Corporate Corruption at 7-11?
By Debbie Schlussel
While Enron, Worldcom, and even AOL Time Warner are under investigation for corporate corruption, 7-11 is what most corporate America is really about.
Though 7-11 is celebrating its 75th anniversary, this year, you won’t hear much about the purveyor of Slurpees and other American conveniences, in the media. They’re not interested.
That’s because 7-11, like most American corporations, is not dishonest or corrupt. It’s the world’s largest convenience retailer, but not the big, bad corporation reporters love to hate. It’s not using Arthur Andersen to hide expenditures and stock options to fattened CEOs, while abusing Ma and Pa investor. No. Like most businesses, 7-11 is more concerned with providing the latest conveniences and contemporary products to make life easier and more inexpensive for consumers increasingly on the go.
From Slurpees in the hot, humid summer to the Big Gulp for those who want more drink for a lower price, there’s nothing sexy here for reporters eager to uncover dishonesty and bloated CEO bank accounts. That a company full of firsts has strongly survived for 75 years—remaining a market giant while the five and dimes, and even Kmart, have largely died versus Walmart and Target—should be big news.
Like McDonald’s, 7-11 is an important piece of Americana, and its monumental anniversary is important news. 7-11 has been a great innovator of things we now take for granted. The company—founded in 1927 as Southland Ice Company in Oak Cliff, Texas—created the convenience retailing and “dashboard dining” we’re so used to, today.
Begun as “Tote’m” stores, 7-11 was the first to sell gasoline at a convenience store and later to offer self-serve gasoline, the first convenience store chain to introduce 24-hour operations and introduce ATMs to make it easier to satisfy that craving for a hotdog in the middle of the night. It was the first national chain to sell fresh-brewed coffee to-go, the first to have a self-serve soda fountain, the first to offer super-size drinks (making the chain a convenient target for the PC food police), the first to offer "freedom of choice" at the softdrink fountain by offering all major softdrink brands, and the first to sell pre-paid phone cards. The convenience store chain was even the first to advertise in a national television commercial--in its 1949 “owl and rooster” ad. Then, there’s the Slurpee, introduced in 1966, and much imitated by others ever since.
Rather than sit on its laurels at age 75, 7-11 continues to innovate, introducing Vcom--financial service centers in its Texas and Florida stores, and giving consumers new flavors unavailable elsewhere, such as Mountain Dew’s Blue Shock. The store even developed “Heaven Sent” hosiery, inexpensive pantyhose in a lipstick size container convenient for a woman’s purse. The company holds open “Product Innovation Days,” welcoming anyone to introduce a new product to its top marketing executives, to meet the changing convenience demands of customers. 7-11’s Oak Park, Michigan store in suburban Detroit became the first 7-11 to offer certified kosher Slurpees, and that location has become the biggest seller of Slurpees in the global 7-11 family of over 23,000 locations.
But for reporters and liberal, anti-business “reformers” more interested in practicing the politics of envy, you won’t hear about these things. They’re more interested in attacking capitalism based on its aberrations—by covering excesses like ex-Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski’s flashy Cape Cod mansion and $13 million art collection, including a $4.7 million Renoir, “Fleur et Fruits,” and a $3.95 million Claude Monet landscape. True, the lifestyles of these rich and infamous are vulgarly ostentatious and criminal, as stockholders were lied to and swindled of life-savings. But these corporations and their CEOs are a scintilla of a fraction among the vast majority of American corporations and their executives.
Corporate corruption beat reporters and self-coronated “reformers” constantly criticize all of corporate America for a variety of offenses, like underserving or neglecting poor neighborhoods and minorities, and discrimination in hiring. But, in reality, most corporations are just like 7-11. Instead of generating sexy stories about the CEO’s new jet or vacation retreat, 7-11 is the real, but untold story. The company bends over backwards to please minorities and still make a profit. Besides spending thousands on affirmative action scholarships and hiring programs for which non-minorities need not apply, many 7-11 stores are located in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods and are the subject of constant robberies. The company also pays $5,000 for referrals of qualified minority franchisees.
And 7-11 made the American dream come true for many American immigrants, so much so that tribute is paid through parody on TV’s “The Simpsons” with character “Apu,” an immigrant franchisee. 7-11 gives millions to programs addressing issues such as literacy, reading, crime prevention and multicultural understanding. It donates hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to local food banks through its Harvest program to help fight hunger. Last year, 7-11 raised more than $3 million for the victims of September 11th.
But 7-11 is not alone. Most corporations are not evil like Enron, wicked like Worldcom, or cooking the books like Arthur Anderson. 7-11 is like most successful corporations in America—a good corporate citizen and a good neighbor offering inexpensive conveniences to make our lives better and easier.