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Insights from the Star Women Leadership Panel

The Star Women Leadership Panel set the tone at the 2020 Star Women in Convenience Awards on November 4, 2020. They spoke candidly with CSNC editor, Michelle Warren, sharing their experiences in a changing industry, strategies for building strong teams and the importance of mentorship for career and business growth.

Plus, the women talk about the projects their most proud of and share insights into what helps keep them motivated during the pandemic.



The panel features:

Hélène Drolet: Vice-president, operations, Western Canada Division, Circle K

Leslie Gordon: Category portfolio manager convenience retail, Suncor Energy/Petro-Canada

Robbie Mulder: District manager, Little Short Stop Stores

Olga Pigeon: Director of marketing and strategy, BG Fuels

Laurie Smith: Marketing and communications lead, Canada, 7-Eleven Canada Inc.


Circle K owner Alimentation Couche-Tard grows profits to US$757 million

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.’s profits increased from last year in the three months ending Oct. 11, as shoppers consolidated shopping trips to convenience stores amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Circle K parent company says it earned US$757 million, or 68 cents U.S. per diluted share, compared with US$578.6 million, or 51 cents U.S. per diluted share, in the same period last year.

The Laval, Que.-based brand says revenues were US$10.66 billion during the quarter, down from US$13.68 billion during the same quarter last year.

Analysts surveyed by Refinitiv expected net income of US$559 million, or 50 cents U.S. per share, on sales of US$11.17 billion.

The company says its same-store merchandise sales grew 4.4 per cent in the U.S., 8.6%  in Europe and 11.4% in Canada.

Couche-Tard’s quarterly report says traffic was soft during the quarter as many people worked from home, but it sold more fuel this summer than in the spring in Europe, thanks to sunny weather.


Couche-Tard enters Asia with Hong Kong acquisition

UnknownAlimentation Couche-Tard Inc. has entered into an agreement to acquire all the issued and outstanding shares, on a fully diluted basis, of Convenience Retail Asia (BVI) Limited (Circle K HK) for HK$2.79 billion, or approximately $360 million.

Circle K HK operates a network of Circle K-licensed convenience stores, with 340 company-operated sites in Hong Kong and 33 franchised sites in Macau.

In a statement, the Canadian store giant said: “This transaction represents a significant milestone for Couche–Tard as it provides the Company with a platform in Asia from which to launch its regional growth ambitions.”

Circle K HK has the second largest market share in Hong Kong, one of the most economically developed markets in Asia and most densely populated regions in the world. For Couche-Tard, this represents “meaningful room to grow organically.”

In addition, Circle K HK has a strong loyalty program, with approximately 1.6 million “OK Stamp It” members, as well as an established private label program. In addition Circle K has advanced merchandising, technology and supply chain capabilities.

Couche-Tard says it “expects to benefit from Circle K HK’s experienced management team to gain access to further opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, while also leveraging the team’s insight and knowledge of the high-density urban retail format.”

“I have followed Circle K Hong Kong’s progress closely for decades and deeply admire its leadership team and retail expertise,” said Alain Bouchard, founder and executive chairman of Couche-Tard’s Board of Directors. “I look forward to welcoming their team members and stores into the Couche-Tard family and have no doubt that together we can reach millions more customers in Hong Kongand across Asia as we move forward in our journey to become the world’s preferred destination for convenience and fuel.”

Brian Hannasch, president and CEO of Couche-Tard, added: “Circle K Hong Kong is one of the best convenience store operators in Asia and will be an excellent fit within our company. We are excited to partner further with their highly advanced team in terms of innovation, loyalty, private label, retail execution and ability to grow market share. Upon closing of this transaction, Couche–Tard will reach a milestone in its strategic ambition of entering the high growth Asia–Pacific market with a first-rate management and operations team, which has the credibility, experience and capabilities to support future expansion in the region.”

Victor Fung, chairman of CRA, called it a win-win for both companies: “Our investors will gain from a good return on their investment and Couche-Tard will benefit from a first-class organization of dedicated and loyal team members who have contributed to the success of Circle K in Hong Kong.”


Under the terms of the agreement, Couche-Tard will acquire Circle K HK on a cash-free and debt–free basis. The final purchase price will be subject to working capital and other balance sheet adjustments. The transaction is expected to close by December 31, 2020 and will be subject to usual closing conditions.


Couche-Tard to expand EV charging capacity in North America



Following on its successful initiative with EV (electric vehicle) charging facilities in Europe, Montreal-based Alimentation Couche-Tard has announced it plans to offer charging sites at west coast U.S. and Canada locations of Circle K stores, as well as Couche-Tard properties in Quebec. The company announced it will also look at offering home-based EV charging facilities in U.S. and Canadian markets in a move to expand its revenue stream as carbon-based fuels decline in popularity.

Our goal will be to follow the path were on in Norway,Alimentation Couche-Tard CEO Brian Hannaschin said during a call last week with media. He reports that, together with an electrification partner, they plan to power up hundreds of sites as they move forward. This follows the company’s initiatives in Norway where Couche-Tard started selling home charging units (launched May 2019 and delivered 1,400 units by Q1/21) and launched 450 EV charger installations at more than 80 Circle K sites in the Nordic country, which is well known for its use of electric vehicles.

Couche-Tard has been an early adopter of EV technology for convenience retail. Indeed, this year they revamped an Oslo c-store and fuel station to be 100% EV. They have 150 EV charging sites presently in operation across Europe (200 expected by end of 2020) and view this as a way to counter the drop in demand for gas and diesel that are key to their business success. Currently, 71% of revenue and 46% of profits come from fuel sales.

Couche Tard is among the world’s largest convenience retailers with 14,350 locations in 25 countries.


Circle K launches frictionless checkout pilot with MasterCard

Unknown-1Alimentation Couche-Tard’s Circle K is teaming up with Mastercard to pilot a rollout of timely frictionless checkout solutions designed for convenience stores and other retailers.

While frictionless retail experiences have been gaining momentum in recent years, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the retail section and its customers are speeding up the adaptation of technology solutions to reduce touchpoints and time spent in stores.

In October. Circle K’s Shop Anywhere pilot will launch at-the-pump and in-store frictionless experiences for its consumers, enabling them to efficiently grab-and-go snacks and drinks at select locations in Canada and the United States.

Through robust inventory and participating shopper analytics Mastercard’s platform is designed to improve and speed up the in-store experience by eliminating points of friction. In other words, no line ups, no waiting and the introduction of secure payments.

For instance, shoppers will be able to  grab-and-go at select Circle K locations and never have to engage in face-to-face interactions. In addition, consumers can receive personalized offers based on historical purchasing trends. On the foodservice side, these means shoppers can place an order without waiting in line for staff to take that order, enabling staff to focus on order fulfillment.

Shop Anywhere can also give shoppers access to stores outside of normal opening hours if selected by the retailer, in addition to unique and exclusive merchandise.(Dunkin’ and White Castle in the U.S. are also piloting the platform).

According to Mastercard’s Recovery Insights: Shift to Digital report, in-person shopping remains a draw, though consumers are seeking offerings that bridge the physical and digital to streamline the overall experience. In August, Mastercard unveiled its new suite of frictionless solutions for retailers to reimagine their physical shopping experience.

“As retailers and consumers navigate through one of the most disruptive periods in modern history, it’s clear that traditional business operations will need to evolve quickly,” Stephane Wyper, senior vice president, retail innovation, Mastercard, said in a release. “We’re committed to supporting our retail partners as they look to meet the unforeseen challenges posed by this new normal and provide their customers with a more digitally enabled, touchless and secure retail experience.”

The Shop Anywhere platform is supported by AI and computer vision technology partner Accel Robotics.

“We are thrilled to partner with Mastercard to help retailers deliver a new world of convenience,” said Accel Robotics CEO Brandon Maseda. “Through the Shop Anywhere platform, we are helping shorten the distance between shoppers and satisfaction.”

Quebec-based Alimentation Couche-Tard, which has a network of 14,500 stores, including 9,414 stores in North America; 2,710 stores in Europe, including Scandinavia, Baltics, Poland, Russia and Ireland; and licensing agreements for approximately 2,350 stores operated under the Circle K banner in 15 other countries and territories.

Fire & Flower / Circle K Co-Located Cannabis Stores - (c) 2020 Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. (CNW Group/Fire & Flower Holdings Corp.)

Fire & Flower co-locates cannabis stores with Circle K

Fire & Flower / Circle K Co-Located Cannabis Stores - (c) 2020 Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. (CNW Group/Fire & Flower Holdings Corp.)

Fire & Flower / Circle K co-located cannabis stores

Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. is opening two cannabis retail stores adjacent to Circle K locations in the province of Alberta.

In a release, Fire & Flower says it expects “to benefit from high traffic Circle K locations to deliver an unprecedented level of convenience to cannabis customers, maximizing the benefit of the Spark Perks program and Spark Fastlane online ordering services at conveniently located stores.”

In July 2019, Couche-Tard announced it would make a strategic investment in Fire & Flower, providing the Canadian cannabis retailer with additional capital to further accelerate its expansion strategy. Couche-Tard invested approximately $26 million in the form of unsecured convertible debentures to obtain a 9.9% ownership interest in Fire & Flower on a fully diluted basis.

READ: Couche-Tard closes cannabis retailer deal

“Through this strategic investment, we reinforce our intention to become a key player in North America’s cannabis industry,” Brian Hannasch, president and CEO of Couche-Tard, said at the time. “We are excited to see what we can achieve together with Fire & Flower, as we further expand in Canada and look to leverage our presence in the United States and beyond.”

At the time, Fire and Flower has 23 locations and today, with the new openings, it has 51 stores, mostly in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, but also in Ontario and Yukon.

The two new stores in Calgary and Grande Prairie are the duo’s first co-located retail stores, but they are looking at “additional opportunities to co-locate cannabis retail st

Fire & Flower / Circle K Co-Located Cannabis Stores - (c) 2020 Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. (CNW Group/Fire & Flower Holdings Corp.)

Fire & Flower / Circle K Co-Located Cannabis Stores – (c) 2020 Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. (CNW Group/Fire & Flower Holdings Corp.)

ores in the future.”

The co-located stores will be owned and operated by Fire & Flower and, in accordance with applicable regulations, are officially separate from the adjacent Circle K stores.

The Grande Prairie store is opening this week and the Calgary store is to open the week of July 13, 2020.

“As we continue to build our relationship with Alimentation Couche-Tard, Fire & Flower is very pleased to be embarking on this initiative together,” Trevor Fencott, CEO of Fire & Flower, said in a statement. “We believe that combining convenient pickup locations with digital engagement offered by the Hifyre platform and Spark Perks program presents our customers with a differentiated value proposition in an increasingly competitive cannabis retail market. This approach to innovation in omni-channel and convenience-oriented cannabis retail differentiates Fire & Flower and positions us well to capitalize on both domestic and international opportunities.”


Through its strategic investment with Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., Fire & Flower has set its sights on the global expansion as new cannabis markets emerge.


Human trafficking: It’s hiding in plain sight and you can help

Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 3.18.23 PMWhen we hear the phrase ‘human trafficking’ most believe it is a distant problem in another country. That it will never touch us personally. And, that we will never observe this type of activity in the communities that we all live.

Human trafficking, which is not typically perceived to be a problem in Canada, has become an increasing concern across the country. If asked, the average Canadian would say they’re horrified that human trafficking exists – but are relieved that they live in a country where things like that don’t happen. The belief is that Canada is not the kind of place where men and women entrap young teenagers, then move them from city to city, buying and selling them as modern-day sex slaves. But Canada is exactly that kind of place. And, what we often fail to realize is that one of the most heinous crimes imaginable is happening right here in our backyard.

The reality is, human trafficking is a growing industry that has evolved to be a multi-billion dollar business making it the second most lucrative crime in the world, second only to drug trafficking. What’s more concerning is the most recent data from Statistics Canada tell us 93% of sex trafficking victims within Canada come from Canada. The average age at which exploitation begins is 13; the average age of rescue, if a girl is rescued at all, is 17.

These are young Canadian girls of all socio-economic backgrounds, from big and small cities, that are being recruited and forced into sex work.

Given the media reports and statistics, it is surprising there hasn’t been a massive public outcry yet. However, this is the kind of problem we’d prefer to pretend doesn’t exist, although that’s getting harder to do.

What is human trafficking

Public Safety Canada defines Human Trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, harbouring and/or exercising control, direction or influence over the movements of a person as a way to exploit that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour.

It is often described as the modern-day form of slavery.

Individuals and/or organized criminal networks carry out this type of crime, operating within Canada’s borders and around the world. These traffickers reap large profits while robbing victims of their freedom, dignity and human potential.

Simply put, this is a crime against humanity and action needs to be taken.

The gas and c-store industry’s role

Traffickers and their victims move around in plain sight just like the rest of us and just like anyone else, they visit gas-convenience stores daily.

When transporting victims from one place to another, the trafficker’s goal is to remain undetected, so they do not bring attention to themselves or their situation. As a result, these individuals will commonly end up visiting our truck-stops, travel centres, gas stations and convenience stores to fuel up on food, gasoline or use the restroom.

Canadian convenience stores, with our network of almost eight thousand locations – along with the nearly twelve thousand gas stations across the country, are a valuable partner in the fight against human trafficking.

As an industry, we serve more than half the Canadian population each day. This puts our employees in a unique position to disrupt this criminal enterprise and increase the likelihood that our employees can help victims of human trafficking through awareness campaigns and education. Undoubtedly, this will make it uncomfortable for the traffickers.

Here are 5 things you can do to help

  1. Implement a training program as a first step. To be effective, employees need to know three things: what they are looking for, what to do if they see something suspicious, and what to avoid doing.
  • Have a reporting mechanism for employees to use.
  • Partner with organizations, such as Crime Stoppers.
  • Promote awareness campaigns to amplify the message (ie. signage in bathrooms, SafePlace program).
  • Maintain a safe haven for community members who need help.


Circle K Stores – Central Canada takes action


Sean Sportun

Sean Sportun, Circle K

Recognizing the critical importance partnerships play in the prevention of crime and the accumulative positive impact such collaborative actions can have on protecting the vital interests of a community, Circle K Stores Loss Prevention team in Central Canada maintains a commitment to community safety with a focus on crime prevention.

Understanding their reach into the community, they have introduced a unique philosophy of Crime Prevention Through Community Engagement that continues to prove successful; which has also been the focus of two Harvard Business Reviews.

In 2017, Circle K Stores introduced an employee training component to educate staff on the signs of human trafficking and how to report it through their in-house security hotline.

Through their existing partnership with Toronto Crime Stoppers, Circle K Stores utilized their network of store locations across Ontario to amplify human trafficking awareness campaigns.

In 2017, Circle K Stores partnered with Peel Regional Police to become the first retailer to implement the SafePlace Programin all their Region of Peel locations. The initiative encourages valued members of the community who are victims of crime and who need police assistance to report incidents at businesses displaying the Safe Place decal. This program has since expanded to the City of Sault Ste Marie with that local police service.

Know the signs

Gas-convenience employees know their customers and know what is going on in their communities. Every day, these employees engage in conversations and observe their customers’ behaviour; and if educated on the signs of human trafficking they will not only be able to identify “strange” or “suspicious” things, but they will know how to report their findings.

Indicators that can point to sex trafficking include:

  • Young girls wearing excessive makeup or clothing inappropriate for their age.
  • Young girls in possession of expensive clothing, phones, and jewelry with no reasonable means to afford them.
  • Large age gap between male and female with no explanation for the relationship.
  • Young girls who are underweight and appear malnourished.
  • Girls whose companion does all the talking for them.
  • High-end vehicles operated by a young male and occupied by young females.

Community partnerships: Crime Stoppers

Toronto Crime Stoppers has taken an aggressive approach that brings awareness to this crime. Through powerful public service ad campaigns, they have created a presence in travel-related platforms and disrupted the experience to get people’s attention as a way to educate them to identify and report suspicious behaviour specific to human trafficking. In 2017, the not-for-profit organization launched their first campaign titled Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 3.09.15 PMHuman Trafficking Often Hides In Plain Sight.

The campaign’s creative discreetly places the scenes and signs of human trafficking within the patterns of hotel room fabrics, including the wallpaper, bedding and drapes.The initial campaign was quickly followed by a second campaign in 2018, titled Speak Out For Those Who Can’t. This campaign creative displayed arresting photos of young women gagged with airline baggage tags and drove users a website to learn the signs of human trafficking.

Both campaigns included out-of-home placements across the GTA including, transit shelter ads, elevator advertising, TTC digital screens, advertising across Circle K Stores network of locations, and carousel ads on Facebook and Instagram targeting people with travel interests.

These awareness campaigns are aimed to create discussion, educate the average citizen on the signs of Human Trafficking, let the traffickers know the community is taking action and lastly, to provide the community and/or victims with a conduit to relay anonymous information about this type of crime to the police by calling Crime Stoppers.

We need to come together if we are going to stop human trafficking. Community safety is a shared responsibility, working collaboratively as a community we will continue to make a difference in combating human trafficking.

See it. Say it. Stop it.

Sean Sportun is manager, security & loss prevention for Circle K Stores Central Canada Division.

The piece was originally published in the May/June issue of OCTANE.


Teens set off flare in B.C. store in ‘reckless’ act, traumatize clerk: RCMP

Circle K Logo Sm_121317The RCMP are accusing two teenagers of creating mayhem in a convenience store in Nanaimo, B.C., after shoplifting and then setting off a flare indoors on their way out.

Mounties say in a news release the alleged incident occurred Saturday night and caused thousands of dollars in damage. Incident happened just after 9 p.m. Saturday at Circle K on Departure Bay Road.

They say a lone employee reported two young men picked up a few items and, before leaving without paying, one of them discharged a single-tube flare in the direction of the employee.

The fire ignited merchandise and caused extensive structural damage inside and outside the store, and firefighters put out the blaze.

The employee was forced outside and the discarded flare was found outside the business.

Investigators have identified both suspects, who are 16, by reviewing security footage but have not been able to locate them.

“This was a reckless and extremely dangerous act that has significantly impacted a local business, traumatized the clerk and could have resulted in significant personal injury to the employee,” Const. Gary O’Brien said.


Couche-Tard balances acquisitions with organic growth

Circle K Location_Sm_061219Over the past several years, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. has been busy building up its global convenience store network through acquisitions. This fiscal year, however, organic growth is also a focus for the company.

During the second quarter of its 2020 fiscal year, the Laval-based parent company of Circle K completed the construction of 20 stores and the relocation or reconstruction of seven stores, reaching a total of 48 stores constructed since the beginning of fiscal 2020. As of Oct. 13, another 49 stores were under construction and are expected to welcome customers in the upcoming quarters.

While pursuing organic growth, Couche-Tard also remains focused on acquisition opportunities — big and small. During its latest quarter, the company acquired one company-operated store, reaching a total of nine stores acquired since the beginning of fiscal 2020.

After the close of the second quarter, the company reached a deal to acquire 17 c-stores from a franchise operator. The stores operate under the Holiday banner in South Dakota and Minnesota. This transaction is on track to close in the third quarter of fiscal 2020.


Along with network expansion, rebranding continues to be a priority for Couche-Tard. This fall marked the four-year anniversary of the retailer’s initiative to bring the new Circle K brand to its global network. The project kicked off in September 2015.

“As we enter our fourth year of the Circle K rebrand project, I couldn’t be prouder of the work that we’ve done across the network,” President and CEO Brian Hannasch said during the company’s second-quarter fiscal 2020 earnings call on Nov. 28. “Store conversions in Europe have now been fully completed, and we’re more than 80 percent complete in North America with the sites displaying the new Circle K brand.”

Many of its North American business units have hit the 90% rebranding mark, including the Heartland, Texas and West Coast business units in the United States. In Canada, more than 600 stores have been rebranded in Central Canada and 250 stores now sport the global Circle K brand in Western Canada.

“As I previously said, operating under one global brand brings a number of advantages, from increased brand awareness with customers, employee pride and then again, leveraging our scale across procurement, private label and national marketing campaigns,” Hannasch explained.

As of Oct. 13, Couche-Tard’s network comprised 9,815 convenience stores throughout North America. Its North American network consists of 19 business units, including 15 in the United States covering 48 states, and four in Canada covering all 10 provinces. In Europe, Couche-Tard operates a broad retail network across Scandinavia, Ireland, Poland, the Baltics and Russia through 10 business units. Its European network comprised 2,708 stores. In addition, under licensing agreements, approximately 2,280 stores are operated under the Circle K banner in 16 other countries and territories, which brings the worldwide total network to more than 14,800 stores.

The total excludes CrossAmerica Partners LP’s network, which Couche-Tard recently sold to investment entities controlled by Joe Topper, the founder of Allentown-based CrossAmerica, in the third quarter.

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 


Canada’s Circle K ranks among largest franchisors in the U.S.

Three convenience chains, including Quebec-based retailer Alimentation Couche-Tard’s Circle K brand, are among the 200 largest U.S.-based franchisors.

The Franchise Times Top 200+ placed 7-Eleven Inc., Circle K and ampm in the exclusive ranking of the 500 largest franchises.

Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven landed at No. 2, Circle K landed at No. 14; and La Palma, Calif.-based ampm, a division of BP, took the No. 83 spot.

As the report noted, 7-Eleven reached $86 billion in sales. The retailer has 8,951 U.S. locations (7,213 U.S. franchised units) and ranked No. 2 last year.

Circle K rang up $10.2 billion in sales. It has 5,908 U.S. locations (562 U.S. franchised units) and ranked No. 18 last year. For its part, ampm hit $1.38 billion in sales. It has 1,015 U.S. locations (962 U.S. franchised units) and moved up from No. 85 last year.

Circle K also took the No. 3 spot on the Franchise Times Top 10 Fastest Growers by Sales (26%) and the No. 8 spot on the Franchise Times Top 10 Fastest Growers by Units (13.7%).

According to the report, the 200 largest U.S.-based franchisors grew their combined annual sales by more than $26.9 billion, or 4.2% last year, to $671.3 billion, with most categories seeing across-the-board gains well above the previous year.


Originally published at Convenience Store News