|As Seen On TV: Kwik-E-Mart / 7-Eleven|
By Steve Reiter OCT 14, 2009 9:25 AM
Who needs the Kwik-E-Mart? 7-Eleven does.
If you ever find yourself in Springfield (state unknown) and have a sudden craving for something cold, sweet, and spicy, I’d highly recommend the chutney-flavored Squishee at the local Kwik-E-Mart.
Every town needs a convenience store to sell chips, cigarettes, donuts, beverages, and so forth. The fictional setting of The Simpsons is no exception. The 24-hour Kwik-E-Mart is run by a quirky Indian man named Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who wears his gunshot wounds as badges of honor. The humble Apu sells everything from Buzz Cola and Duff Beer to heat-lamp warmed tofu dogs, frozen burritos, and Sprinklicious donuts.
Pop culture often imitates life. And in this case, our favorite cartoon one-stop shop brings to mind the arguably most well-known convenience store in America: 7-Eleven. In fact, 7-Eleven claims that the original inspiration for Springfield’s most inconvenient convenience store was Los Angeles "Store No. 25304 located at 8500 We. Olympic Blvd." The company embraced the brand association with a news release that told how Matt Groening -- creator of The Simpsons -- frequented his neighborhood 7-Eleven, which ultimately motivated him to create the Kwik-E-Mart. The store's proprietor even comes from South Asia (Pakistan, not India).
Another glaring similarity comes from one of the most popular items sold by the chain, and what some consider its signature product. 7-Eleven’s Slurpee frozen drinks are named for the sound that comes from drinking one through a straw. At the Kwik-E-Mart, drink dispensers dole out cups full of the aforementioned Squishee drink in various flavors, including the experimental and highly unstable All Syrup Super Squishee. Kids -- don’t try this at any actual store.
And illustrators of The Simpsons were spot-on with their Kwik-E-Mart depiction. Just look at the two, side by side.
When the long-awaited The Simpsons Movie debuted in 2007, 7-Eleven leaped at the opportunity to embrace the brand association made by so many. The company gave 12 of its stores full makeovers, turning them into actual Kwik-E-Marts. Along with the usual convenience-store fare, the shelves were lined with uniquely Springfield products, like Krusty-O’s cereal, Radioactive Man comics and a hoard of Simpsons memorabilia.
7-Eleven Spokesperson Margaret Chabris said the promotion exceeded the company’s expectations, doubling merchandise sales year over year for the month of July. More specifically, the chain sold 1.3 million-plus Sprinklicious donuts (its biggest bakery-item launch ever), more than 1.4 million Squishee-named Slurpee drinks, 119,000 boxes of KrustyO’s cereal, 500,000 cans of Buzz Cola, and 71,000 copies of Radioactive Man comic books. That's a lot of swag.
At the time of the movie's debut, I visited the location in New York City at 42nd Street and 9th Avenue at an off hour to avoid the crowds and lines. But it turns out, I shouldn’t have waited. The only things left on the shelves were talking Simpsons key-chains and novelty license plates. The effect was remarkable, though. The store was complete with life-sized cardboard cutouts of characters and specially made Kwik-E-Mart uniforms for employees.
Of course, 7-Elevens and Kwik-E-Marts aren't complete mirror images of each other. Kwik-E-Mart is a smaller-scale business with only one full-time employee. As for 7-Eleven, in 2008, Entrepreneur named it the number-one franchise for its financial strength and stability, growth rate, and size. It didn’t crack the top ten for 2009, but rest assured, it's still employing far more workers than its animated equivalent.
Additionally, one of the ongoing gags played out in the cartoon is the often unsanitary conditions of the Kwik-E-Mart, which differs significantly from 7-Eleven. The store has consistently raised the bar for freshness of its food and cleanliness of stores. I’ve been assured that hot dogs aren't kept under a heat lamp, expiration dates aren't tampered with, and no old men have ever locked themselves in a freezer hoping to be thawed in a more interesting future world. And I doubt 7-Eleven’s CEO sits atop a mountain in the Himalayas drinking Slurpees, either.