Circle K

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Circle K Stores, Inc.
Wholly owned subsidiary
Industry Retail (Convenience stores)
Founded El Paso, Texas (1951)
Headquarters Tempe, Arizona, United States
Number of locations
Area served
United States, Canada, Guam, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Honduras and Mexico
Parent Alimentation Couche-Tard
Website USA/Canada[1]
Circle K Kawada shop (Higashi-Osaka Japan)
Circle K in Hong Kong

Circle K is an international chain of convenience stores, founded in 1951, in El Paso, Texas, United States. It is owned and operated by the Canadian-based Alimentation Couche-Tard.


Since the 1980s, Circle K has been the largest company-owned convenience-store chain (i.e. of non-franchised stores) in the U.S.[2][3] It was second in overall number of U.S. stores to 7-Eleven.[2] However by 1989, it faced strong competition from convenience stores owned by oil companies, and Circle K declared bankruptcy in 1990.[2] By July 2010, Circle K had dropped to fourth rank in number of stores (3,455), then behind BP (4,730 stores) and Shell (4,630 convenience stores).[3]

Some Circle K stores operate gasoline pumps selling Union 76-branded motor fuels; others sell Mobil, Marathon, Phillip 66, Irving, BP, Sunoco or Shell-branded fuel. Until mid-2006, nearly all Circle K stores in South Texas sold Citgo-branded fuel; however, those stores have dropped the Circle K name and now operate as Stripes Convenience Stores and are served by Valero-branded fuel. Circle K stores in northeast Ohio vary depending upon what stores they used to be: the majority are former Citgo/Holland Oil,[4] whose gas is branded as Circle K; others are remnants of the Lawson's/Dairy Mart chain, which sell gas from other companies (most of them served Marathon Gasoline). Some locations, especially older outlets in the company's core markets of the American Southwest, do not sell gasoline.

The chain operates internationally, branching into Mexico and continents such as Asia. 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 now part of Convenience Retail Asia Limited.[5] Circle K currently has 349 locations throughout Hong Kong.

Circle K was previously in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, 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, as discussed below.

The chain is primarily located in the Southern, Western, Southwestern, and Midwestern United States. In recent years, the company has acquired the 90-store Spectrum chain serving Georgia and Alabama,[6] the CFM chain in Missouri, 35 Sterling Dairy locations in Northwest Ohio, and 26 stores under various brands from Chico Enterprises of Morgantown, West Virginia.[7] This all came after the 2005 rebranding of the various Couche-Tard stores (Mac's, Bigfoot, Dairy Mart, and Handy Andy) under the more nationally known Circle K brand.

Circle K started to appear on Long Island in New York in 2013 with a store in Long Beach.


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. [8]

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 2005, Taiwan's OK Convenience Store chain terminated its franchise agreement with Circle K.[9]

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 are to be rebranded under the Circle K name.[10]

In July 2010, Circle K had dropped down to fourth rank in number of stores (3,455), behind 7-Eleven (6,523 stores), BP (4,730 stores) and Shell (4,630 convenience stores) in 2010.[3]

On December 18, 2014; Quebec based Alimentation Couche-Tard, the parent company of Circle K, has announced its acquisition of the Pantry for $860 million all cash tender. The acquisition is expected to close in March 2015. Alimentation Couche-Tard operates more than 10,000 stores in the USA and multiple countries under the Circle K banner. The newly combined company will increase Couche-Tard's presence in the Southeast and Gulf Coast. Following the closing, all 1537 Kangaroo Express stores are expected to be rebranded under the Circle K banner.[11]

Pop culture[edit]

The film Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure features the line "Strange things are afoot at the Circle K" by Keanu Reeves's character Ted "Theodore" Logan as time-traveler Rufus (George Carlin) arrives for the first time.

In the Counting Crows song "Cowboys" a reference is made to "Circle K killers".

The OK Go song "No Sign of Life", from their album Oh No has a line that mentions the store: "Sarah's still down on the bench by the Circle K, crying, crying all day."

In "Isle Thing", "Weird Al" Yankovic's parody of the Tone Loc song "Wild Thing", he sings, "Met this fine young thing/at the local Circle K/She made a date for half-past eight/So I said 'What the hey?'"

Californian hardcore punk band Rich Kids on LSD reference Circle K in the lyrics for the song "Take Me Home" from their album Riches to Rags.

American punk band Screeching Weasel mentions Circle K in the lyrics to "Crying in my Beer".

Band Spiderbait has a song based on Circle K.[which?]

Circle K convenience stores are known fondly and colloquially by Hong Kong locals as "O.K."

Punk band Teenage Bottlerocket references Circle K in the lyrics for the song "Skate or Die"

Numerous references to a 'Circle A' are made in the Marvel Comics series Runaways.

The current Ms Marvel series prominently features a convenience store called 'Circle Q'. The series is drawn by Adrian Alphona, who also illustrated Runaways (see above) for much of its run.

On Season 3 of True Blood, The Vampire Queen of Louisiana, Sophie-Anne LeClerq (Evan Rachel Wood) is having fun with lottery tickets, wins another hundred dollars and yells for her human Hadley to "Run down to Circle-K and get me another hundred of these."

Indie duo Sleigh Bells references Circle K in the lyrics to the song "You Lost Me", from their 2012 album Reign of Terror .

The Cartoon Network series The Powerpuff Girls has its own version of the store, known as Circle J.

Frosters and Polar Pops[edit]

Fountain drinks at Circle K are sold in Polar Pop cups, and most locations offer any size for under one dollar, plus tax. Refills cost the same.

Circle K is also the exclusive US home of the Froster, a brand of slush drink.


Circle K was a part-time primary sponsor of the #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.

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. Every time the Indians pitcher records a strikeout, a fan flips a sign to add the Circle K logo on the sign, as the strikeout in traditional baseball scorekeeping is the letter "K".

It is also the Strikeout sponsor for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A large display shows a Circle K logo every time a Diamondbacks pitcher records a strikeout. If 10 total strikeouts are obtained in one game, then the entire audience receives a voucher for a free polar pop at Circle K Stores.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Accueil dépanneurs Couche-Tard". Retrieved 2012-02-29. 
  2. ^ a b c Financial Accounting, W. Steve Albrecht, Earl K. Stice, James D. Stice, 2007, 723 pages, p.217, webpage: BGoogle-Q62.
  3. ^ a b c "Top 100 Convenience Stores", Don Longo, CBS News, 26 July 2010, webpage: C53.
  4. ^ "Holland Oil sold to Canadian company". 25 August 2006. Retrieved 2012-02-29. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ "Circle K Acquires 26 Stores in Three States - Business Focus - Convenience Store News". Retrieved 2012-02-29. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Amy Chang-Chien Hsueh; Josephine Hsu (2010-06-30). "Taiwan Convenience Stores 2010". USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Global Agricultural Information Network. Retrieved 2014-05-17. 
  10. ^ "Couche-Tard Acquires ExxonMobil Franchised On the Run Stores". Convenience Store News. Archived from the original on 30 April 2009. 
  11. ^ "Cary's The Pantry stores sells for $861M to Circle K parent". December 18, 2014. Retrieved 18 December 2014. 

External links[edit]