Case Studies

Adam Lazenga – Coen Markets

Finding and acquiring the most convenient spots for convenience

One of the oldest and largest convenience chains in the Pittsburgh region, Coen Markets has been serving customers since 1923. In those 100 years, it’s undergone many business evolutions, from selling oil and fuel in bulk to handling shipping and transport.

“No matter its product or services, the Coen name has weight in this area,” says Adam Lazenga, who joined the company in August 2018 as a financial planning and analysis analyst and, in January 2023, was promoted for a third time to director of real estate and construction.

In Coen’s current form, its convenience stores are often attached to gas stations. The company currently has a partnership deal with the gasoline giant BP Amoco. Coen’s amenities include everything from the full-service Coen Kitchen, where staff make food products from scratch, to coffee bars, product mixes, cold beer and free air for tires.

At the end of 2018, Lazenga helped Coen acquire another chain in the Pittsburgh area: CoGo’s. The chain needed significant capital investments which provided Coen with an opportunity to acquire the business. The acquisition doubled Coen’s size to 70 stores, but it wasn’t an easy growth step.

Lazenga helped the company remodel and rebrand its existing stores and the 35 CoGo’s with a consistent theme and message. When speaking with Blueprint in May, Lazenga said the project was nearly complete.

“By consolidating the entire chain to have a unified brand, we can begin to market to our customer base more effectively,” he says.

Taking steps into new footprints

One of Lazenga’s main responsibilities is integrating an acquired chain or brand once the ink has dried on all the legal paperwork. As he explains, rebranding isn’t just about changing logos and paint colors. Coen often completely revamps the floor plans and layouts of a place to match the Coen branding, including the full kitchen offering.

“We have an internal operations and design team that has decades of experience in the industry,” he says. “Collaborating with our external architects and engineers, the team can come up with the best layout that incorporates all our key store elements in the most efficient way possible. Each site is a little different and requires unique attention.”

Coen is often gutting acquired store locations before reshaping them. The company then adds Coen-specific amenities like the Coen Kitchen, which are the longest and most intricate part of the process because many of the sites don’t have the infrastructure to support a kitchen.

A young Caucasian businessman is standing in a supermarket aisle and thinking about which coffee to purchase.

For each location, this construction process usually takes around eight weeks, but many months of planning go into each project. On average, Coen has been completing five to six large remodels per year, with smaller projects mixed in.

As wonderful as acquisitions are for Coen’s continued growth, Lazenga is also helping the company shift away from that approach towards a more organic one. According to him, this means buying real estate, such as existing office buildings or other suitable sites. He and his team then demolish these locations and build from scratch or renovate them into Coen properties.

He works closely with engineers and general contractors to make this possible. He says he’s really enjoying this transition, especially as it allows him to be involved in building stores from the ground up—and making some changes. For instance, the new locations will have a larger footprint and offer more fuel pumps outside, which will allow Coen to continue to compete with competitors in the area, like Sheetz and Getgo.

He’s expecting to have three of these new locations open by the end of 2023. His long-term goal is to set up a pipeline of new locations for the next five years.

“Organic growth will be Coen’s focus for the foreseeable future and is a big shift from our acquisitions of companies who are in the same convenience store market space—or similar—as us,” Lazenga says.

A dynamic foundation of football, finance and choices

While he’s on the real estate and construction side of things now, Lazenga started his career—and even his first role at Coen—in finance and analytics. His father was in the field, and Lazenga always looked up to him.

While at the University of Pittsburgh, Lazenga was on the football team and studied finance. He graduated early and started working toward his MBA at the university’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business.

In 2016, shortly before graduation, he was hired as a senior associate at BDO USA, a tax, audit and consulting firm, where he was exposed to different companies and industries.

The firm was heavy on acquisition consulting, and he handled the analytical side of that. In his two years there, he worked on acquisitions and valuation projects with multiple companies.

He applies this experience to Coen acquisitions, looking at construction from a financial perspective—think investments and budgeting. He ensures each investment gets a return and aligns with the overall corporate strategy.

“Being able to come into a company at the beginning of a rapid growth cycle while also having a major impact and contribution to that growth has been a rewarding experience,” Lazenga says. “The next chapter at Coen will be a new journey for our team, but I feel confident in the experience and knowledge individuals bring with them.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VI 2023 Edition here.

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