The Transition Plan for Couche-Tard's C-stores

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The Transition Plan for Couche-Tard's C-stores

By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News - 09/22/2015

CARY, N.C. — During Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.'s 2016 fiscal first-quarter earnings call on Sept. 1, President and CEO Brain Hannasch revealed Kangaroo Express locations would transition to the Circle K banner in January. Those plans are still in place, however, the Canada-based retailer now plans to bring the Circle K brand — complete with a new look — to the global stage.

Leading the change in the Southeast is Darrell Davis, senior vice president of operations at Couche-Tard. 

"It's been a busy year and half for us internally as we look at all the different brands that we represent and what's the go-forth strategy and being able to serve our customers better," Davis told CSNews Online in an interview Tuesday.

The c-stores in the Southeast United States — which include Circle K and Kangaroo Express locations — will be the first to feature the new Circle K brand and image. The process will take about a year. Included in the transitioning are nearly 2,400 stores in four divisions: the South Atlantic, Southeast, Florida and the Gulf Coast. All four divisions are represented by their own vice presidents. 

"We are a global brand, but we still have local decisions and local flair and local ways that we go to market," Davis reported.

Today, Couche-Tard operates four retail banners: Circle K, Kangaroo Express, Statoil and Mac's. The company's leadership team faced some "tough and emotional questions" when deciding which banner to make its global convenience brand, according to Davis. 

"The leadership team felt because Circle K already had a global presence, larger than the other brands it represented, the recognition of that name would be broader," he explained. "That in itself was one of the deciding factors in selection of the brand."

There is always the concern not to alienate customers who were loyal to one brand; however, Davis noted that Couche-Tard has acquired "very good companies" with good people. The brand change sets the foundation for Couche-Tard to build the Circle K brand and what it stands for long term. 

"Where we do find comfort is in the people. In all our acquisitions, if you talk to [founder and executive chairman of the board] Alain Bouchard, he would say it isn't the assets we bought, it's all the talent and the people that deliver to our customers everyday that make us a good, growing company," he said.

"I feel good because I have some great people here and across the globe who are going to deliver what they have always delivered before," Davis added. 

As the rebranding effort gets underway, customers will first see "a little teaser" about the upcoming name change. The second phase will be the name change.

During the third phase, the retailer will build on what the Circle K brand will stand for in the future — an internal process at the moment, he said. 

"We are doing this to get better," Davis noted, adding Couche-Tard will build on all the good elements that all its brands represent today. 

The company has been following this process through all its acquisitions. When Couche-Tard makes an acquisition, it doesn't immediately make changes, he explained. It studies what that chain is doing, learns from that and incorporates those learnings into the company's best practices.

"We're a company that was built on acquisitions, but also built on benchmarking," the executive told CSNews Online

For example, when Couche-Tard's Circle K division acquired The Pantry Inc., parent company of Cary-based Kangaroo Express, the retailer had two lists: what The Pantry is doing better than Circle K and what Circle K is doing better than The Pantry. 

"That's how we continue to get better," Davis said.

As an industry veteran, Davis said he is proud of the company's culture and part of that culture is pride.

"We talk about pride internally, but we are not proud people," he said. "There are some very fabulous companies that we have bought. We learn from them and it becomes a common practice throughout our company. With each acquisition, we get better."