7-ELEVEN, CIRCLE K PUMP UP

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The nation's two largest convenience store chains are finding that keeping gasoline customers out of their stores is a simple way to boost sales.

Both 7-Eleven Stores of Dallas and Circle K Corp. of Phoenix are converting to pay-at-the-pump options at their gasoline islands.

Just a few years ago the thought of customers not having to walk through these impulse-buying emporiums to purchase gas was abhorred. Today, both companies claim in-store sales have risen at locations that offer at-the-pump credit or debit terminals.

"It was everyone's fear that if customers didn't have to go into the store sales would suffer. That hasn't been the case," said Karen Raskopf, merchandising communications manager for 7-Eleven.

Ann Vry, spokeswoman for Circle K, believes that consumers like to keep separate their gasoline and convenience store purchases.

"What we are seeing is that people take care of the gas purchase then literally make the short drive to their next stop-our stores," Ms. Vry said.

Both chains are supporting the new service with multimedia campaigns which, naturally, focus on saving time. 7-Eleven's campaign was created by J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago. Circle K uses Thomas-Tvert of Phoenix.

At the same time, both chains are also embarking on campaigns to ease consumer doubts.

Historically, customers have cast a wary eye on convenience store gasoline, fearing it performed to lesser standards than that of the major oil companies.

7-Eleven is celebrating its 12-years of selling Citgo gasoline in radio ads that also tout the pay-at-the-pump feature. Last month Circle K announced it has entered into a pact with Unocal Corp. to sell Unocal 76-branded gasoline at 425 of its stores in Arizona and Nevada.

Circle K expects to have 800 islands converted to self-pay by the end of the year. Of its 2,530 outlets 2,105 offer gasoline. 7-Eleven offers pay-at-the-pump at 752 stores. It has 2,100 gas locations out of 5,300 U.S. stores.

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