CST Brands: Turning a Corner

As CEO of Valero spinoff, Bowers brings fresh energy to new retail brand

By  Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Content Development Coordinator

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As Kim Bowers made her first round of visits to the newly spun-off, 1,900-store CST Brands, she dismissed the corporate veneer and mixed with folks at the store level. She blended in beautifully,  surprising many of the Hispanic employees with polished Spanish.

Her fluency went viral through CST.  As she stepped into the next store, greetings in Spanish quickly followed as employees approached the new president and CEO of Valero’s yet-to-debut Corner Store.

The kinship prompted them to joke with a non-Spanish-speaking district manager: “Now we can talk about you.”

Bowers, 49, is winning followers down the line from store clerks to national pundits, recently being ranked No. 38 on Fortune magazine’s list of the country’s 50 most powerful women.

She accepts the attention with uncommon ease.

As if bringing a publicly traded network of bolted-together, Big Oil store formats into a new era of convenience retailing weren’t difficult enough, Bowers has a disarming confidence that’s at once pragmatic yet optimistic. She’s fully aware of the chain’s legacy network while at the same time enthusiastic about the promise of its ground-ups and the chain’s evolving foodservice focus.

“We have almost 1,000 of what we would define as legacy locations, so we can’t build enough sites for them to be irrelevant. But at the same time,” she quickly adds, “our new stores can compete anytime, anywhere.

“Competition is competition. We’re not afraid of it.”

Maybe what Bowers needs to fear is a carnivorous Wall Street, whose rapacious expectations could very well exceed CST’s best performance.

In mid-December, stock prices for CST were in the $34 range, while Corpus Christi, Texas-based Susser was at $63 and Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores was at $75. Dubbed from the outset as a single-digit, “slow growth” investment by many financial houses, the fledgling CST network has a lot to prove.

Will the maturity of its older assets weigh down the promise of its aggressive new-build pace—projected to double in 2014, with 30 stores on the map compared to 15 that came online last year? Add to that its yet-to-be-realized foodservice potential and overall brand offer, and the uncertainties build.

At press time, the company was still field-testing the brilliant yellow color scheme of its Corner Store logo, a clear sign that the step out of Valero’s shadow may be more of a leap.

And yet, one senses that despite obvious roadblocks, CST is the most prepared of any oil-company spinoff to perform well in the public limelight.

Consider the pieces in place:

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