subway quick-serve restaurants, as well as car washes, Parker said. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    As a result of this acquisition, the Next Door Store chain will see a change in the company's technology. The Next Door Stores use PDI's RMS technology, while Village Pantry is implementing PDI's Enterprise technology. At some point in the future, the newly acquired stores will be migrated to the Enterprise system, Parker said.

    While some changes will take place at the Next Door Store locations, they will most likely not be rebranded to the Village Pantry banner. "The Village Pantry brand is really a regional brand to Indianapolis and central Indiana, and Next Door Stores is a very regional brand in Michigan," Parker told CSNews Online.

    The acquisition marks a milestone for the company. After Village Pantry's parent company, Marsh Supermarkets Inc., was purchased by investment firm Sun Capital in September 2006, the convenience chain was split from the grocer in late May. This acquisition is the first for the new company, and a sign of its future growth strategy.

    "As a result [of the spin-off], we're really developing our chain to grow through acquisitions and through new industry growth, but primarily we are looking at acquisitions," Parker told CSNews Online. "Sun Capital allows Village Pantry to grow. In the past, we have been a stifled company. This is the first of many activities that are underway currently."

    For the short term, Village Pantry will look for acquisition targets geographically closer to the Midwest. "Once we get our platform up and running, we can expand beyond that, as long as it makes operational sense," he explained. "Also, Sun Capital certainly has the capability of acquiring business everywhere, not just on the Village Pantry side."

    Other parts of the growth strategy include an "aggressive update" and remodel of its existing assets, according to Parker. While he is not sure of the number of remodels that are planned, he hopes to have 13 physical remodels done by the end of this year.

    The revamp effort calls for a complete interior upgrade, including imaging and equipment, along with offering new products and a new cigarette presentation, he said.

    Internal changes also have been underway at Village Pantry, which has allowed them to prepare for the future. "We've completely reworked our management team. We brought in several new leaders of different departments. That's a key activity that needed to happen to prepare for growth," Parker said.

    He noted that it has been a "very active" past three or four months.

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