An entrepreneur
of self-assurance

Alain Bouchard (2012)

Photo credit : Couche-Tard archives

A team of partners and friends

Les 4 fondateurs de Couche-Tard en 1987

The four founders of Couche-Tard in 1987, left to right : Richard Fortin (joined in 1982), Alain Bouchard, Jacques D’Amours (joined in 1980) and Réal Plourde (joined in 1984).

Photo credit : Couche-Tard archives

Les 4 fondateurs de Couche-Tard

The four founders of Couche-Tard, left to right : Richard Fortin, Alain Bouchard, Jacques D’Amours et Réal Plourde (2009)

Photo credit : Couche-Tard archives

Alain surrounded himself with, listened to and involved the best partners. Over the years, this team developed into an impressive, well-oiled machine. This strength enabled them to complete all of their acquisitions at an impressive rate.

Rather than hiring employees with a lot of experience, Alain sought out partners. His definition of partner was very clear : someone who shared his same determination and passion to achieve an ambitious dream.

So, he brought together Jacques D’Amours, Richard Fortin et Réal Plourde, and imposed just one rule : the four partners had to reach a consensus before making any decision. He put a lot of stock in other people’s opinions.

One of his great strengths is that he knows he can’t do it all on his own, and that you need to surround yourself with the best.

KARINNE BOUCHARD, TREASURY MANAGER COUCHE-TARD

The team of partners honed their skills with each acquisition. Together, they developed their know-how and a highly efficient decision-making process. While Alain was the respected leader of his peers, he gave his business partners full rein. He trusted them implicitly and intended to achieve great things—with them.

He is very loyal to the people who helped him build his business. His relationships with these people go back 30 years.

RÉAL RAYMOND, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, NATIONAL BANK FROM 2002 TO 2007 AND CORPORATE DIRECTOR.

A straight shooter

Dépanneur 7 jours

Dépanneur 7 jours (1987)

Photo credit : Couche-Tard archives

In the 1980s, it was hard to sell investors on convenience stores (dépanneurs in Québec) because of the small profit margins. The general perception was that they were simple corner stores, and that it was impossible to make them profitable. However, Alain had a completely different take. He saw the enormous potential in this segment and would make it his badge of honour.

It wasn’t a very sophisticated segment in the beginning, and there weren’t too many people who thought we would ever conquer the world.

RICHARD FORTIN, COFOUNDER AND MEMBRER OF THE COUCHE-TARD Board of Directors

But Alain was determined to conquer the world, and he took the necessary steps to take the company, with its 34 stores, public in 1986. Never backing down, he demonstrated that if his strategy worked locally, it could also transcend borders.

In 2003, in New York, the team proceeded with one of the largest acquisitions in Couche-Tard's history : the purchase of Circle K. This acquisition doubled the network and gave the company a strong presence in the U.S.

At the opening of the first negotiation session, the Circle K network was represented by upwards of 20 lawyers and various experts. At Couche-Tard's table, there was just Alain Bouchard, Richard Fortin and their lawyer, Michel Pelletier. The team of entrepreneurs did not let this intimidate them, and they proved the extent of their agility at negotiating. At the end of several weeks and with a great deal of tenacity, they brilliantly concluded this unusually complex transaction. This moment would mark an important milestone for the network’s past and future acquisitions.

Circle K Corporation

Acquisition of The Circle K Corporation, owned by ConocoPhillips Company, which owned and operated 1,663 corporate Circle K stores in 16 states and had franchise or license relationships with 627 stores, 2003.

Photo credit : Couche-Tard archives

I made deals I never would have imagined! Like $1.2 billion in financing to acquire Circle K. I never would have thought it possible! I would have taken a Tylenol and gone straight to bed!

RICHARD FORTIN, COFOUNDER AND MEMBER OF THE Couche-Tard BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Self-confidence and boldness were at the heart of Alain's. success. He never let his humble beginnings, big industry players or borders hold him back. This determined, straightforward man simply took the means necessary to achieve his ambitions.

Clip from Alain Bouchard's interview, Cercle des Grands entreprepreneurs du Québec—only available in French

The purchase of Circle K was one of several other acquisitions that significantly shaped the company. Notably, in 1999, the partners bought Silcorp Limited, a chain of 980 stores in Ontario and Western Canada that was operated mainly under the Mac’s banner. This transaction expanded the company’s operations beyond Québec for the first time.

In 2012, the partners acquired Statoil Fuel & Retail, a Scandinavian group that owned a convenience store network and was a major fuel retailer. And with this transaction, Couche-Tard entered the European market with 2,300 stores.

In 2017, the Bouchard team achieved another milestone with the acquisition of CST Brands. This purchase significantly expanded its Canadian and U.S. network with the addition of 1,300 stores.

A family of merchants

Alain has always maintained both a global vision and a singular perspective on each store. He respects and trusts the members of his network, which he and his partners call a “family of merchants.”

Alain Bouchard Circle K

Alain Bouchard with his Circle K employees (2005)

Photo credit : Couche-Tard archives

Alain Bouchard  en Europe

Alain Bouchard with his employees in Europe (2013)

Photo credit : Couche-Tard archives

Alain and his partners built their company based on a decentralized business model, which puts the merchants at the heart of the daily operations. This model allows the company to be much more flexible and fosters entrepreneurship within its various banners. The merchants feel more involved, which allows operating remotely with trusted teams on the ground. This method ensured they would remain close to the customer and quickly became one of Couche-Tard's success factors.

Video credit : L’audace de réussir, Alimentation Couche-Tard (2016) — only available in French

Alain and his partners have criss-crossed the province, and even the globe, to meet with their employees. These visits are very important to the partners, because the overall success of the business depends equally on the work of its merchants. They were an opportunity to observe the different methods in place and draw inspiration for upcoming acquisitions.

In less than 37 years, Alain Bouchard built an empire that is recognized the world over for its exceptional growth. Today, the Couche-Tard network numbers over 15,200 stores in 25 countries and some 125,000 store employees.

I was in Ireland and proud to see that the convenience stores were Couche-Tard.

MICHEL GADBOIS, President of l'Association Québécoise des Dépanneurs en Alimentation