Entrepreneur Fred Hervey purchased three Kay’s Food Stores in El Paso, Texas in 1951. Hervey renamed the stores Circle K. 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. In 1983, the number of stores increased to 2,180 with the purchase of the 960-store UtoteM chain.
The company is known for its Thirst Buster fountain drink, which was introduced in 1983. Now known as "Polar Pop" in some areas, Circle K advertises that customers can buy any size for just a single price.
Karl Eller, a prominent Phoenix businessman, served as the company's CEO from 1983-1990. 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.
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.
Circle K was acquired by Tosco Corporation, an independent petroleum refiner and marketer, in 1996, 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 $804 million.
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.
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 also rebranded under the Circle K name.Close Up of Vignette
Common Stock, specimen, late 1900’sPrinter: Security-Columbian / United States Bank Note Company Dimensions:
8” (h) x 12” (w)State: TX-Texas Subject Matter: Retail and Related
| Convenience Stores
| Gas Stations
| Specimen Pieces Vignette Topic(s): Allegorical Featured
| Allegorical Prosperity
| Cornucopia Featured Condition:
No fold lines, punch hole cancels in the signature areas and body, very crisp.