ARKO & US C-Stores: Merch Margins and EV Risks | In Practise

ARKO & US C-Stores: Merch Margins and EV Risks

Regional District Manager at GPM Investments, ARKO

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Executive Bio

Lance Richards

Regional District Manager at GPM Investments, ARKO

Lance is the Regional Operations Manager at GPM Investments, ARKO, where he manages multiple stores over four states across the US. He is involved in running the overall P&L of each district and is responsible for the merchandising and innovations throughout the stores. He previously spent over 25 years at Walmart, Meijer, Home Depot and Dollar General.Read more

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Interview Transcript

This interview is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. In Practise is an independent publisher and all opinions expressed by guests are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinion of In Practise.

Can you give a brief introduction to your role at GPM?

I am the regional operations manager and have eight direct district managers who report directly to me over a four-state area.

How does GPM’s network compare to Circle K in your districts?

We are an acquisition company who grew 1,800 stores last year and we have a group of 80 stores we will probably announce next week. We currently have over 3,200 sites. Circle K are in the 11,000 range, so we have a lot of room to grow. It is such a unique space; the majority of our sites have a 24-hour customer flow, so it lends itself to a variety of customer demographics based on the individual area.

How does evening traffic differ from the traffic at other times of the day for a typical c-store?

Our peak periods are 5:00 AM to 9:00 AM when people are going to work and from 3:30 PM to 7:30 PM when they return home. We have an additional surge as people are out getting gas for the next day, but the two peak periods are consistent. On Saturday and Sunday, it varies over the whole day, with midday being busier on weekends.

How will the amount and flow of traffic change as we see more electric vehicles and less gas?

All competitors in the C-store space have over 70% of their volume based on tobacco products. Customers are forced to shop at our sites because other vendors have been eliminated. 18,000 CVS stores and 5,000 Walmart sites no longer carry tobacco. You will never stop people from smoking, vaping or utilizing tobacco, so that bodes well for C-stores.

Wow. Is tobacco really such a high percentage of merchandising volume in your stores?

On the inside, yes.

How has that changed over the past three to four years?

It has been relatively consistent, but the percentage grows as the big box larger chains eliminate tobacco from their portfolios. It is super important to the C-store.

What is the ratio between customers refueling and those just entering to buy tobacco?

Each site differs but the goal is to get fuel customers inside the C-store, regardless of whether they purchase a tobacco product or any grab and go convenience. They could use their lunch hour to refuel versus waiting in line. Covid has caused staffing issues where they could sit in line at a McDonald's for half an hour, because they will not allow you to enter the building, so C-stores are a quicker option for customers.

If, by 2030, the gallons per store is down 30% to 50%, do you expect to keep that tobacco revenue from customers who are no longer refueling or charging EVs?

The short answer is yes because many retailers will push the “healthy option” and by eliminating that, we control the space on the C-store side.

Why is everyone leaving tobacco but C-stores are picking up the leftovers?

It has always been a large portion of our revenue. These larger companies want to give customers the impression they care about long term health issues, so it is a PR play but it has substantially helped maintain volume at the C-store.

Is there a risk C-stores could lose some of that business in future?

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