broadening its range

Road Ranger, a chain of 50 c-stores and travel plazas, expects to nearly double in size by year’s end.

By Ross Markman, Retail Relations Editor

This promises to be a busy year for Road Ranger. Following an expansion two years ago from about 30 convenience stores and travel centers to 50, the Rockford, Ill.-based chain plans to add another 40 by the end of 2006, nearly doubling its portfolio and solidifying an alreadyrobust company.

More than half of Road Ranger’s current stores are franchised to independent operators. Stores, averaging about 5,500 sq. ft., are spread throughout five Midwestern states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin, the bulk of which are located in Illinois.

Anna Ciciora, the chain’s CEO, said the company is approaching $1 billion in annual sales. She hopes to continue its expansion into those regions as well as venture into new states, including Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

“We really want to grow the brand, and we’d like to grow in both convenience stores and travel plazas,” Ciciora said.

“We’d like to fill out some of the markets we’re already in, but we’re also going to go where the deals are.”

Founded in 1984 by Daniel Arnold, the company’s president, Road Ranger is expected to pursue acquisitions rather than building new stores, mainly because that option is more expedient, Cicicora said.

The company is so focused on expansion opportunities that its intentions to open a new regional office in Chicago’s Sears Tower have been put on hold.

Ciciora said she foresees Road Ranger continuing its growth over the next decade, in large part because Arnold “is a real true entrepreneur, who really believes in the brand.”

Road Ranger plans to offer at least two food offerings for each new store. The chain now features Subway restaurants in about a dozen stores, as well as Superior Coffee, Krispy Kreme and its own Food to Go program, which features a variety of items like hot dogs, tortillas and deli sandwiches.

In addition, in May 2004, the chain opened its first Ranger Caf at one of its seven Rockford locations—an offering that features an upscale coffee house, Subway and a full-service catering business

Plans are also under way to add a McDonald’s to the chain’s Champaign-Urbana, Ill., store in a companywide push to examine the impact such a partnership would have on margins, particularly at existing properties. The company has considered several other options on the QSR front, from Burger King and McDonald’s to Beef-a-Roo, a 40-year-old chain headquartered in nearby Loves Park, Ill., that’s already agreed to a partnership.

“I think we really want to make sure that we are also concentrating on our Food to Go program. There’s a lot of opportunity in that,” Ciciora said.

Proprietary food programs typically carry higher foodservice margins than branded programs and are free of brand restrictions, franchise fees and monthly royalties.

Road Ranger remains one of the more progressive convenience retailers in the Midwest, as evidenced by its April 2005 introduction of E85, a blend of 85% renewable ethanol and just 15% petroleum, making the company one of the first in that particular market to do so.

“If you look at the major car manufacturers, they’re making a big push for alternative fuels, and I think it’s a good product provided the marketing is done for it and people are educated about its advantages,” Ciciora said, adding that the alternative fuel will undoubtedly be an element of any newly acquired or constructed Road Ranger stores.

“It’s a source of energy that will play a role in the future of this industry,” she said.


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