Names to Remember

August is always 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, Stripes, a division of Susser Holdings in Corpus Christi, Texas, and EZ Energy, a rapidly growing operator based in Mansfield, Ohio.

Susser Holdings is the umbrella company for two primary divisions: Stripes LLC and Susser Petroleum. Stripes operates 517 convenience stores in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico under the Stripes and Town & Country brands. The wholesale segment supplies Valero, Chevron and Exxon fuels to more than 370-dealer operated stores in addition to its own units.

Susser Holdings has been turning heads for about two years, since it decided leave Circle K and develop the Stripes convenience brand. It turned out to be a solid business decision. Stripes is a wonderful retail brand marked by an impressive design and strong foodservice program called Laredo Taco Company. Stripes also features solid private label brands like Quake energy drink, a packaged beverage brand marketed in the cold vault; Smokin’ Barrel beef jerky; and Café de la Casa coffee to name a few.

Susser is continuing its growth this year as it moves to rebrand the Town & Country stores it acquired back in 2007. Once complete, Stripes will be among the most recognized convenience retail brands in Texas with a solid foundation to expand to new markets.

“We are firmly committed to exceeding the customers’ expectations for an outstanding shopping experience,” said Steve DeSutter, the president and CEO of Stripes, who joined the Susser family last year with an impressive resume of management at notable companies, such as BP, Quiznos and Burger King. “What impresses me the most is the foundation this company has built. It’s been around for more than 70 years and it attracts great employees that are carrying on a tradition of outstanding service, and that’s one of the building blocks of our growth strategy.”

Taking it EZ
The second feature in this year’s Chains to Watch is EZ Energy, a dynamic company paced by outstanding leadership and a solid financial footing. While it’s still relatively unknown in industry circles, EZ Energy has aggressive expansion plans that have it on the brink of industry stardom.

“To make your mark you are either growing the business, or waiting for the industry to pass you by,” said EZ Energy President and CEO Gregg Budoi, the former chief financial officer of Dairy Mart Convenience Stores, who is charged with leading the company’s budding c-store and wholesale petroleum business. “Our strategy is relatively simple. We are looking for top quality stores that will help us expand in our markets of operation and present opportunities in new markets that will enhance our scalability.”

EZ Energy’s markets of operation currently range from central Ohio east to Pittsburgh. In total, the chain directly operates 68 convenience stores under multiple brands, including ampm and its proprietary Easy Trip banner. Plus, it distributes BP and Marathon fuels to an additional 24 stores in Ohio and Pennsylvania. It sells about 160 million gallons of motor fuel annually with sales estimated at $460 million.

EZ Energy burst onto the U.S. scene in June 2007 with the acquisition of Central Ohio Energy Inc. The deal netted the company eight Easy Trip convenience stores and the company’s current headquarters in Mansfield.

“Our focus has been to grow retail operations from scratch through acquisitions,” Budoi said. “That means we we’re looking for smaller chains with infrastructure and assets that could serve as a springboard for additional growth.”

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.

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