After a 23-year absence (the company didn’t think it could compete with delis, but now it stocks fresh food), 7-Eleven is back to tackle Manhattan with a new store on 23rd Street, and two others under construction. But is the city ready for yet another chain? Jada Yuan spoke with CEO James Keyes and his PR director-chaperone, Margaret Chabris. How many Slurpees do you consume in the summer?
Keyes: Gosh, one, sometimes two, a day. I have a Slurpee machine right outside my office, and now our Crystal Light and Diet Coke Slurpees are Atkins-friendly.
Is there a flavor that’s prototypically New York?
I’m going to guess that our Manhattan store is going to skew female and Crystal Light is going to be very popular. We have some very sophisticated [tracking] research. Let’s say we try a new bagel stick here, we’ll actually be able to tell by store, by hour, how popular it is.
When some people think 7-Eleven, they think armed robbery.
Chabris: Our robbery rate since the early seventies is probably 70 percent down.
Keyes: Technology is our friend. There’s no money in the stores. Every $20 bill gets dropped in an electronic safe.
What was the weirdest failed idea to improve 7-Eleven?
Five years ago, our research pointed out that the female shopper would buy more panty hose if the packaging was more convenient. So we stuffed panty hose into a lipstick-size container. It wasn’t very pretty when you pulled a queen-size pair out.
Have you taken into account New Yorkers’ need for condoms?
Heh-heh. Uhhhhh …
Chabris: He’s blushing. Let’s say the gross is really in fresh foods.
7-Eleven strikes some urbanites as hopelessly suburban. Is your brand hip?
Keyes: We believe 7-Eleven is the ultimate hip. We tuned in a few years ago, and Jason—I’m sorry, Justin—Timberlake is shooting a video in a 7-Eleven parking lot. We were really pleased.
Okay, but why should New Yorkers go to a faceless corporate entity over their bodega?
Ouch! I have a face. You took my picture! And your bodega will still be there. When the apocalypse comes, I wouldn’t be surprised if corner stores are all that’s left.