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Robust M&A Drives Consolidation of U.S. Convenience Stores

February 08, 2019, 09:00 AM
Filed Under: Retail

The number of convenience stores operating in the United States fell to 153,237 in 2018, a 1.1% decline from last year’s record of 154,958 stores, according to the 2019 NACS/Nielsen Convenience Industry Store Count. The count is based on stores as of December 31, 2018, and is published annually NACS.

Drug stores experienced the largest drop, declining 3.1% year-over-year, the report shows. 

A key trend within the U.S. convenience and fuel retailing industry continues to be strong mergers and acquisitions activity, particularly among existing convenience store chains. Like 2017, the industry experienced historically large M&A deals in 2018, but also saw new entrants to the U.S. market from global companies based in Chile and the United Kingdom, for example.

“With expanded competition for the convenience customer and an active M&A environment, retailers increasingly need to up the ante on delivering a quick and exciting shopping experience by investing in their core offer of convenience. “With one in seven stores getting remodeled every year at a cost of $400,000, that can put pressure on some stores whether to modernize operations or exit the business,” said NACS Vice Chairman of Research Andy Jones, who is president and CEO of Spirit Food Stores Inc. (Wrens, GA).

Consumers are redefining what convenience means to them, and as a result, today’s retailers must be extremely tuned into the wants and needs of the individual consumer,” said Jeff Williams, senior vice president of retail services at Nielsen. “Convenience players will need to continue to seek growth opportunities amid a fiercely aggressive environment, whether that’s through exploration of frictionless payment methods, piloting more efficient retail layouts, expanding private label programs, increasing food service offerings, or a move toward building an omnichannel presence. That said, as the value of convenient shopping experiences continues to grow in importance, convenience as a channel must play into its true strengths and optimize to be the retail channel that best serves the needs of on-the-go consumers, on a personal level.” 

The number of convenience stores that sell motor fuels decreased 0.5% (554 stores) to 121,998 stores, which is 79.6% of all convenience stores. Overall, convenience stores sell approximately 80% of the motor fuels purchased in the United States. The decline in the number of convenience stores selling fuel is reflective of retailers evolving their business models to focus more on the in-store, foodservice offer, as well as retailers embracing new store formats and establishing their brands in more urban, walk-up locations.

Among the states, Texas continues to lead in store count at 15,745 stores, or more than one in 10 stores in the country. California is second at 11,930 stores, followed by Florida (9,803), New York (8,550), Georgia (6,698), North Carolina (6,069), Ohio (5,637), Michigan (4,930), Pennsylvania (4,778) and Illinois (4,753). The bottom three states in terms of store count are Alaska (200 stores), Wyoming (352) and Delaware (346).

Looking at the last five years (2013-2018), the top three states—Texas (+554), California (+742) and Florida (+66)—have increased their store count by a combined 1,362 stores, with the growth mostly coming from larger convenience store chains with 500 or more stores. The bottom three states (Alaska, Wyoming and Delaware) have remained relatively unchanged.

The U.S. store count has risen 28.3% since 2000. This year marks only the fourth time the U.S. convenience store count has declined during that time.

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