Friday, July 18, 2008

Winnipeg Loves Slurpees and Murder (or, Kennewick Can Suck It)

lol see what i did there

It was another long day at work today, and I'll do my best to type this all up as quickly as I can; the Bomber game is on tonight and I feel obligated to watch it, if only to appease my inextinguishable appetite for schadenfreude. (Oh, man, they're so bad this year! It's awesome!) But I would be completely remiss if I didn't mention this pair of news stories, one from this week and one backlogged from last, because together they combine their powers like Wonder Twins to form the paired pillars of Manitoba society.

That's right! Despite initial media scares, our city still stands tall: we're number one for Slurpees! And we're number one for murder, to the surprise of absolutely nobody!

Slurpees and Murder! Whoo! Good work, team! (Especially you folks outside Winnipeg; 400,000 people uniting for 34 homicides? Now that's some dedication!)

Forget this 'Heart of the Continent' noise, no matter how awesome it is that people are still equating the phrase with a weatherman from fourty-five years ago -- we should just go ahead and write 'Slurpees and Murder' up on those welcome signs, both for the sake of truth in advertising and to humour my insatiable megalomania. ('Winnipeg: Life Sucks and Then You Die' is a perfectly acceptable substitute, especially if the signs keep the blue and gold colour scheme.)

So, Slurpees, then. Let's go over that recent pandemonium, shall we? It might not be timely, but damn if I won't try to make it definitive.

The uproar over the title of World Slurpee Capital initially erupted during the Folk Festival (which was pretty inconsiderate of it) when news originally broke that Winnipeg might well have lost its lone positive defining characteristic hold on a previously unshakeable global crown. Outrage, mourning and bewildered remarks of "wait where the hell is Kennewick" ruled the land for the rest of the day, and on into the next, until 7-Eleven spokespersons both in Canada and the United States hastily emerged to reconfirm Winnipeg's championship and then pretend that two otherwise unrelated cities hadn't just flipped out on each other over some sugar water.

(Interestingly, 7-Eleven also announced that Kennewick wasn't even the yearly Slurpee leader in the United States; they insisted that the number one Slurpee market in America is, was, and remains Detroit. This can be considered further proof that Detroit and Winnipeg are far more similar than either city would care to admit -- except for the part where Detroit sports teams win championships, but I'm pretty sure that I've beaten that horse straight into the ground already.)

Now, you all know me, so you all know that this is usually where I'd go for the cheap heat and write something like "Kennewick are a bunch of jerks". And I still might, if need be! But careful observation reveals that the whole sordid mess is the handiwork of a single man, an isolated mastermind toiling towards his grand scheme with an almost supervillain-level fanaticism.

Don Marriotto, a former tax-law attorney of 20 years and the franchiser of the lone 7-Eleven in Kennewick, WA, is the linchpin of the whole narrative. Knocked into a giant vat of Slurpee chemicals during a burglary attempt, he -- no, sorry, that's not right. Let me try that again.

July of 2005 saw Don Marriotto purchase the single 7-Eleven store in Kennewick, and like any astute store owner he took note of which items sold best -- in this case, Slurpees, and thousands of them. He spent the next year and a half unsuccessfully angling to have 7-Eleven send him more Slurpee machines, and each time he did the head offices told him that his store had to move more product to justify the upgrade.

Not to be denied, he began plotting and planning; if more product movement they wanted, more product movement they would get! He began to make deals -- buy three and get one free, buy two and get one free, buy item and get coupon, buy this and get that, try some of the doughnuts we carry for some reason, so on and so forth -- until headquarters finally caved and sent him extra Slurpee machines.

Yes, he thought to himself, his plans for global domination coming ever more steadily into focus. Knowing that his rapid rise up the sales charts was making him something of a local celebrity, he took his quest for glory to its logical conclusion: he consulted the worldwide records, went "wait where the hell is Winnipeg" and set out to make his store the top Slurpee seller in the world.

Soon enough, his "Kennewick Slurpee Factory" went twelve straight months as the leading store -- July 2007 to July 2008, which you may want to mark down as a plot point for later -- and when 7-Eleven Day 2008 (July 11th, for the one or two of you who hadn't picked up on that yet) rolled around, he stood tall amidst his single-store empire and proclaimed himself the Slurpee King. Look on his celebratory multicoloured banners, ye mighty, and despair!

He made appearances in local media, then in international media, and then in comments sections of Winnipeg entertainment blogs for what could only be considered nefarious and inexplicable reasons. Not a gracious winner, by anybody's standards -- but in these heady days of victory, he could do little else but boast!

He had scraped, he had slaved, he had bartered and begged, but finally it had all paid off -- glory had finally come, and glory was all his! Kennewick, Washington... Slurpee Capital of the World!

And then the corporate heads swooped in and took it all away from him.

An understandable reaction, of course, from a big-business perspective; corporate sense would dictate that it's far more important to pacify a ravenous longtime market of 650,000 people than it is to herald a ravenous newfound market of 65,000 people. So the 7-Eleven officials retconned their previous coverage and awarded the 2008 title to Winnipeg, just as they'd done with the past eight before it, because -- boom! Plot point! -- the 2008 rankings were based on cup sales from January 2007 to December 2007.

They say a little piece of Don Marriotto died, that day.

Winnipeg is safe for another year, one annual win closer to the almost unfathomable decade mark, and our tiny wisps of bizarrely misplaced civic pride continue to float in the breeze. But you know what? That guy worked his ass off to earn his almost-title, and he used some pretty heavy firepower to do it -- free t-shirt giveaways, free Slurpee giveaways, promotional blitzes, design contests, and twelve different flavors at any given time. And next month they're bumping it up to eighteen flavours! Eighteen! Jesus!

Given the information available, it seems almost impossible for Winnipeg to survive another year as Slurpee champion. The 2008 crown was based on 2007 numbers, and Marriotto only started his marketing blitz in the summer of last year -- so given a full year of his t-shirts and contests and giveaways versus a full year of our nothing, the safe bet is a Fist of the North Star proclamation that we're already dead and don't know it yet.

If we do earn that tenth consecutive season title, somehow, then we still have one final ultimate rudo-heel move at our disposal -- hold a press conference, accept the title, and retire from the official competition "to give everyone else a fair chance". (Scott Fielding, take notes! This is important!) And if we don't win, well, the onus wasn't on us purchasers to begin with; the blame should be laid where it would belong, and that's with the complacent Winnipeg franchisers who never so much as put up a fight.

Where are our free t-shirts? Our two-for-one Slurpees? Our logo design contests and eighteen different flavours and drinks named after luchadores? The most that any of us have ever received for our continued championship-level patronage is a staggeringly gaudy bumper sticker, and bumper stickers just don't cut it any more in our modern era of competition. 7-Eleven owners, who among you will stand up to combat this threat? Who among you will emerge as our civic saviour, handing out freebies and discounts and deals to the masses?

You might accuse me of angling shamelessly for free stuff, and because I am from Winnipeg you can rest assured that I totally am. But should we fall, don't let me hear you say that I hadn't warned you!

Slurpees! Serious business!

Oh, of course. You're wondering where I pulled half of that Don Marriotto information from, aren't you? If you'd thought that I was making most of this up, I wouldn't have doubted your cynicism for a second.

But rest assured that, like any good historian, I've based my research on primary sources -- and the primary source that best explains Don Marriotto is his declaration of his modus operandi, posted under the name CougarDon (what) on a 7-Eleven Franchise Owners Google Group.

"I am known in town as the Slurpee King."

Not the greatest supervillain name, but one that would definitely motivate a man to stay out of prison.

Didn't expect to read all this today, did you? Ha! That's why they pay me the big bucks! And by 'they', I mean 'nobody will'!

There were harsh words and hurt feelings all around in this whole kerfuffle, but the most important thing to remember is that we're not all that different; after all is said and done, Kennewick folk are just like you and me. To wit, emphasis added:

"During busy hours, customers keep flowing in. But because there are so many, they can get stuck in line. One of those customers Saturday was Brian Paxton of Kennewick. He meandered through the flavors like a true connoisseur, trying to find the right combination.

"It's hot dude, (the Slurpees) are refreshing," the 27-year-old said. "It's nice, something different. And it's a great hangover remedy."

"After a couple minutes of weighing his options, he went with a "Rambo" -- most of the flavors mixed together -- in a Simpsons cup. His friend Dylan Wickenhauser had to get two, one for him and a perfect Piña Colada for his girlfriend."

Bless your heart, 27-year-old Brian Paxton of Kennewick, Washington. You're good people.


GGord said...

Well researched post, I really enjoyed getting the definitive story.

One (small?) correction - Winnipeg 7-Eleven stores are not franchised - they are corporate-owned. Perhaps this explains some of the less-than-Kennewick passion you perceive from the slurpee jockeys.

James Howard said...

Oh, dear. Yeah, that's going to explain it, then; the Winnipeg stores aren't going to put up a fight because they can't. If they're corporate, they're not allowed to.

Take note, enterprising businessmen: don't let any higher command dictate what you can or cannot do, because playing by your own rules is the best and only way to get things done. Or to put it another way, yes, every police action movie that you've ever seen was telling the truth.

Anonymous said...

"Great job and unfathomably accurate. 2008 is in the books and Kennewick is #1 in Slurpee sales receipts, #1 in Slurpee cups sold and #1 in per capita Slurpee consumption. What city will be named "Slurpee Capital of the World"? More than likely, the city in which 7-Eleven deems the title will have the greatest dollar value. In other words, some city with a population greater than Kennewick." Don Mariotto

Keith said...

Slurpee generation gap

- if you were born before 1975, you never mix your flavors.

- if you were born afte 1980, you mix flavors.

1975-1980 TBD