'Thank You for Loitering'

How Dallas-based Sonntag helped bring The Simpsons' Kwik-E-Mart to Life.

Apu Nahasapeemapetilon might be the world’s most famous convenience store owner, in spite of his two-dimensional existence and lack of actual land ownership. Yet, somehow, 11 of Apu’s Kwik-E-Marts across the country were "built" from existing 7-Eleven structures plus styrene and vinyl.

The creation of the Kwik-E-Mart stores generated quite a stir among The Simpsons fans and marked one of the most innovative movie promotions ever for the TV show’s big-screen debut this past July. For 7-Eleven, Twentieth-Century Fox, and a digital-printing company, the marketing ploy resulted in a winning combination.

Selling more Squishees

Tracy Locke, a Dallas-based marketing firm, came up with the store-changeover idea in an initial brainstorming operation. 7-Eleven, Tracy Locke’s client, had worked with Fox on movie promotions before, but this job was inherently special. "Many of us have been Simpsons fans for 18 years, so we knew we had to do something-something big," says Sterling Hayman of Tracy Locke. The marketing team worked its way up the 7-Eleven corporate ladder, spending nearly a year convincing all levels of management that converting everything from 7-Eleven branding to its animated other, Kwik-E-Mart, would indeed prove to be a successful campaign.

"Given that Kwik-E-Mart is a stereotype of 7-Eleven stores, we knew that there was some risk involved if the transformation wasn’t pulled off perfectly," says Hayman. Dedicated to the idea, the design team created mock-ups of how the stores would look, made sales manuals, and garnered input from customers as well as franchisee owners. Ultimately, 7-Eleven fully supported the campaign that mocked its own existence; appreciating that being the butt of the joke could indeed sell more Slurpees or, well, Squishees.

The store conversions would involve hand-painted exterior walls to resemble the yellow bricks of the fictitious Springfield store, screenprinted 3-D characters loitering around the stores, and digitally printed graphics that converted professional 7-Eleven displays and grammatically correct store signage to un-business-like and surreal Simpsons speak. Plus, 7-Eleven would actually sell Krusty-O’s cereal, Buzz Cola, and Radioactive Man comic books-as well as "Today’s Pastries" offered at "Tomorrow’s Prices."

Due to the high volume of graphics that had to be covered-from the top of the building and parking signs to all of the interior displays-Tracy Locke divvied up the work among multiple printer operations, including Sonntag, a screen printer, and even a sign company specializing in hand painting. "We wanted to create an integrated look, so we focused on each company’s strengths," says Hayman.

P-O-P personalities

Sonntag Inc., a digital and screen print provider in Dallas, was contracted to orchestrate most of the point-of-purchase aspects of the 7-Eleven conversions plus a few exterior signs.

Tracy Locke had a previously established relationship with Sonntag (www.sonntaginc.com) through other print jobs and the staff was impressed with the shop’s efficiency. Steve Shoquist of Tracy Locke says, "We knew that they had a very quick turn-around time. We felt they could get the job done and they did." Sonntag’s output covered the pink-sprinkled donut displays, "Buy 3 for the Price of 3" signs, and other Krusty-O, D’oh!, and "Thank You, Come Again" themed interior graphics.

Fox representatives and Tracy Locke’s art director, Matt Rand, created the image files in InDesign. After receiving the files, Sonntag’s struggle was "turning that project around in time. We had about two and a half days for production," says Lewis Griffin, director of business development for Sonntag. Not only was time a limitation, but Marge’s blue hair, the family’s yellow flesh tones, and the Kwik-E-Mart logo were all highly recognizable, so hitting those colors was critical.

"7-Eleven ultimately approved every piece for content, and Tracy Locke approved all pieces from a color-correctness and quality standpoint," says Hayman. Because the time constraints were so tight, Tracy Locke representatives drove to Sonntag’s shop and did all approvals on-the-spot.Although Sonntag has screenprinting presses as well as two different makes of digital printers in-house, "The decision was made to use the same printer type on all of the elements in order to keep color consistent throughout," says Griffin.

Sonntag turned to its two MacDermid ColorSpan 72UVR printers for all of its components on the job, taking into consideration the lightfastness that would be required for any outdoor displays. Griffin and crew chose an OTO White Styrene media for about 90% of its output, which, combined with UV-curable inks, eliminated the need for any lamination. The company did add a UV clearcoat for durability, providing sufficient color protection for the one-month installation, says Griffin.

Once it had completed the 30 hours of print time, Sonntag had to finish the products before delivering them to Tracy Locke. "The biggest challenge was the timing-there were so many elements we had to focus on," says Griffin. Sonntag scored, routed, and cut the array of pieces, completing them on Thomson and Blueline clamshell and roller die-cutters, an 85- and a 55-in. Seybold guillotine cutter, and two Practik cutters for one-offs.

"Most digital shops do not have as much finishing and fulfillment [equipment] in-house as we do, and this allowed us to bring all of the elements together in such a short time," says Griffin, who notes that the "short amount of time" did include putting in some weekend hours. All of the final printed pieces-more than 1200 in all-were then delivered to TracyLocke for fulfillment and delivery to the individual stores. Various representatives from the firm oversaw the installations at each of the locations.

Charitable trash

Certainly the Simpsons signs and Homer hoopla drew attention: The 11 stores doubled or tripled their revenue for the one-month promotion when compared to July of last year, says 7-Eleven’s Margaret Chabris. Many of those sales were customers specifically seeking a Kwik-E-Mart purchase, says Hayman, "customers around the country waited in line for upwards of an hour to experience this fictional world that 7-Eleven brought to life."

As the movie opened with a whopping $71.9 million in the first three days, the Kwik-E-Marts were disassembled. But Sonntag’s handiwork was still generating revenue-for charity. Since the Springfield dump was incapable of disposing of it, 7-Eleven donated all of the signage to Children’s Miracle Network-affiliated hospitals near the converted store locations. Each hospital chose what to do with the signage, though many of the displays were auctioned off either locally or globally. Sonntag’s "The First Bank of Springfield (misplacing decimals since 194.5)" sign (that came with a $2.50 sign reading fee) had an Ebay top bid of $127.50 at press time. For an industry that usually pays to dispose of used banners, this job just keeps on giving.

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