Tag Archives: 7-11

May I call you “Darling?” Thoughts on “the Dolores effect”

The CBS show Undercover Boss sent, Joe DePinto, the CEO of 7-11 into one of his franchises in Long Island.  

His mission: to figure out how this little 7-11 manages to sell a virtual Niagara of coffee every morning, some 2500 cups a day, more than any other 7-11.

DePinto expects the answer to be complicated.  But once he’s spent the morning in the franchise, the answer is obvious.

The answer is Dolores.  She’s been working at this store for 18 years.  She has been there a long time and, hey, she knows people.  Some she kisses.  Some she calls Darling.  She greets many people by name.  And some she hits.  

"I got to hit you.  You know I got to hit you."

And she does, on camera.  There she is, pictured above, laying one on a customer. Because she likes him.

Customers reciprocate by calling her Dolores and some call her "Ma."

Dolores represents a conundrum for the corporation.  In a perfect world, every retail employee would endear herself to customers as Dolores does.  

But we can’t legislate this sort of thing.  We can’t make it part of the "script" that employees follow.  Nor should we try.  Obligatory endearments are wrong, and frankly just plain creepy. And touching customers?  Um, I don’t think so. Go ahead, just try punching one of your customers and see what happens.

But that doesn’t mean that "The Dolores effect," let’s call it, can’t be managed.  We would want to do an anthropology of the Dolores effect.  Who can do it?  How long does it take to acquire?  What is the developmental cycle here?  Then we would want to create a Dolores training regime.  Dolores is a naturally gifted social actor.  We can train those who aren’t. The next step is to figure out an incentive system.  I bet 7-11 pays Dolores what they pay other people who do her job.  This is wrong.  We don’t want Dolories to simulate her bonhomie for commercial purposes, but once she has began to built a community, we should darn sure make sure she is compensated.

The fact of the matter is Dolores is creating value.  As it is, the only way we have to think about this value, the only way we have to measure it, is by the number of cups of coffee this 7-11 sells each day.  Surely, we can do better than that.  Surely, it’s time to understand the Dolores effect.


The YouTube clip for Undercover Boss.  If you know the concept of the show, you may skip forward to 1:10. click here

7-11, where brands go to die

Think back, way back, to the last time you were in a 7-11.  Recall the smell, the light, the linoleum underfoot, the clerk behind the counter.

It’s as if everything that is bad and wrong in the ordinary world has assembled in a kind of jamboree of awfulness. When I used to frequent one in downtown Boston, I would shuffle around endlessly looking for something to eat. And I came to the conclusion that with the exception of a token apple or two, only artificial food is allowed in this place.  If you ate here exclusively for a month (instead of at McDonald’s), there is no chance you would complete the assignment.

But it’s not just food that’s bad for you.  Something about this very entropic place actually manages to wick away your knowledge of the world; what time it is, what season it is, what neighborhood, city, region you are in.  And once the locational knowledge goes, it’s not long before basic identity info begins to go.  Forget eating at 7-Eleven for a month. Try living there.

We are bat-like creatures, bouncing signals off the world to locate ourselves in this world.  You can try this in 7-Eleven. But no signal returns.  You are lost in a box lost in space.

So what happens to the brand in this box? But of course it withers and dies.  It has been crafted by brilliant marketers. Millions have been spent to give it all but only the meanings that will make it resonant, interesting and vivid.  But none of these meanings are robust enough to survive the 7-Eleven.

And what happens to culture in this box?  Damaged beyond recognition.  It has been crafted by the rest of us.  And we what a thing we have accomplished.  Talk about resonant, interesting, and vivid. That’s us.  But even this is not robust enough to survive 7-Eleven.  It is impoverished and hollowed out.

There have been two recent attempts to save the 7-Eleven.  One was the Homer Simpson "endorsement."  D’ho!  I think this was a bad idea.  (See my blog post below for the larger argument).  More promising is the appointment of Rita Bargerhuff.  Yes, she was the one who okayed the Simpson endorsement.  And that tells us that she’s trying and that she knows the direction 7-Eleven must move: away from "convenience" (that concept that has underwritten so much bad design and experience) to something funny, playful, more responsive to the culture around it.

Who knows? Perhaps Bargerhuff will someday double as 7-Eleven’s CCO.


Hein, Kenneth.  2009.  7-Eleven Elevates Bargerhuff to CMO.  BusinessWeek.  November 18.  here.

McCracken, Grant.  2007.  Homer Simpson and the 7-Eleven Endorsement debacle.  This Blog.  July 17.  here.

Note: this post was lost due to Network Solution incompetence in December 2009.  I am reposted it today, December 24, 2010.