Updated March 20, 2019.
Convenience stores have become truly ubiquitous across the American landscape and all around the world because they’re so, well, convenient. Entrepreneurs who want to catch the convenience wave that continues to grow have three very solid choices to take a closer look at with these top three convenience store franchises.
According to Convenience Store News, total sales for the industry in the U.S. hit a mind-boggling $616.3 billion in sales, with continued growth expected for at least the next several years. Convenience stores are successful because when people are commuting to and from work and realize they need something simple, such as a jug of milk, coffee, a snack, or to fill up on gas, chances are good that a convenience store will be nearer to them than anything else to meet all those needs in one quick stop.
All three companies on this list have the same basic concept in terms of what they offer to customers, and all three have achieved rankings on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. One difference is how 7-11 benefits from its individual location owners having the freedom to choose some of what they sell in order to tailor their store to the community.
Here are the three best convenience store franchises of 2019:
7-Eleven is the company that pioneered the whole concept of a convenience store all the way back in the 1920s when it was the Southland Ice Company. Located in Dallas, Texas, it was in the business of selling ice blocks, but an employee by the name of Joe C. Thompson had the idea that people might also want to pick up milk, bread, and eggs if they needed those items as well.
He eventually bought the company and started opening multiple convenience stores named Tote’m since people toted their purchases home. Then in 1946, when the chain decided to extend its open hours from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., 7-Eleven became the new name. The stores these days are all open 24/7, but the name hasn’t changed.
Why has this chain been so successful? It has stuck to the original concept its founder established: “Give the customers what they want, when and where they want it.”
This company currently ranks #10 (down from #2 last year) on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1927 and franchising since 1964, the number of locations has continued to expand during the past 10 years domestically but much more so internationally. The current total number of locations is 66,193 (up from 62,105 last year), of which 2,439 are company-owned and 56,568 are located outside the U.S.
2. Circle K
Circle K had its origins back in the early 1950s when Fred Harvey bought up a trio of Kay’s Food Stores in El Paso, Texas and renamed them Circle Kay. Through a combination of opening new stores and making strategic acquisitions, Circle K reached more than 1,000 locations by 1975 and more than 2,000 in the early 1980s through further acquisitions, and more than 4,600 stores by 1990 when it had to declare bankruptcy due to declining fortunes.
But the company emerged from that, went through several different owners, and then began franchising in 1999, the same year that founder Fred Harvey passed away at age 90. Now owned by Canadian convenience store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard, which purchased the chain in 2003, most Circle K locations are company-owned.
The company underwent a major brand identity refresh in 2015 and has continued to grow primarily through acquiring other convenience store chains and rebranding them into Circle K locations.
This company currently ranks #152 (up from #208 last year) on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1951 and franchising since 1995, the number of locations has continued to grow after a decline in 2016 and currently stands at 8,183 (up from 8,051 last year), of which 5,620 are company-owned and 2,001 are located outside the U.S.
ampm is the new kid on the block relative to the other two companies on this list, having gotten its start in the 1970s in southern California. Like many convenience stores, they sell gasoline along with everything else you expect to find in a convenience store – coffee, soda, frozen and other beverages, prepared foods, snacks and candy, grocery essentials, and a few household and auto-related items.
The chain has had something of a rocky history. As recently as 2010, there were over 3,000 locations, nearly 2,000 of which were located outside the U.S. But from 2010-2012, all the international locations were acquired by other companies, as were its domestic locations east of the Rockies. The chain appears to be the stronger for it and is now present in five western states including Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
Recent moves to strengthen the company include a major brand refresh called Project Mojo, and partnering with sports teams to open branded stores in stadiums, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Seattle Mariners.
This company currently ranks #299 (up from #334 last year) on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1975 and franchising since 1979, the number of locations stands at 1,005 (up from 992 last year), all of which are in the U.S. and 36 of which are company-owned.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.