Tops Back in Familiar Hands

Former CEO purchases 198-store chain from Ahold

Published in CSP Daily News

AMHERST,N.Y. -- Sixteen months after being put on the market, Tops Markets LLC is now in new, but not unfamiliar, hands. Parent company Ahold announced to sale of the 198-store chain Thursday (as reported in a CSP Daily News Flash). The new owners, under the name WFI Acquisitions Inc., include three former TopsMarkets executives who are anxious to get back into the industry.

It's going to be refreshing to take over and run this division with some capital to infuse into the company, Paul Nanula, a former district manager at Tops Markets and now president [image-nocss] and CEO of the new company, told CSP Daily News. When we found out the company was for sale and we started really looking at the numbers. We looked at it as an opportunity, and we decided to take a serious attempt at it.

Nanula partnered with his father, Savino Nanula, the former chairman and CEO of Tops prior to its purchase by Ahold, and former Tops executive Dan Shanahan to create WFI Acquisitions and purchase the chain. Savino Nanula now returns as chairman, and Shanahan will be CFO of the new company.

The three c-store executives created WFI Acquisitions Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y., with the private equity firm Bruckmann, Rosser, Sherrill & Co. Inc. of New York in 2004 with the goal of buying back the c-store chain, which operates stores under the Wilson Farms (122 sites), Sugarcreek (66 sites) and Tops Xpress (10 sites) brands. Paul Nanula said the Tops Xpress stores will be rebranded to Wilson Farms Xpress and the other sites will continue to operate under their current banners.

The amount of the sale was not disclosed; however, estimates of the purchase price range from $42 million to $65 million. When Ahold first put the stores on the market in January 2004, it estimated their value at between $50 million and $150 million.

In the 1960s, Savino Nanula partnered with original owners Armand Castellani and Thomas Buscaglia to help Tops through a period of rapid expansion. Nanula left the company when Ahold USA acquired the chain in 1991.

Wilson Farms, a division of Tops Markets since 1969, operates c-stores in central and western New York. The Sugarcreek stores were acquired by Tops in 2000 and are located in central and northern New York. The stores employ approximately 2,400 workers, and 94 of the sites sell gasoline.

The sale effectively puts Ahold out of the c-store business. In January 2004, Ahold announced its intention to sell the c-stores. Ahold retained William Blair & Co., a Chicago-based investment-banking firm, to handle the sale.

The divestment of the c-stores is part of Ahold's strategic plan to restructure its portfolio and focus on its core food businesses, mainly grocery stores. In the fall of 2003, Ahold USA sold its 138-store Golden Gallon c-store chain to The Pantry Inc. for $187 million.