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Wilson Farms Conversion Update

7-Eleven halfway through with strategic rebrandings

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- 7-Eleven Inc. is halfway done converting its 188 Wilson Farms convenience  stores across the state of New York into 7-Eleven stores, according to a report by The Buffalo News.

Dallas-based 7-Eleven acquired the chain in June 2011 and has since been strategically--and diplomatically--converting them (see Related Content below for previous CSP Daily News coverage) because it does not want to alienate faithful customers.

The stores have been a retail fixtures in Western New York communities for 42 years, said the report.

"Wilson Farms had a really loyal customer base for years," Mark Senay, 7-Eleven's local director of operations, told the newspaper. "And they have been responsive to what we've done. The guests are really excited about the new products and the changes. Business is going well."

The sale of the chain has been a strategic merger, not a total takeover, the report said.

While the transition ushered in new signs, new hours and hot foods, 7-Eleven retained a core part of Wilson Farm's business and success: its large focus on groceries. The converted stores, with their many aisles of food products, will still feel familiar to Wilson Farms' regulars.

"What we've tried to do is bring the best of both companies in," said Senay. "Things that did really well for Wilson Farms we've kept and added in 7-Eleven's products."

Wilson Farms was owned and operated by Ahold, a Dutch supermarket giant, which ran the chain as a division of Tops Markets. In 2005, the Nanula family and Bruckmann, Rosser, Sherrill & Co., a New York City private equity firm, bought Wilson Farms through the equity firm's WFI Group.

The Wilson Farms acquisition greatly boosted 7-Eleven's regional presence, said the report. Before the purchase, there were only 21 locations in the Buffalo and Rochester markets. While some of the existing stores are franchise-run, the converted locations are corporate-operated.

Last summer, 7-Eleven began a multiyear, multimillion-dollar project to convert the Wilson Farms locations, along with plans to refurbish its existing stores. When the remodeling wraps up, the company will look for other opportunities to expand in Western New York, company officials told the Buffalo News.

So far, 79 of Western New York's 98 stores have been remodeled with new lighting, counters, floors, equipment and other upgrades, the report said. The converted stores now operate 24 hours a day, feature coffee islands and offer signature 7-Eleven products, such as Big Bite hot dogs, Slurpees and Big Gulp drinks.

The company's approach to the local market has not only helped retain longtime Wilson Farms customers, but its new offerings are attracting new patrons, Pat Sheridan, the company's market manager of Western New York, told the paper.

"Wilson Farms delivered certain products to a certain demographic, and 7-Eleven is delivering different products to a different demographic," said Sheridan, who held a similar position when the stores were Wilson Farms. "Since we've kept the best of Wilson Farms and now have all the great 7-Eleven products we never had before, we've kept the loyal customers and brought in new customers."

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