LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --  Louisville-based gas station chain Thorntons Inc. has hired an investment bank to explore a sale of the company, according to a report by the Oil Price Information Service, an industry publication. An analyst says there's a lot of interest in buying Thorntons. There are several potential buyers.

"There's no question in my mind that it's being shopped," said Tom Kloza, with OPIS. "It's been on the market -- or that people were first aware of the 'book'  from the investment bank -- for about three weeks, and in the last few deals we've seen, it's taken a few months."

Kloza says Thorntons has hired Lazard Bank, considered a leading financial advisory and asset management firm. 

"One would think when you retain a very heeled investment bank like this, you're serious about it," he said.

Thorntons did not directly address the OPIS report in a statement Friday.

"While we don’t comment on rumor or speculation, we see great growth ahead for Thorntons this year and in future years and we are very happy with our business," said marketing manager Kelly K. Leonardo.

Thorntons, a privately held, family company founded in 1971, operates nearly 200 gas station and convenience store locations in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee and Florida.

Thorntons affirmed its commitment to Louisville in 2016 by building a headquarters off Old Henry Road and announcing plans to add 110 corporate jobs. In July 2015, when the company got approval for economic tax breaks, Thorntons had about 150 corporate employees.

Potential buyers include Marathon, 7-Eleven, MAPCO and Casey's, according to the OPIS report.  

"Right now, there is a lot of offshore money and a lot of money in the United States, private equity and public capital, that for one reason or another, wants to invest in convenience stores," Kloza said. "So it's a nice stable stream of income, and the Thorntons properties are great properties."

"We haven't seen a real quality retailer go on the market: what you would call a new era retailer where not only do they have very brisk fuel sales, they have very strong inside sales," he added.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2018 WDRB News. All rights reserved.