LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Two years after taking full ownership of Thorntons, bp has made great strides to integrate the convenience store chain into its fold while also respecting the legacy the Louisville-based brand built.
"In August of 2021, bp fully acquired the Thorntons business, and we respect and honor the heritage of this brand. We've been working throughout 2022 to integrate it into bp," Lisa Blalock, vice president, U.S. Convenience, told Convenience Store News.
The deal, which saw Houston-based bp buy out its joint venture partner Arclight Partners LLC to take Thorntons, added 208 convenience stores to bp's growing retail network.
As part of its integration efforts, bp has created a new U.S. convenience business to bring together two c-store banners, ampm and Thorntons, and to leverage all of the company's convenience capabilities within one team focused on serving guests and growing its convenience network in the United States, according to Blalock.
"I'm excited to share that we stood up this new business as of January of this year, and we are positioned for growth. We now have scalable convenience capabilities, and we will continue to be guest obsessed," she said, adding that the word "guest" is intentional and leans into Thorntons' history as a family-owned company that services the community.
Deepening Its Commitment
Convenience is among bp's top growth engines, as further evidenced by its $1.3 billion acquisition of Westlake, Ohio-based TravelCenters of America in May 2023. But the company is growing in the channel organically as well.
According to Blalock, bp is expanding its retail network through the ampm and Thorntons brands, in addition to its franchisee network. As of mid-August, the company had added 14 new locations, with plans to keep growing through both brands.
With locations across six Midwestern states and Florida, Thorntons is primarily a Midwestern staple. Future growth plans call for expansion within its current seven-state footprint, but bp does not rule out wider expansion.
From an ampm perspective, Blalock cited the banner's entrance into the New York area in August 2022 and pointed to opportunities to expand the ampm franchise offering.
"What's important about any expansion is that we service the guests in those communities to be truly guest obsessed. We need to understand and investigate what the guests need in particular areas, and ensure that our convenience and our food and beverage offerings service those in the communities to the best of our abilities from that lens," she said. "While we continue to grow, we continue to learn from our guests and what their needs are across our convenience offerings from that perspective."
Moving forward as a united convenience player, bp is investing heavily in digital. Why? "Because as new customers and guests come to our retail networks, their experience needs to adapt based on their needs and expectations of us," Blalock explained.
"I'm excited about digital because it really blends the physical presence of our experiences and what we're really known for today, but also allows us the ability to service those in other locations and to bring our convenience and retail offerings to the guest wherever they desire from that perspective," she said.
From a best practices view, bp has embraced Thorntons' "warm and welcoming nature and culture," according to Blalock; a nature and culture the company is continuing.
"Not only do we hire within the community for the team members, but we also want to give back. One area that they've always given back is partnering to give surplus convenience items and food through a safe manner to help hunger relief programs in the area," she said. "We're excited to continue those connections across the communities that we serve both through Thorntons and are looking at opportunities and how we can potentially do that through our franchise network as well."
Additionally, bp is leaning into its own culture of safety. "We really truly care about our team members; we put them absolutely first," Blalock said. "We've invested in our team members, as well as we continue to look at how do we make our stores safer — both safer for our guests as well as our team members.
"We are a 24/7 retail operation and ensuring that we invest and we extend that care culture all the way down to those that service our guests every day is an important area for us to continue to lean into," she added.
Plans for TravelCenters of America
While bp has been busy integrating Thorntons, the company looks at the addition of TravelCenters of America differently.
"We're not looking to integrate TravelCenters of America into our U.S. convenience. Instead, it will be another piece of the business that reports up to Mobility & Convenience, Americas," Greg Franks, bp's senior vice president, Mobility & Convenience, Americas, told CSNews. "It will sort of run concurrently.
"We will look for our areas of opportunity to share and to work together," he continued. "I see that very logically in say, supply of fuel and the convenience area, digital offerings, and we'll be able to scale across both our safety programs."
Though some areas make sense, TravelCenters of America has some distinct offerings like truck maintenance, for example, that doesn't quite fit bp's U.S. convenience business.
"There's a lot of capability just like when we brought Thorntons into the fold. We've brought in a lot of capability that we really value. That part of the business will continue to operate out of Cleveland and it'll go on much like it has been," Franks said. "They will both be part of Mobility & Convenience, Americas, but we'll respect where there are differences that are required to best serve our guests because we want to be guest obsessed."