Because of an editing error, some editions yesterday incorrectly described items available at Gaithersburg convenience stores called 6 Twelve. The stores do not sell adult magazines.
Some people get mad. Some people get even. Aris Mardirossian says he gets competitive.
Two years ago, Mardirossian said, he became upset when Southland Corp., the giant national firm that owns and franchises 7-Eleven stores, canceled a contract with him to open a store on property he owns in Gaithersburg. The stocky Armenian immigrant decided to get back by competing head-to-head with the well-known chain and opening his own convenience shops in the Gaithersburg area.
What did he call them? 6 Twelve, of course.
And where were they located? Right across the street from 7-Elevens.
"The only location I'll buy is right across the street from 7-Eleven," Mardirossian, 35, said with a smile. "When you get me mad, I get competitive."
Two of his 6 Twelve stores are operating in Gaithersburg, and a third is scheduled to open in Olney, east of Gaithersburg, in July.
The mustachioed entrepreneur said his goal was to open cleaner, bigger, community-oriented stores with less-expensive products than 7-Eleven. The 6 Twelve in Redland Shopping Center at Redland and Muncaster Mill roads is brightly lit and sparkling clean, with large orange-and-yellow plastic signs hung above the wide aisles to indicate where the multitudinous goods are located. A delicatessen with fresh meats, sandwiches and pastries baked on the premises is tucked in the back of the store, and the freezer is packed with Haagen-Dazs ice cream.
The first thing Mardirossian does when he hires an employe is walk him or her through a 7-Eleven. "We don't want to be like this, I tell them," he said. "We want to be better."
Mardirossian contends that his 6 Twelve stores serve better-quality food than 7-Eleven, charge lower prices, have a faster checkout with computer scanners and adult magazines and have a wider selection of food. He lists these attributes in full-page newspaper ads in suburban papers under the screaming headline: "Reasons why 6 Twelve is better than 7-Eleven."
Not long after Mardirossian signed the contract for his third store last fall, lawyers from 7-Eleven's Texas-based parent company wrote him a letter demanding that he give up the 6 Twelve name because he was infringing on Southland's trademark.
"It is Southland's belief that the name was adopted for the purpose of falsely suggesting some sort of affiliation with Southland's international 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores . . . , " wrote James L. Dooley, an attorney for Southland. "Southland calls upon you to terminate all usages of the expression 6 Twelve."
Mardirossian approached lawyers in Washington, New York and Boston to defend him. But they told him he had no chance of winning against 7-Eleven and its resources.
But the Gaithersburg businessman did not give up. "I don't like to hear I can't do something," said Mardirossian. "I remembered that MCI took on AT&T, so I called MCI's lawyers in Chicago, and they said we had a good case."
After a series of letters and a few changes in his logo, 7-Eleven settled with Mardirossian and ended up paying him an undisclosed amount. "Nowhere else but the U.S. could you go against the grain, take on a big company and win," said Mardirossian, who emigrated to the United States in the mid-1960s.
Dooley, the attorney for Southland, said last week that the company was satisfied with the settlement. He said, "There was a controversy and it was settled amicably.
"As far as I know we have no squabble, and he is welcome to the convenience store business," Dooley added.
Mardirossian, who boasts that each of his stores grosses $1.5 million to $2 million a year with a profit margin of 9 to 10 percent, said he has "never been in an easier business."
His commercial ventures have not always gone smoothly. He used to own an export-import business, but he said that two years ago he was approached by Kazem Zamani, an Iranian national who offered him $15 million to illegally export electronic devices to Iran.
Mardirossian turned Zamani in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Iranian pleaded guilty late last year to conspiring to violate the U.S. Arms Export Control Act. But Mardirossian said the publicity ended up hurting his import business, which he liquidated.
Along with the convenience stores, Mardirossian and his brother, Armen, run the Flaming Pit, a steakhouse on Frederick Road that Jon A. Gerson, the executive director of the Gaithersburg and Upper Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, calls the "power lunch" restaurant in the area. He is also involved in construction, development and real estate businesses.
Mardirossian said he has plans to give 7-Eleven a run for its money across the country by franchising his stores nationwide. He said that about 20 calls a month are coming in from potential franchisees from as far away as California.
"The challenge of making money is what drives me," he said. And Mardirossian said his goals are simple: "We want to be the biggest company in the world."