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Getting Even

After a contract fell through with 7-Eleven, a Maryland businessman started his own chain of convenience stores.

"I don't get mad," Aris Mardirossian says. "I get competitive." So The Southland Corp. can attest.

Back in 1984 Southland considered setting up one of its 7-Eleven convenience stores in a building Mardirossian owned in Gaithersburg, Md. Terms were negotiated, and the Armenian immigrant signed the papers and shook hands. But the deal fell through. Mardirossian's version is that the higher-ups at Southland's Dallas headquarters decided they wanted more favorable terms. A Southland spokesperson says Mardirossian misunderstood the company's procedures.

In any event, Mardirossian -- who had already evicted the previous tenants -- was upset. But he had an idea. "I said, 'If that site was good for them, it's gotta be good for me.' I decided I was going into the convenience-store business, and I'd do it better than 7-Eleven." A month later the first 6-Twelve Convenient Mart opened at that location. "I was making very easy money."

Soon Mardirossian opened a second 6-Twelve, this one across the street from a 7-Eleven. "That store took off like a bonfire." After he opened his third store, across from yet another 7-Eleven, he says, Southland sued for trademark infringement. "The spirit of competition totally poured out of me." Retaining the Chicago law firm that had helped MCI take on AT&T, Mardirossian fought back on antitrust grounds -- and won.

Today 14 6-Twelves do business in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Connecticut, with 15 more under construction and plans for future expansion. All but 3 are franchise operations. Mardirossian looks for locations, he says, that are "as close as possible to a 7-Eleven or whatever the local chain is." Typically, the 6-Twelve is larger than its competitor, with an on-premise bakery and deli, and without the magazine racks and video games that draw teenagers.

The formula has worked well for Mardirossian, a 38-year-old engineer and restaurateur. He has recently built a stone mansion in the rolling Maryland horse country northwest of Washington. On the gate is a bronze plaque that reads: "Thank Heaven for 7-Eleven."

-- Jill Andresky Fraser

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