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Indoor and patio seating, a growler station featuring local craft beers and frozen yogurt with a toppings bar aren’t what you generally think of when you hear “7-Eleven.”
The Irving, Texas-based company has opened what it calls a “lab store” in Dallas to try all sorts of new things not usually associated with the place you buy coffee, Big Gulps, ice, cigarettes and snacks. The new testing ground also has:
- an onsite taqueria, Laredo Taco Company, that serves carne guisada, barbacoa, picadillo bistec and carnitas
- organic teas and kombucha on tap
- fresh baked-in-store cookies and croissants
- made-to-order coffee drinks, cold-pressed juices, smoothies and aqua frescas
The lab store is slightly more than 6,000 square feet — as opposed to the typical 2,000- to 4,000-square-foot model — and located fewer than two miles from where 7-Eleven first opened in 1927, according to Chris Tanco, the chain’s chief operating officer. This location also has about double the 12 to 15 employees you’d find at a regular 7-Eleven.
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He added that there are plans to open more lab stores in the next 12 months — a couple in the West, a couple in the East and another one in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, but there are no exact locations to announce yet.
The lab store, which opened last month, is also an attempt to expand the chain’s customer based to include more women, millennials and Gen Z.
“It’s an effort to disrupt ourselves and redefine convenience. Customers are changing faster than ever before,” Tanco said. “The world is hyper busy.”
How and where Americans grab food on the go has shifted dramatically. E-tail giant Amazon has ventured into the convenience-store space with its Amazon Go locations. Walmart, a traditional big-box store, is the country’s biggest grocer. Supermarkets now serve full meals, some with seating areas in the store — what’s referred to as grocerants. Drug stores sell more packaged foods with a handful of chains even trying their hand at fresh food.
In 2018, the more than 153,000 convenience stores in the U.S. racked up an estimated $242.2 billion in sales, excluding fuel, according to the Alexandria, Virginia-based National Association of Convenience Stores. Compare that to close to 145,000 stores and almost $174 billion in non-gasoline sales in 2008 and the 113,700 stores and $86.4 billion in 1998.
But 7-Eleven has made the decision to test the water, while being careful not to sacrifice the in-and-out swiftness its reputation is built on.
“We’re experimenting with different services and platforms and products to see what resonates,” Tanco said. “I don’t want to jeopardize the speed of getting out quickly. That’s our core advantage.”
This isn’t 7-Eleven’s first foray into current trends. In November, the convenience-store chain introduced Scan & Pay — download an app, then scan merchandise with your smartphone to pay — at 14 Dallas stores.
But John Stanton, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, said he doubts the lab store experiment will work.
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“They’re going to have a really hard time accomplishing this, because I don’t think consumers think of 7-Eleven as one of those ‘in’ places – ‘Hey, let’s go there and get a draft beer,’” he said. “The company can see what consumers want and they think, ‘Oh, boy. If they want more upscale food, let’s give it to them.’ They don’t see consumers may not see their stores” that way.
7-Eleven has more than 67,000 stores in 17 countries, including 9,000-plus in the U.S., according to the company.
24/7 Wall Street compiled a list of cities where they spend the most on everyday food items like milk and eggs.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Zlati Meyer on Twitter: @ZlatiMeyer
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