The Hot 100

Buttressed by the acquisition of more than 200 White Hen stores in the Chicago market, Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. held its No. 1 ranking and widened its store-count lead on No. 2 BP North American in the annual Convenience Store News Top 100.

The CSNews Top 100 is an annual ranking of the largest U.S. convenience store chains based on store counts from TDLinx, a sister company of CSNews and the premier industry source of universally-accepted store, outlet and account-coding definitions.

With 6,084 stores, 7-Eleven increased its margin over BP from 640 last year to its current 1,183-store lead over the Warrenville, Ill.-based fuel company. The remainder of the top seven companies held their rankings from last year: Shell/Motiva Enterprises, which fell from No. 2 to No. 3 last year, remained in that slot with 4,720 stores.

This year's listing shows a slowdown in the growth of the top 10 chains, which added only 381 net new company-owned or franchised/licensed locations over the past year. Last year, the top 10 chains added a whopping 1,874 stores, after a year of retrenchment in 2005, when they only opened 158 additional stores. Altogether, the top 10 chains represent 62.6 percent of the total Top 100 stores; about the same as two years ago, but less than the 65 percent they accounted for in 2006.

Overall, the Top 100 companies operate 57,034 stores, an increase of 2,500 units from a year ago or 39.3 percent of the total convenience-store universe. And the shift from company-operated to franchised/licensed stores continues. This year, the Top 100 retailers operated 29,587 franchised or licensed stores, an increase from 27,880 last year. The percentage of company-owned stores has declined from 55 percent of the Top 100 in 2005 to 49 percent last year and 48 percent in 2007.

Alimentation Couche-Tard operates the largest number of company-owned stores in the U.S., primarily through its Circle K subsidiary. The Pantry, 7-Eleven, Marathon Oil (Speedway SuperAmerica) and Casey's round out the top 5 in company-owned stores.

Nine out of the top 10 operators of franchised or licensed stores are oil companies. This continues a trend started a few years ago when Shell Oil shed the overhead and operational headaches of company-owned stores and "dealerized" most of its store network. In addition to many oil companies, 7-Eleven also has begun to divest company-operated stores in favor of franchise arrangements. Shell currently operates the greatest number of franchised or licensed stores, followed by 7-Eleven, ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron.

Many chains have been extremely active in the past year. Consulting editor Claire Pamplin takes a look at five of the most dynamic in CSNews annual Newsmakers roundup, pages 45 to 70, followed by a look at the industry's major acquisitions in 2007.