Chains Worth Watching

JohnNewDespite the global recession, convenience stores have thrived thanks to their ability to provide fast service, quality products and great value in strategic locations.

As service and location remain the industry’s primary competitive advantage over supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, many of whom are moving into the fuel and fresh food business, convenience stores have stayed on the cutting edge of retail trends. That forward-looking strategy promises to continue as retailers enhance their focus on foodservice.

This keen focus is the subject of this month’s cover story. The September issue is routinely one of my favorite issues of the year. It’s the month we get to profile convenience store Chains to Watch for the next 12 months. This year we’ve focused in on two outstanding chains: Ohio-based truenorth energy LLC, a 50-50 joint venture between Lyden Oil and Shell, and Casey’s General Stores in Ankeny, Iowa.
While these two chains have deep industry roots, they have taken remarkable steps to reinvent themselves to ensure that 2013 will be a year marked by prodigious growth, both in store count and in their overall retail offering.

In our first story, Mark Lyden, president of truenorth, Ryan Howard, truenorth’s chief operating officer, and Lindsay Lyden, the chain’s general manager of marketing, sat down with CSD Publisher John Petersen and I for a candid interview focusing on the company’s long-term growth strategy.

The chain detailed its retail approach and its energetic commitment to meeting consumers’ demands for an upscale convenience store offering that’s easy on the pocketbook. From talking to consumers at a couple of its Cleveland-area stores, there is an excitement surrounding truenorth’s stores that is palpable and inviting.

A savvy marketer whose family roots extend back to 1919, Lyden senses he has created something special with the truenorth brand. “This is an exciting time for our business,” Lyden told me at the company’s new, state-of-the-art headquarters in Brecksville, Ohio. “My grandfather started this business in 1919 with Amoco and it grew steadily as the family business. Today, we are preparing for a period of unprecedented company growth across all of our markets of operation.”

Currently,  truenorth sells more than 400 million gallons of fuel annually through its network of company- and dealer-operated Shell-branded convenience stores and gas stations.

Its main focus in the coming years will be on expanding both fuel and ancillary revenue sales through extensive capital deployment and dealer support programs.

Casey’s Steps Up
In the second part of our cover story package, Associate Editor Erin Rigik spoke with Bill Walljasper, Casey’s longtime senior vice president and chief financial officer, for an introspective look at the company’s unique challenges over the past two years and its lofty goals for the next 12-15 months.
The convenience store chain is branching into new territory, pushing into Kentucky and Tennessee, and eyeing opportunities in North Dakota. In addition to plans for building 35 units in 2013, the chain is also busy with a major multi-year remodel program to expand the physical footprint and upgrade the ambiance of 600-800 stores, while also converting many existing stores to 24-hour locations and adding pizza delivery at several locations.

Casey’s, as you may recall, was the target of a hostile takeover attempt by Canadian c-store behemoth Alimentation Couche-Tard. Since fending off the Couch-Tard onslaught, Casey’s has remained fairly aggressive in its own business dealings acquiring 124 stores in 2011 and 2012, in addition to building 50 stores. Among the acquisitions was Kabredlo’s 44-store chain in summer of 2010 and 22 stores from Kum & Go last year.

As with all of our stories, please feel free to send us your comments or recommend a convenience store chain on the rise for a profile in an upcoming issue.

  • Ross Murray

    Awesome article and a true depiction of C-Stores today as they were when I worked in my grandfather’s fuel and convenience store in the ’50s. Thanks for the update…Ross

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