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Grand Opening: 7-Eleven Stores' Magnificent 7 (Slideshow)

Independent chain’s new prototype goes big and starts cookin’

Exclusively based in Oklahoma, 7-Eleven Stores (sometimes mistakenly called 7-Eleven Stores of Oklahoma) operates more than 100 sites that are autonomous from 7-Eleven Inc. In the wake of Oklahoma City-based 7-Eleven Stores recently rolling out a compelling new template, president and CEO Jim Brown offers insights into this exciting design, which is more than double the size of a typical 7-Eleven.

Q: Can you share a little history about 7-Eleven Stores? How is it separate from corporate 7-Eleven?

A: It dates back to 1953. This company got its start with some of the same principals who were involved with the Southland Corp. That was back when Southland had fewer than 100 stores, and all of them were in Texas. In Oklahoma, our company actually registered the 7-Eleven trademark prior to Southland obtaining a U.S. trademark registration. We’ve always been autonomous.

For many years we shared things, because we had a relationship with their ownership. Ideas actually went in both directions. For example, the genesis of “Oh Thank Heaven” was with our advertising agency at the time, many decades ago.

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Q: You recently introduced a new store template. How does this concept differ from your existing network of more than 100 stores?

A: Prior to the first prototype opening, we sold zero diesel fuel. Most of these new stores sell diesel, and some will sell CNG. We have always been a price-oriented fuel retailer, and there was room in our market to introduce attractive prices on both and still derive a fair return on our investment.

The store itself is much bigger, about 5,600 square feet. It’s light, bright and inviting. Our customers have responded very well to it. Each prototype has a full kitchen, and the new template expands on many of the offers we have in existing stores, making it a more experiential event for our customers.

"We have to be careful that our customers find value in our offer. We’re very straight with our customers."

Q: Can you share some of the internal thinking behind this prototype?

A: Once we made the commitment to food, we knew we had to change our game. We set out to design a store format that tickled the senses and delighted our customers. Everything, including the signs on the building, are different. The building tells our customers that something is different here, and it compels them to check us out.

I find social media good for instant feedback. You can’t expect to please everyone, but with an informed mind, you can navigate social media and mine for information about what you are doing that can help you with ideas to do it even better, or bigger, faster or tastier.

Q: How many new stores are you planning for 2016? What metrics or benchmarks will you employ to determine whether your new rollout is successful?

A: Without going into detail, we have found this effort to be successful already. We have opened four in the last eight weeks (as of Feb. 25), including one remodel. We will start four more very soon, and with luck will have them completed before the end of the year.

Q: What key new technologies are you employing in your latest iteration, and why?

A: The hottest card going at 7-Eleven right now is the Thx! Card. This is a debit card customers can use to save money when they shop our stores. When they use it at the pump, the price rolls back and they enjoy a discount every time. This is the same card we plan to use for loyalty.

We’re still debating what loyalty looks like. One interesting thing about technology and the Internet is the lack of borders.

For instance, due to our aggressive pricing strategy, our customers already pay less for seven Big Gulps than customers in Dallas pay for six. So getting something for free (like the seventh drink) may have an allure, but we have to be careful that our customers truly find value in our offer. We’re very straight with our customers. We currently serve some fourth-generation customers. Trust is a big deal, and it always has been.

Q: Who were the key players behind your rollout? How much input came from store managers, regional supervisors or even consumers?

A: It was a multiyear project that included surveys, focus groups, design teams and architects. There were times when it tended to get a little overwhelming. Eventually, as we figured out what direction we wanted to go, we put some folks on staff to help us do it our way, including an architect/project manager. Our customers directed us through their shared experiences and responses to our surveys. We had internal input from literally every department. Every department in the company touches the store. Everyone needed to be a part of what we ended up rolling out. It was truly a team effort.

Of course, we started with a great base of team members. We learned that many on our team already had fresh-food experience before joining 7-Eleven. They stepped forward and helped make the concept a reality. We needed to build our processes and provide the right tools so each of our team members could enjoy success.

Our folks are the best. They are the secret sauce, and we continue to invest in them. They have made our first prepared-foods effort a successful one, and they continue to participate in the evolution of the offer.

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