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7-Eleven’s New 'Lab' Store Is an Experiment in Convenience

Photograph courtesy of 7-Eleven

CHICAGO — Convenience has always been about experimentation. (Today it’s called “disruption.”) 7-Eleven, as it came to be known, was born in 1927 when the Southland Ice House in Oak Cliff, Texas, started selling grocery staples such as bread and milk from its ice docks. This new way of reaching consumers was a retail experiment that led to the creation of the convenience-store industry itself.

With a history of adaptability, 7-Eleven has never been shy about experimentation. Over the years, it added gasoline and expanded its hours. It debuted the Slurpee frozen drink and coffee to go in 1965 and the Big Gulp and the self-service fountain in 1976. The chain has been experimenting with online ordering and delivery and is at the forefront of testing drones. And it is piloting a new, frictionless mobile checkout app.

In March, 7-Eleven took its penchant for experimentation to another level with the grand opening in Dallas of its first “lab” store. The 6,000-square-foot retail space is less than 2 miles from the original Southland Ice House. The company reportedly plans to open at least  ve more lab stores in geographically dispersed markets across the United States, including another in Dallas, and others in Washington, D.C., and San Diego.

“I don’t see disruption slowing down; in fact, it’s going to be the absolute norm. We need to be fully a part of that value chain,” Joe DePinto, president and CEO of Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven Inc., told CSP a few years ago.

The lab store is the first 7-Eleven location to incorporate the Laredo Taco Company taqueria, and it’s the first Laredo Taco location in Dallas. 7-Eleven acquired the foodservice brand, along with the Stripes c-stores in south Texas, as part of a 1,000-store acquisition from Sunoco in 2018. Sunoco had acquired Stripes and the Laredo Taco Company brand with its 2015 acquisition of Susser Holdings.

The new lab store’s other offerings, many available only for a limited time, include:

  • Made-to-order coffee drinks, cold-pressed juices, smoothies and aguas frescas, which are nonalcohol beverages made from fruits, cereals, flowers or seeds blended with sugar and water.
  • Beverages on tap such as nitro cold brew, kombucha and organic teas.
  • The Cellar, an expanded selection of wines and craft beers, with a growler station that features a rotating selection of local craft beers, ciders and ales on tap.
  • A cold treats bar with frozen yogurt, ice cream and multiple toppings.
  • Cookies, croissants and other sweets baked in-store daily.

The store also incorporates digital initiatives, including Scan & Pay technology that allows customers to bypass the checkout line and pay for non-age-restricted purchases on their smartphones.

“Convenience retailing is light-years away from the days of bread and milk being sold from ice docks in 1927, and the industry is changing at a faster rate than ever before,” said Chris Tanco, 7-Eleven executive vice president and COO. “This new lab store will serve as a place to test, learn and iterate new platforms and products to see what really resonates with customers and how we can use those learnings to influence future store designs. This lab store is customer-focused and will explore new ideas that weren’t even on the retail radar a few months ago.”

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