This has been our fifth straight year of record earnings. It has also been a year of record travelling, both within North America and further afield in Europe. All that travel has been for good reason, keeping us in touch with our North American operations, exploring new cultures and markets, meeting new customers and coming to understand our European operations better.
The integration of Statoil Fuel & Retail AS (“SFR”) - the biggest acquisition in our history - into our family has created an exhilarating atmosphere. The process of becoming one corporation creates new opportunities and breathes fresh new life into our organization on both sides of the Atlantic.
On June 19 2012 SFR formally became part of the Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. (“Couche-Tard”) family. In North America in fiscal 2013 we added approximately 200 stores and completed the construction of a further 47. In the last 12 months we have taken the Couche-Tard network from around 10,100 to about 12,500 sites (including licensed stores), grown our family from more than 60,000 to approximately 80,000 employees, and we now have our brands on three continents.
The Best of Both Worlds
Over the past year in North America and Europe we have made great strides in building mutual understanding and respect, both culturally and professionally. The acquisition is bringing out the best in all our people. As colleagues, we have demonstrated a “you have a good way too” and “let me learn your way” approach. This enthusiasm for discovering and sharing best practice is creating a promising platform for the evolution of our operations on both continents.
Personally, I have traveled to Europe more times than I can remember since the acquisition, getting to know our operations there from the inside out. I am impressed by many of our European initiatives.
Food service is an important and growing category across all our markets. In Europe it is the biggest category in our stores in Norway and Estonia. The absolute best and newest concepts – from salad and sushi bars to dedicated station chefs and gourmet coffee – are showcased at selected “super” highway stations in Norway, including our Minnesund station outside Oslo, which received international acclaim from the industry organization, NACS, the Association for Fuel and Convenience Retailing.
We were proud to announce the world premiere of our first signature fuel brand, milesTM, in the fourth quarter. This family of standard and premium fuel products promises to take our customers further for the same price and to deliver improved engine performance. MilesTM drew significant positive media attention in its launch markets.
Merchandising and more
The European management, convenience and marketing teams have been visiting throughout the year to study our operations in North America. A number of our merchandising activities were identified as having potential in the European market - and it took less than a month for changes to start appearing in our Statoil-branded stores. Impressive time-to-market from our European team!
In North America there has been a focus on our stores’ check-out zones, optimizing space and product displays to improve our customers’ opportunities to make last-minute, impulsive purchases. This approach is showing encouraging returns.
The process of identifying further synergies between Couche-Tard and SFR is well under way. The opportunity to leverage our increased size and global presence is being explored with our biggest suppliers. Our enterprise resource planning (ERP) replacement projects are on track and will enable further standardization and simplification in the business.
Our growing store network serves millions of customers every day. That’s a powerful capability. It’s especially powerful when the corner store is also a fixture of the community and has a major influence on mobilizing the population around it. Couche-Tard believes there is a moral imperative requiring us to use that capability to benefit the communities we operate in - and that, increasingly, our customers expect it of us. This past year, we can be proud that dozens of organizations across North America and Europe have benefitted from the combination of our corporate and customer contributions, awareness building activities and our employee volunteers.
Merging two cultures, exploring synergies and finding new ways to work together is exciting, but it is also stressful. I want to thank everybody on both continents for their support and understanding as we work to become a stronger retailer. Their ability to keep an open mind, be flexible and remain positive is truly appreciated. With a strong team, I believe we are well equipped to take on retail ventures in both new and existing markets.
Finally, I would like to thank our shareholders for their trust.
President & Chief Executive Officer
Alain Bouchard President and Chief Executive Officer