Circle K Stores Inc. is an international chain of convenience stores currently owned by the Canadian multinational Alimentation Couche-Tard. Founded in 1951 in El Paso, Texas, the company filed for bankruptcy protection in 1990 and went through several owners, before being acquired by Alimentation Couche-Tard in 2003. It is present in most of the 50 U.S. states and is franchised in Asia and Latin America.
|Wholly owned subsidiary|
|Industry||Retail (convenience stores)|
|Founded||El Paso, Texas (1951)|
Number of locations
Number of employees
|Footnotes / references|
In 2015, Circle K unveiled a new logo and brand identity, and Couche-Tard announced that it would deploy the brand in English-speaking Canada (in parallel with, and in some cases rebranded from the Mac's chain), and in Europe to replace Statoil.
Within the United States, Circle K owns and operates stores in 35 states, primarily in the Southern, Western (especially Southwestern), Great Lakes, and Northeastern (Especially New England). Fuel is sold under various brands, with the Circle K and Shell brands the most common. Other brands of fuel sold at Circle K stores include Valero, BP, Exxon, Marathon, Irving, Mobil, and Phillips 66. A small number of stores do not sell gasoline.
The chain operates in the United States, Canada, and Europe (the Nordics, Baltics, and Ireland), and has franchises in Mexico (It partners with the Mexican stores "Tiendas Extra" created by Modelo Group), Asia, and other parts of the world. In Hong Kong, the store is called OK in reference to the circle around the K. Circle K Hong Kong was founded in 1985 by Li & Fung Retailing (later Fung Retailing) as licensee of the name and is now part of Convenience Retail Asia Limited. Circle K currently has 349 locations throughout Hong Kong.
Circle K previously operated in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, acting as the food-store portions of many Shell stations. The Circle K brand re-entered the Canadian market in 2008, in connection with Couche-Tard's acquisition of Irving Oil's convenience store network.
Entrepreneur Fred Hervey purchased three Kay's Food Stores in El Paso, Texas, in 1951. Hervey renamed the stores as "Circle K Food Stores, Inc." rather than "Kay". He grew the Circle K chain into neighboring New Mexico and Arizona, which has been the company's home base since 1957 (Hervey would go on to serve two terms as mayor of El Paso).
According to the Circle K website, Circle K grew its retail network through a series of acquisitions conducted during the next few decades, which were incorporated into the Circle K brand. By 1975, there were 1,000 Circle K stores across the US. In 1979, Circle K entered the international market when a licensing agreement established the first Circle K stores in Japan; Circle K stores in Japan are run by the Circle K Sunkus Corporation, which licenses the Circle K brand from Alimentation Couche-Tard. In 1983, the number of stores increased to 2,180 with the purchase of the 960-store UtoteM chain.
The Thirst Buster fountain drink was introduced in 1983. It is one of Circle K's flagship products today. Now known as "Polar Pop" in many areas, Circle K advertises that customers can buy any size for just a single price. The Polar Pop brand is also used at Couche-Tard-branded stores.
Karl Eller, a prominent Phoenix businessman, served as the company's CEO from 1983 to 1990. During that time, Eller built Circle K into the second largest convenience store operation and the largest publicly owned convenience store chain in the U.S. with 4,631 stores in 32 states and an additional 1,300 or so licensed or joint venture stores in 13 foreign countries. Under Eller's leadership, the company grew from annual sales of $747 million to over $3 billion.
In 1988, the company sent a letter to its over 8,000 employees announcing that it will cut off the medical coverage of those who become sick or injured as a result of AIDS, alcohol, drug abuse or self-inflicted wounds. The company stated that "There are certain lifestyle decisions that we are just not going to assure the results of."
Fortunes declined in the late 1980s as the US economy began to slow down, and Circle K filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 1990; Eller resigned as CEO. Some underperforming locations were sold or closed. In 1993 the company was purchased by Investcorp, an international investment group, and emerged from bankruptcy.
In 1996, Circle K was acquired by Tosco Corporation, an independent petroleum refiner and marketer, but kept its headquarters in Phoenix. Tosco was purchased in 2001 by Phillips Petroleum, which, in 2002, merged with Conoco to form ConocoPhillips. In 2003, Circle K was purchased by Alimentation Couche-Tard (a large convenience store operator based in the Montreal area) for US$804 million.
In April 2006 Circle K purchased over 90 stores in the Alabama and Georgia area from West Point, Ga based Spectrum Stores. 
In mid-2006, Alimentation Couche-Tard entered into a franchising agreement with ConocoPhillips to brand some of its company-owned stores as Circle K, in the western portion of the US. ConocoPhillips remodeled the stores into the Circle K scheme but continued to operate them. The stores continued to have the new ConocoPhillips unified canopy design and ProClean gasolines. These stores were spun off as Phillips 66 in May 2012.
Another oil company, Canada-based Irving Oil, leased out its convenience stores operating under the Bluecanoe and Mainway banners in the United States and Atlantic Canada to Couche-Tard, which rebranded the locations to Circle K in July 2008, while still selling Irving-branded fuel. However, the Mainways in Newfoundland and Labrador did not change until summer 2010. The parties had earlier formed a similar partnership in Quebec, with the stores there operated as Couche-Tard.
In April 2009, ExxonMobil sold 43 Phoenix, Arizona stores to parent company Couche-Tard as part of a sale of the larger On the Run franchise. These 43 stores were to be rebranded under the Circle K name.
On February 10, 2014, Modelo Group Sold the Tiendas Extra brand of stores to the Mexican franchise of Circle K, Circulo K.
On December 18, 2014, Couche-Tard announced its acquisition of The Pantry for $860 million all-cash tender. The acquisition closed in March 2015. Following the closing, all stores that were owned and operated by The Pantry, many of them under the "Kangaroo Express" name, are expected to be rebranded under the Circle K banner.
On September 23, 2015, Couche-Tard unveiled a refreshed brand identity for Circle K, and announced that the Statoil (Northern, Central and Eastern Europe) and Mac's (English Canada) brands would be converted to Circle K.
In 2016, Couche-Tard acquired the Irish service station chain Topaz. In April 2018, Couche-Tard announced that they too would be rebranded to Circle K. Couche-Tard similarly acquired Imperial Oil's Esso retail locations in Ontario (228) and Quebec (50) the same year, and rebranded the convenience stores in Ontario (many of which previously operating under the On the Run brand) to Circle K.
In 2017, Couche-Tard completed its acquisition of CST Brands, adding stores formerly owned by Valero Energy, and a portion of the Ultramar chain in Canada to Circle K (with the latter also switching fuel suppliers to Irving).
Frosters and Polar PopsEdit
Fountain drinks at Circle K are sold in Polar Pop cups (previously called Thirst Busters), available in expanded polystyrene cups. Most American locations offer any size for under one American dollar, except for their 52-ounce or above cups, which are priced at over a dollar. The 52-ounce cups are plastic.
The Canadian Froster which was introduced to macs stores in 1998 and became very popular throughout western Canada and Ontario. An American version of the Froster was introduced in 1999
Circle K was a part-time primary sponsor of the No. 28 IndyCar Series racecar driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport between 2011 and 2013. In 2014 it switched to KVSH Racing driver Sébastien Bourdais. Circle K, along with Oberto Sausage Company, currently sponsors Marco Andretti.
Due to its sizable presence in Greater Cleveland from the former Lawson/Dairy Mart stores, Circle K sponsors the Cleveland Indians strikeout sign in center field at Progressive Field in Cleveland, where the "K" logo represents the "K" used for strikeouts in traditional baseball scorekeeping and is replicated with each strikeout. The same sponsorship is in place with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field; if the Diamondbacks strike out ten batters or more, that game's attendees receive a voucher for a free cup of Polar Pop, while Indians fans receive the same voucher after select home games.
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- "Top 100 Convenience Store Chains". Convenience Store News. July 9, 2018. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
- "About Circle K". Convenience Retail Asia. Retrieved October 4, 2015.
- Noble, Kenneth B. (August 6, 1988). "Company Halting Health Plan On Some 'Life Style' Illnesses". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
- Amy Chang-Chien Hsueh; Josephine Hsu (June 30, 2010). "Taiwan Convenience Stores 2010" (PDF). USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Global Agricultural Information Network. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
- "Spectrum Gas Station Sold to Circle K". Retrieved August 3, 2019.
- "Couche-Tard Acquires ExxonMobil Franchised On the Run Stores". Convenience Store News. Archived from the original on July 5, 2009.
- "Couche-Tard, Pantry Complete Merger". cspdailynews.com. March 16, 2015. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- "Cary's The Pantry stores sells for $861M to Circle K parent". bizjournals.com. December 18, 2014. Retrieved December 18, 2014.
- "All Edmonton Mac's locations rebranded as Circle K stores by 2019". Edmonton Journal. September 7, 2018. Retrieved September 11, 2018.
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- "Circle K Transformation Goes Beyond Rebranding". CSPNet. Archived from the original on September 25, 2015. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
- Halpin, Hayley. "Service station Topaz rebrands to Circle K, as €55 million investment announced". TheJournal.ie. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
- "Imperial Oil to sell Esso stations for $2.8B". CBC News. Canadian Press. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
- "A dozen N.L. Ultramar stations being converted to Irving and Circle K as part of joint venture". The Telegram. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
- "Irving purchases St. Peters Road Ultramar, rebranding to begin soon". CBC News. July 5, 2018. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
- Intiar, Inda (July 4, 2018). "Irving Oil Buys 13 Ultramar Gas Stations Across Atlantic Canada". Huddle. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
- "North Carolina Football Club Unveils Jersey Sponsorships For NCFC And NC Courage". northcarolinafc.com. Archived from the original on November 16, 2017. Retrieved October 12, 2019.
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