It’s been how many years since Circle K bought our Corner Store?!

In 1977 the Valero Energy Corporation was formed by the State of Texas, as a successor to a failed natural gas transmission company that Coastal had set up years prior. In connection with the Texas Railroad Authority (nothing to do with railroads), Coastal was allowed to build a multi thousand-mile set of pipelines, that supplied natural gas to city utilities. Most large Texas cities were tied into the Coastal system, with the unobtainable promise that prices would never rise. Then the Energy Crisis of the 70s hit, natural gas prices skyrocketed and all of a sudden Coastal’s pipeline subsidiary was verging on the edge of bankruptcy. To prevent our private-public infrastructure from crumbling, the TRA agreed to authorize the creation of Valero, which would take over Coastal’s Pipeline system. The new company promised to set themselves apart from Coastal, for example, the company would be headquartered in San Antonio as opposed to Houston, price caps would be set by the TRA on gas prices, and they even embraced Texas History with their new name being the original name of the Alamo. However, just as quickly as changes were promised, Valero began to invest into other energy trades, such as coal, electricity, and refining. By about 1985 Valero was much smaller, but operating in the same fields as their predecessor.

Valero would quickly find that petroleum refining was their bread and butter, especially compared to other sectors of the energy market, that caused the company to gain and lose millions throughout the 80s and early 90s. In 1997 Valero sold off the gas pipeline system they had been created to take care of, and began to push all their focus into expanding refining and as a result they ended up buying more and more gas stations. As far as I can tell, these earlier stations were either unbranded or used banners that allowed them to supply their own gasoline. By 2001 Valero had purchased Diamond Shamrock, and all of their subsidiaries, including any remaining Stop N Go stores. While the fuel operations at these stores had been converted to by their previous ownership, one of Valero’s first actions in the Houston area was to rebrand Diamond Shamrock’s various stores under the “Corner Store” brand. While the name change was immediate, not every store was remodeled. This seems to be due somewhat to a decision to distance Valero from the “discount station” reputation many of their predecessors had acquired. To make this happen, Valero announced that fuel sales would all be transferred to their brand, dropping Diamond Shamrock for good. This would be completed around 2010 and three years later Valero would spin off their C-Store business as a separate company. CST operated over 1000 locations for about 4 years when they were acquired by Circle-K’s parent company in 2017. Despite exterior remodels, and implementation of Circle-K branding, some old Corner Stores still haven’t been touched in about 15 years, today we’re looking at one of those stations.

So this here we are 5 years after the Circle K purchase, with a store in name only. That leaves us with an unanswered question, Circle K is a huge company, how could this happen? Well, first off, this kind of “slap job” remodeling is not terribly uncommon with C-stores. Next Circle K had been building new locations with their own designs right around the time of the CST purchase. They finished stores already in progress with updating branding, and quickly switched to only building Circle K designed stores. Finally, chances are, Circle K is being strategic about which stores are remodeled and which aren’t. We’ve already seen what happens to stores that Circle K deemed unworthy, but their Corner Store purchase likely included stores only kept to help reestablish the Circle K name in Houston. Likely what we’re seeing with Stripes is almost a reverse of what we will see with Circle K. Whereas 7-Eleven waited to rename stores until the start of remodels, Circle K has done the opposite, renaming all of their stores, before deciding which are worth investing in. With some 40+ year old buildings still in service, it’s likely we have yet to see which “Corner Store” locations will not survive the remodeling chopping block.

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