HOUSTON — Calling Stripes “an outstanding asset from the standpoint of its geographic market position, its continued execution and operation and its organic growth strategy year after year,” Sunoco LP CEO Bob Owens said during the company’s third-quarter 2015 earnings call that the convenience-store chain “will be a strong platform for future growth both organically and through acquisitions.”
He continued, “We are committed to expanding our retail footprint in the near term through ongoing organic growth with Stripes and Sunoco in Texas and other regions and with more new-store builds in 2016 [and] also do tuck-in acquisitions” in places such as south Texas, in the Northeast and in Hawaii. There are many opportunities to further consolidate the very fragmented convenience-store industry, and we intend to be a player in that process.”
In 2016, Owen said, Sunoco LP expects to continue growing with an additional 40 or more new stores. “Our land bank of sites and high-growth markets in Texas gives us the inventory to easily maintain organic growth momentum next year and to continue our Stripes store expansion in strong areas like Houston, central Texas and other attractive markets.’
The company is also continuing to leverage the Sunoco fuel brand by introducing it at most new Stripes stores. It has “re-hoisted the Sunoco logo over a total of 136 company-operated c-stores in the state of Texas,” he said.
The company reported quarterly net income of $27.544 million, compared to $1.027 million for third-quarter 2014.
That and other favorable year-over-year comparisons reflect the contributions from the dropdown acquisitions of Stripes parent Susser Holdings Corp. in July 2015, a 31.58% interest in the wholesale fuel distribution business of Sunoco LLC in April 2015 and the MACS convenience stores in October 2014 from Sunoco’s s affiliate, Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP), along with the purchase of Aloha Petroleum in December 2014 and the Aziz Quick Stop stores in August 2015.
Owens said that Sunoco LP benefited from strong retail margins resulting from declining oil prices and “solid” net merchandise margins. Total fuel volumes increased to 1.9 billion gallons on a consolidated basis for the three months ended Sept. 30, 2015, and merchandise sales were $430 million.
“Our exposure to retail fuel margins and the retail merchandise business increased substantially” with the Susser Holdings dropdown, he said.
Sunoco LP acquired Susser Holdings for about $1.9 billion. Its main assets included the chain of approximately 680 Stripes-branded convenience stores in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, as well as fuel volumes it sells to approximately 85 dealers.
The Laredo Taco Co. is a big driver of Stripes in-store sales; the restaurant concept is in approximately 420 stores. Laredo Taco also drives sales of other items, sales of beverage and other high margin food and merchandise goods for most customers who come in for the fresh, handmade tacos and other Mexican food, Owens said.
Geographically, Stripes represents some of the best opportunities within Sunoco LP’s retail portfolio for continued organic growth, Owens said. The company will open approximately 40 new stores in 2015. At the end of October, it had a total of 31 locations either opened or completed. All new Stripes stores measure more than 6,800 square feet and included a Laredo Taco Co.
“Not unexpectedly, some store sales growth was a little slower from a year ago as a result of the slowdown in the oil patch markets in West and South Texas to make up about 22% of Stripes revenue, said Owens. Same-store sales growth for the entire chain was 2.7% last quarter, but excluding the results from these oil-producing areas, same-store sales in Stripes were up 4.7%.”
He also pointed out the “really outstanding” same-store performance from the MACS and Aloha assets, which combined represented an additional 157 locations. Those assets are located in the Virginia, Washington, D.C., Tennessee and Hawaii markets, which are some of the highest-growth markets in the country.
Stripes, MACS and Aloha “continue to perform extremely well both inside the stores and out on the fuel islands,” James Welch, Energy Transfer Equity (ETE) group CFO and head of business development, said on the call. “Retail fuel sales for the third quarter totaled $854.1 million which included $712.1 million from Stripes for a full quarter. On a same-store sales basis, fuel sales volumes increased year-over-year by 2.9% for the 110 MACS sites in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Tennessee and 0.7% for the 48 Aloha locations in Hawaii.
Same-store fuel sales volumes from Stripes overall dipped about 1.9% from year ago. This is due to the impact of slowing oil and gas activity in South and West Texas. Retail margins were very strong at 34.1 cents per gallon.
Overall merchandise sales increased to $429.9 million with a combined merchandise margin of 33.2%. Stripes accounted for approximately 86% of total merchandise sales. Same-store merchandise sales from Stripes increased year over year by 2.7% with 34.5% merchandise margin supported by strong Laredo Taco performance.
MACS delivered 16.8% increase in the same-store sales with 24.1% merchandise margin, and Aloha delivered 9.4% growth in same-store sales with 27.4% merchandise margin.