Another convenience store chain is beefing up its presence in Charleston and eastern South Carolina.
Mount Pleasant-based Refuel Operating Co. plans to build 10 locations over the next 12 months in a $50 million investment.
The fuel firm also recently acquired Bishopville Petroleum Co. in the Pee Dee, adding two stores in Bishopville and Camden along Interstate 20 to its portfolio and expanding its holdings to 33 locations.
The new Charleston-area stores will be in Nexton in Summerville, Cainhoy Plantation in the Wando area of Berkeley County and pending sites in Mount Pleasant, Charleston and Summerville.
Another is under construction in Sumter. Others are planned along Interstate 95 in Orangeburg and Dillon counties and another unannounced location along the heavily traveled East Coast corridor, according to Refuel CEO Mark Jordan.
The new stores will add between 150 and 200 new employees to the firm's roughly 400 now.
Jordan believes the number of workers could swell to 1,200 by next year as the company's store count could surpass 100 through acquisitions of mostly small operators in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
Consolidation in what he called the "highly fragmented" convenience store industry is just beginning since the cost of doing business continues to rise for smaller operations.
"Single-store operators are still a huge part of the business ... and the cost of doing business is more now," Jordan said. "We think there is a tremendous opportunity to expand."
Refuel and its five-store chain became part of Texas-based private equity firm First Reserve earlier this year. First Reserve also acquired more than two dozen Markette and West Oil-branded stores in the Pee Dee at the same time from Hartsville-based West Oil Inc. and rebranded them as Refuel stores with Jordan at the helm as part owner.
Bishopville Petroleum was founded in 1930 and is among the longest-tenured distributors of Shell-branded products in the U.S., Jordan said.
Based in Bishopville in Lee County between Sumter and Florence, the company operates wholesale motor fuel distribution and related transportation services.
Green Deschamps, owner and president of Bishopville Petroleum, is joining Refuel as director of the newly formed wholesale division and will help with expanding the business.
"The transaction is highly complementary as it fits nicely into Refuel’s existing geographic footprint and is also consistent with Refuel’s overall focus on high-quality stores with exceptional service," Jordan said.
Refuel stores are markedly different from other convenience stores by their design. Palm or palmetto trees are planted at the end of fuel islands instead of concrete or steel bollards to block cars from running into gas pumps.
"They add a nice touch of greenery to the pumps," Jordan said.
Refuel locations also boil their own peanuts and bag their own ice to lower the costs, he said.
The Daniel Island location is its highest volume store and stocks some pricey items such as bottles of wine for more than $50.
Jordan opened his first Refuel gas station in 2008, promising fresh healthy food options and exemplified service to change the image and perception of traditional convenience stores.
Refuel sites serve dishes such as pizza, barbecued chicken, chicken sandwiches, pulled pork, brisket, biscuits, chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese, fried okra and an array of finger foods.
Jordan estimated he invested about $1 million in his first location. It now takes about $5 million to build a store.
"The stores now are nothing like that first store," he said. "We are still evolving."
Refuel's expansion is paralleling that of Savannah-based Parker's Kitchen, which plans to invest $50 million to open 10 stores, all in the Charleston region, over the next year.