Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Mystique of Couche-Tard

The Mystique of Couche-Tard

By Uzuki Shimamura
The Daily Magi
September 10, 2070

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. or simply Couche-Tard is one of the largest company-owned convenience store operators in the world with more than 13,000 stores across Canada, the United States, Europe, Mexico, Japan, China, and Indonesia. The company operates its corporate stores under mainly Couche-Tard, Mac's, Circle K, On the Run and also under the affiliated brands 7-jours, Dairy Mart, Daisy Mart and Winks.

The flagship Couche-Tard and Mac's stores, as well as some older Winks outlets, prominently feature a distinctive anthropomorphic red, winking owl. This mascot of a "night owl" (couche-tard in French) was inherited from the Provi-Soir/Winks chain when it was absorbed. Founded by the late president and CEO Alain Bouchard, the corporation is based in Laval, Quebec, Canada, a suburb of Montreal.

There are 581 corporate stores in Quebec under the names Couche-Tard, Provi-Soir and Dépanneur 7 jours (acquired from Metro Inc.), as well as 298 affiliated stores such as Tabatou. In Ontario, there are 605 corporate stores and 214 affiliated stores, and in Western Canada, 295 corporate stores and 71 affiliates operated under the names Mac's, Mike's Mart, Becker's, Daisy Mart, and Winks.

The chain's current status in Quebec is the result of the consolidation of several major convenience store chains in the province during the 1990s. In 1994, Couche-Tard, already a significant convenience-store operator in Quebec, acquired the La Maisonnée (from steinberg) and Perrette(fr) chains, as well as Mac's stores in Quebec. The combined chain was subsequently rebranded "Dépan-Escompte Couche-Tard". To better reflect the new Depan-Escompte Couche-Tard trademark, a piggy bank mascot was introduced and replaced the previous Couche-Tard sleepwalker mascot from the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1996, the chain added the Provi-Soir chain previously owned by Provigo and maintained it as a distinct division. In 1998, Dépan-Escompte Couche-Tard and Provi-Soir stores merged to create the chain in its current form; reverting to the old Couche-Tard name (without "Dépan-Escompte"), but adopting the owl mascot of Provi-Soir.

Similarly, Silcorp had consolidated several of the largest Ontario convenience-store chains, such as Mac's and Becker's, under its ownership before being itself acquired by Couche-Tard, which had previously acquired Winks as part of its purchase of Provi-Soir, in 1999. As in Quebec, other corporate banners such as Becker's and Mike's Mart are slowly being phased out in favour of the dominant Mac's brand, although new franchised stores are still being opened under the Winks and Daisy Mart brands.

After making some tentative moves in the U.S. under the Mac's brand in the early 2000s, Couche-Tard acquired the Circle K chain from ConocoPhillips in 2003, promptly rebranding its existing U.S. locations to the better-known Circle K moniker. The Circle K brand is also franchised in Asia and elsewhere. Couche-Tard has held the master franchise for Dunkin' Donuts in Quebec since August 2003, but agreed in August 2008 to terminate this franchise within 12 to 18 months.

Many Couche-Tard locations are gas stations co-branded with Irving Oil. The first stage of this partnership began in 2001 in Quebec. Both companies contributed locations to the partnership: some had convenience stores that previously operated under Irving's "Marché Mainway" banner, while others previously sold fuel under the Couche-Tard brand. All these locations now have Couche-Tard convenience stores and Irving-branded fuel.

The partnership expanded in 2008, as Irving leased its remaining Bluecanoe and Mainway convenience stores to Couche-Tard, expanding the latter chain's reach into Atlantic Canada and New England under the Circle K brand. Irving continues to own the buildings and property, and supplies Irving-branded fuel to these stations. In the United States, approximately 470 ExxonMobil On the Run stores are owned or franchised by Alimentation Couche-Tard under an agreement announced April 29, 2009. This also includes 43 ExxonMobil stations in the Phoenix, Arizona market, all of which have been rebranded to Circle K.

n March 2010, Couche-Tard offered $1.9 billion for control of the Iowa-based chain, and later announced a proxy fight for control. Casey's rejected Couche-Tard's offer and was successful in September 2010 in retaining its board of directors vs. Couche-Tard's nominated slate.  On April 18. 2012, it became known that Couche-Tard has agreed to buy Norway's Statoil Fuel and Retail (previously owned by Statoil) for $2.8 billion., giving Couche-Tard the largest chain of petrol stations in Scandinavia and a major foothold in Northern Europe. On June 20, 2012 Statoil Fuel and Retail's shareholders voted in favor (+91.56%) of the acquisition and later it was declared that Couche-Tard had finally acquired 100% of Statoil Fuel and Retail for approximately 2.8 billion $US (forcing the minority shareholders to sell their shares). This acquisition adds over 2,853 stores to Couche-Tard's portfolio and a mega-presence in Europe.  In early 2010 Couche-Tard started consolidating its outlets in Quebec by closing down many of those who did not do well in sales, and therefore allowing the successful ones to prosper. In all, over 300 stores were closed from 2010 throughout 2012. Currently, there are 20,985 Couche-Tard stores scattered across Canada, the United States, Europe, Mexico, Japan, China, and Indonesia.

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