7-Eleven has big plans for its 100th birthday in 2027 — opening 20,000 new stores across the United States and Canada.
To hit that target, the company is aggressively pursuing sites in suburban neighborhoods, urban downtowns and just about everything in between, said Stuart Kimmel, real estate manager for 7-Eleven’s Penn Jersey zone, which encompasses Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “We don’t have a cookie-cutter design,” he notes. “We’ll do a suburban site with gas or a walk-up store downtown. Our only ‘must-have’ is the customer.”
According to Kimmel, 7-Eleven’s real estate teams are about halfway toward their 20,000-store target. (Globally, the company counts 65,000 stores in 18 countries.) As they launch new 7-Elevens in their respective zones, Kimmel and other real estate managers keep the pipeline stocked by relying on both in-house reps and local brokers. Working at such a massive scale, Kimmel explains, requires a multi-pronged approach. “You might look at six or seven locations and do only one deal,” he said. “You have to be persistent, resourceful and aggressive.”
In the Penn Jersey zone, which already includes approximately 600 stores, about 12 or 15 new 7-Eleven stores will be developed and opened in a given year, Kimmel said.
Most of the company’s newest stores in the Penn Jersey zone are ground-up developments, says Patti Fiore-AmecAngelo, a National tenant rep and senior sales associate at R.J. Brunelli & Co., LLC, an Old Bridge, NJ-based retail real estate brokerage. For the past two years, Fiore-AmecAngelo has worked directly with Kimmel’s team as the preferred broker for 7-Eleven in Eastern Pennsylvania and in six New Jersey counties. She has a total of nine deals underway, several of which are breaking ground this year. These include new Garden State stores as well as Pennsylvania locations that are undergoing local approvals.
As Fiore-AmecAngelo drives around her territories scouting for new 7-Eleven locations, certain site criteria always catch her attention: If it’s a corner site with a traffic light and access on both sides, for instance, the owners will likely get a call to gauge their willingness to sell, she said. In New Jersey, 7-Eleven often works with gas suppliers on larger sites. The company is also open to developing stores on half-acre parcels without gasoline forecourts. “That gives you more options for new sites,” she said.
Fiore-AmecAngelo looks for sites with heavy vehicle counts as well as sufficient parking for on-the-go shoppers. “Having access to neighborhoods tends to be important to 7-Eleven,” she said. “The company wants people to be able to run to their neighborhood 7-Eleven in their pajamas.” Proximity to traffic-drivers such as schools and hospitals is also a plus.
To meet the needs of those on-the-go shoppers, Kimmel adds, 7-Eleven is offering greater varieties of fresh and prepared foods in appealing store environments that are a far cry from the c-stores of 40 years ago. “More people are working today, with two-family incomes now being the norm,” Kimmel notes. “Technology is also a big part of that lifestyle, which is why we’re so focused on apps that ramp up customer convenience. While Millennials are important for us, everybody these days is attached to that phone.”
Technology is a bigger part of real estate as well, but old-fashioned pounding the pavement still works best for Fiore-AmecAngelo. “By the time a site is on the Internet, everybody knows about it,” she said. “I’m looking for gems that are not yet on the market.” In addition to lots of driving, the broker takes full advantage of one of the traditional cornerstones of the real estate business—personal relationships. “Developers in this region know me well and understand my role at 7-Eleven,” she said. “They have brought me probably 15 or 20 sites in the last month alone.”
As Kimmel sees it, forging long-term relationships with local brokers is a smart way to uncover the best opportunities for 7-Eleven. “I like working with Patti because she is very aggressive and hardworking,” he said. “She understands our customers’ needs and uncovers sites for us based on that understanding. That’s the difference between a ‘one-and-done’ broker and someone who collaborates with you over the long haul.”
Joel Groover is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and a contributing editor of Shopping Centers Today, the monthly magazine of the International Council of Shopping Centers.