When the parent company of 7-Eleven Inc. formally becomes the new owner of the former SuperAmerica stores of Minnesota, it'll be the sixth owner in a decade, including two different companies with basically the same name.
Even for a time swirling with deals, its recent history seems absurd.
The once-beloved SuperAmerica stores here aren't even called SuperAmerica anymore. They got rebranded to Speedway upon their purchase in late 2018 by Marathon Petroleum of Ohio, not to be confused with Marathon Oil Corp. of Texas.
The new signs might have confused Minnesotans who thought SuperAmerica was already part of the same company that owned Speedway, but those folks hadn't kept up with the merger and acquisition news. It had been a while since Speedway had been owned alongside SuperAmerica.
In the intervening years, SuperAmerica had been part of at least four additional corporate histories, depending on how you count them, including that of a "variable master limited partnership."
Now those stores will become part of Tokyo-based Seven & I Holdings Co. Ltd., operator of about 10,000 convenience stores in North America and thousands more stores around the world. Seven & I will pay $21 billion for the retail operations of Marathon Petroleum, about 4,000 stores in all.
It's somehow fitting, given this history, that Marathon Petroleum only decided to sell after having been pushed by an activist hedge fund shareholder.
A homegrown company like SuperAmerica, with about 285 company-owned and franchised stores mostly in Minnesota as of two years ago, deserved far better.
SuperAmerica was created here by a company called Northwestern Refining, which just before World War II built an oil refinery in St. Paul Park near the Mississippi River. The purpose of the SuperAmerica stores was to sell its refined gasoline.
In 1970, Northwestern Refining sold to Ashland Oil, based in Kentucky. Ashland eventually was in a lot of different lines of business, from operating the Valvoline rapid oil change shops to chemicals distribution.
By the late 1990s Ashland had formed a partnership with Marathon Oil to jointly own their refining and distribution assets. Marathon had thrown in a collection of stores branded as Speedway.
Marathon later bought out Ashland but the SuperAmerica brand was deemed strong enough to keep in its home markets. Eventually, though, Marathon Oil decided that having retail and refining alongside its other businesses did not make sense.
But by the time it completed the spinoff of its refining and retailing businesses, what Marathon called the "Minnesota Assets" — the refinery along with additional infrastructure, SuperMom's Bakery and the SuperAmerica stores — had already been sold to a new company created by private equity firms.
Then the pace of deal making really picked up.
The assets kept moving along until they were under the ownership of a company called Andeavor. The public filings associated with these transactions always seemed to say good things about SuperAmerica's position in the Upper Midwest, with its own refinery plus the SuperMom's bakery and commissary.
Andeavor then got acquired by Marathon Petroleum, a descendant of the Marathon Oil that had owned SuperAmerica before and thought it wasn't such a great strategic fit.
This new offspring of Marathon Oil had ended up with the Speedway business, too, one of the biggest C-store networks in the country. This was the 2018 deal — $23.3 billion in stock value — that finally led to the rebranding of SuperAmerica stores into Speedways.
Marathon Petroleum, though, had shareholders who never thought much of the notion that refining was synergistic with operating stores.
Marathon Petroleum last fall surrendered, essentially agreeing to break itself into three pieces. Step one was getting rid of Speedway, maybe worth $15 billion to $18 billion.
The spinoff process was short-circuited, with the parent of 7-Eleven just agreeing to pay $21 billion. As best can be determined, this will be the first in a long string of deals that will separate the old SuperAmerica stores from the refinery.
The rationale offered by 7-Eleven's Japanese parent seems to make sense, of course. It will end up with a solid presence in 47 of the 50 largest U.S. markets, plus at least $475 million of annual cost savings over a few years.
That's the interesting thing about this story, though, how easy it seems to be to come up with a story that sounds good for whatever transaction someone wants to make.
Synergies get realized, extra margin captured and new geographic markets entered. There has also been dumping noncore assets, exiting far-flung markets, refocusing business strategies and unlocking shareholder value, although it's usually not clear how that last one is supposed to even work.
Part of the reason these SuperAmerica assets got traded like Pokemon cards is that convenience stores are so common, without a lot of technical complexity or merger integration risk. There were at least 150,000 of them in the country as of the end of last year, from mom-and-pops to the likes of Speedway and 7-Eleven.
It sure looks like it takes skill and discipline to profitably run them, though, and there are different strategies to compete. Some operators create larger stores with higher-quality food while others prefer cheaper shops in can't-miss locations.
But gasoline is a commodity, purchased based on convenience and price. So are frozen pizza and coffee.
The patience of longtime SuperAmerica employees for meeting new owners must be awfully thin by now. Soon managers of 7-Eleven will lay out their own planned changes, maybe over a videoconference this pandemic year rather than standing in the same spot where managers from the last new owner stood.
It might be best for SuperAmerica employees to daydream about something pleasant, like casting for bass under a cloudless sky or holding a newborn grandchild, until the noise from the front of the room stops.