Monday, July 16, 2007

"Thank You for Loitering"

It was something of a pilgrimage. D.C.'s Maryland suburbs are something of a mystery to me, with names like "Bladensburg" and "Hyattsville" mere words on a map, and "Kenilworth Avenue" something that radio traffic reporters talk about.

Still, a Washington Post article had alerted me to a reason to visit a commercial strip not far from the Maryland-D.C. line, and after seeing the new production of the 1938 musical comedy revue Hellzapoppin' at the American Century Theatre last Saturday, I dragged fellow blogger Tim Hulsey on what seemed (after several wrong turns and no access to Mapquest) to be a wild goose chase but which ultimately led us to our destination:

The franchise, one of two owned by former 7-Eleven manager Berhane Kebebe, was chosen by corporate executives as one of 12 to be turned into temporary Kwik-E-Marts and stocked with Simpsons products.

Motor oil, paper towels, dog food and map books will make way for Krusty O's cereal boxes, Sprinklicious doughnuts and Radioactive Man comic books.

Signs over the drink fountains will read "Buzz Cola" and a frozen drink flavor has been created for the month: WooHoo! Blue Vanilla Squishee Slurpee.

Yes, this was the only Kwik-E-Mart in the mid-Atlantic region, and I had to see it -- and photograph it.

It was just past midnight, and the store was busy. It had nothing of the sense of ennui one might expect after, for instance, seeing Eric Bogosian's play suBurbia. (Though setting a production of suBurbia in the parking lot of a Kwik-E-Mart would be surreal, to say the least.)

Customers came and went. There was a short line at the service counter. But compared to other Kwik-e-Marts around the country, this converted 7-Eleven in Bladensburg was relatively tranquil. Take a look at this report from LA Weekly:
Sterling Hayman, who is the account director of TracyLocke Advertising, the company that teamed up with 7-Eleven for the Simpsons promotion, says this Kwik-E-Mart opened July 1 and will be open all month. Hayman says they relied more on word of mouth than hype to promote The Simpsons makeover.

“The first couple of hours we were not very busy... by the end of the day you couldn’t move in the store,” Hayman says, adjusting his Kwik-E-Mart visor. “There have been lines around the block.”

The Burbank locale is one of 12 Kwik-E-Marts in North America. The most popular items have been Buzz Cola and KrustyO’s. These goodies are so in demand that this Kwik-E-Mart had to post signs limiting customers to three colas and one box of cereal at a time. It’s been difficult to keep the store stocked. “Every time a truck unloads cases and cases, within seconds the store runs out,” Hayman says, a bit distraught.
As a marketing gimmick, the transformation of these 7-Elevens is brilliant. (It got me blogging about it, after all.) According to a trade organization, the In-Store Marketing Institute:

The company transformed 11 U.S. stores (and one Canada location) into real-life Kwik-E-Marts, adopting the appearance, characters and merchandise from the convenience store depicted in the long-running Simpsons TV series. (The fictional store, a parody of the c-store concept that has exorbitant prices, out-of-date products and other stereotypical characteristics, reportedly was modeled on 7-Eleven.)

Stores were converted into Kwik-E-Marts in the Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Burbank, CA, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Orlando, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington D.C. markets. According to 7-Eleven spokesperson Margaret Chabris, the company chose the locations based on market strength, accessibility to cars and news media, and the enthusiasm of store operators, adding, "11 is a favorite number of ours." (The Canadian Kwik-E-Mart is in British Columbia.)

And, indeed, my purpose in visiting the Maryland Kwik-E-Mart was envisioned by the marketing professionals:
According to Chabris, sales at converted Kwik-E-Marts doubled in the early days of the promotion. "We wanted to see the customer reaction to changing our signage and redressing our stores for a month. The demand and interest has even surpassed our estimates," she said. "Regular and new customers are coming in and trying all of the different products, patiently waiting in line to get them." Chabris added that the stores have become an ultimate photo-op for fans.
Photo-op? I took dozens of snapshots. Here are a few:

In the end, I passed up the KrustyO's and my only purchases were an energy drink, a six-pack of Buzz Cola, and -- of course -- doughnuts. (Mmmmm! Doughnuts!)

Would I go back? As Apu might say, "Thank you for loitering - please come again!"

1 comment:

Sean Tubbs said...

Hey Rick! Great pictures! I've just posted your recent appearance on Coy's Show to the Charlottesville Podcasting Network. It's here.