A Question of Human Tragedy

Couche-Tard seeking 200 Circle K employees missing after Katrina

Published in CSP Daily News

LAVAL, Quebec -- More than 10 days after Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast region, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. is still trying to locate about 200 employees of its convenience stores in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, the company's CEO said Wednesday, according to the Canadian Press.

CEO Alain Bouchard said 120 of its Circle K stores in the southern states were damaged and about 30 remain closed, of which 11 were destroyed and will have to be rebuilt. Couche-Tard will continue to pay the salaries of all its personnel and promised [image-nocss] to find work in the company for those who temporarily lost their jobs due to the floods and hurricane, he said.

For us, it's more a question of a human tragedy, said COO Real Plourde. Out of 233 employees in New Orleans, we have been able to contact only 30, he said. They are spread around seven states. In the coming months, our main job will be to look after our people.

All of Couche-Tard's assets are insured, he said of the company, which operates some 4,845 c-stores in North America. While it will not cost the company to rebuild its stores, it is a different story for the lost sales, particularly for gasoline, said Richard Fortin, CFO. But still he expects a minimal impact. Our past experience shows that the impact of this type of event for us is generally negligible, he said. For example, last year's four major hurricanes in Florida cost Couche-Tard $3.8 million U.S. in pretax profits, out of a total $1.2 billion for the year ended last April 24.

Plourde said the loss of sales in one closed store is usually made up for by an increase in nearby stores that remain open. Sales at c-stores in Baton Rouge, an hour from New Orleans, have doubled, he said, and security guards had to be hired to maintain order at some of them.

Despite heavy damage to its locations, the Laval, Quebec-based based company does not expect the catastrophe will hurt its sales for the current year, said Bouchard.

Some Circle K stores have run out of gasoline. Authorities are promising the situation should soon be stabilized, Bouchard said, while pump prices will likely remain high.