7-Eleven becomes biggest retail chain by serving the forgetful (1977)
Milton Moskowitz in the Tampa Times (Florida) February 9, 1977
Which retail chain has more units in the United States than any other? The answer is neither Safeway, nor A & P, the two largest operators of supermarkets. Each has more than 2,000 stores bearing their flags.
The answer is not Sears, Roebuck, the world’s largest retailer in terms of dollar sales volume. Sears has nearly 900 stores across the country. The answer is not J.C. Penney, which is second to Sears as a general merchandise retailer. Penney runs about 1,650 stores.
And the answer is not S.S. Kresge, whose network of K-mart discount houses has made it the fastest-growing company among the giants of retailing. There are now some 1,200 K-marts in the nation.
No, the correct answer to this quiz is the Southland Corporation of Dallas. Southland operates or franchises the 7-Eleven convenience stores. There are now 6,000 of these units, more food outlets than Safeway and A & P combined.
The 7-Eleven phenomenon is a creature of our times —and in light of what it does dispense, it may be a misnomer to call it a food outlet. It’s the store for people who forgot to stock up with cigarettes at the supermarket.
At a typical 7-Eleven, cigarettes account for 16 percent of purchases. It’s the store for people who need to pick up a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine. Beer and wine represent 15 percent of dollar volume.
Or it’s the store for people who are buying paper cups, toilet paper and other non-food items such as razor blades, soap and Tampax. That accounts for another 18 percent of purchases. In short, at least half the items bought at a 7-Eleven are not food at all.
Beyond that, many 7-Elevens have spits or grills to dispense “Hot to Go” foods. And more than 10 percent of 7-Elevens now have a self-service gasoline pump.
It all adds up to a volume of about $1.6 billion a year, which makes the 7-Eleven operation bigger than the Grand Union supermarket chain or the R.H. Macy department store system.
Southland Corporation itself is a mixture that goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. While it’s running these thousands of mini-markets where kids buy Slurpees and potato chips and adults pick up a pack of Marlboro and a carton of milk, it also serves the carriage trade on New York’s upper East Side through its ownership of the Gristede markets and the Charles & Co. gourmet shops.
One way to look at the 7-Eleven phenomenon is as a revolt against the supermarket. People certainly don’t shop at a 7-Eleven to save money. They do shop there to save time — who wants to go to a supermarket to buy a pack of cigarettes?
They also shop there because the 7-Eleven may be open when other stores are not. The name, “7-Eleven,” does not refer to craps, but to the fact that the stores were originally open from 7 am to 11 pm. Today, well over half the 7-Elevens are open 24 hours a day. And the average 7-Eleven unit does one-third of its total business on weekends.
What else is different about a 7-Eleven convenience store? The customer mix. Southland’s figures show that 68 percent of all its customers are male. And 19 percent are children and teenagers.
This is not the place for serious shoppers. The average customer purchase is $1.40, and half the customers spend less than three minutes in the store. Try to do that in a supermarket.
The history of 7-Eleven stores
Excerpted from parent company Southland’s 1986 Annual Report
In 1927, an employee of The Southland Ice Company answered the requests of his customers by selling bread, milk and eggs from the steps of his ice dock.
1928: Gasoline was first sold at a convenience store only 25 years after the birth of the Model A. Southland built and leased gasoline kiosks to oil companies at 10 of its “Tote’m” stores.
1936: Opening its own dairy was a natural step for Southland when it became the largest seller of milk products in north Texas. Oak Farms was the first of the Company’s 10 regional dairies…
With that simple idea — giving customers what they want, when they want it — “Uncle” Johnny Green began a 60-year tradition of customer service and innovation that remains the driving force of Southland’s 8,700 7-Eleven stores and other retail units. Southland has never been content to do things “because that’s the way things have always been done.”
Instead, as the founder of the convenience store industry, it has led in the development of hundreds of new products and services — around-the-clock operating hours, self-serve gasoline, dairy products and sandwiches from its own subsidiaries, automatic teller machines, and of course “Slurpee,” just to name a few.
These innovations and millions of satisfied customers have allowed Southland to build one of the strongest and most geographically diverse store bases in the history of retailing. The Company’s superior understanding of the marketplace provides a strong foundation for another 60 years of profitable growth and service to its customers.
The history of 7-Eleven is remarkable, not only for its dramatic and profitable growth from the steps of a humble ice dock, but also for the creativity and even humor that it has brought to the marketplace.
New ideas and the ability to stay on the leading edge of trends have made 7-Eleven an integral part of the American lifestyle.
But 7-Eleven hasn’t been content just to innovate. Some of its brightest moments came when it also entertained or set out to startle its customers with bold new imagery — from the large colorful totem poles in front of the original “Tote’m” stores, the world’s first retail pole signs … to the award-winning 1962 commercials featuring two talking watermelon seeds held captive deep inside an ice-cold 7-Eleven melon … to 7-Eleven’s gravelly-voiced radio announcer Y. Y. Wickie, who explains how he invented this “‘cold stuff’ called ice.”
How do you keep almost eight million customers a day happy and corning hack for more? You never lose sight of what makes 7-Eleven successful — providing the best service to its customers in the most efficient way possible. This emphasis on service produces a profitable, growing company, which in turn creates added value for its shareholders.
Southland remains committed not only to anticipating and meeting the needs and expectations of its customers, but also to exceeding them whenever possible — just as it has been doing for 60 years.
The first 7-Eleven logo (1946)
1946: “7-Eleven” first appeared as the name for all retail units owned by Southland, and the modern convenience store era began. The name, emblazoned on a lucky four-leaf clover, heralded the stores’ 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. operating hours, a completely new idea in customer service.
See some vintage 7-Eleven stores in the 1970s
Slurpees & candy: Every kid’s dream
Luv-It paper products – paper towels, napkins & toilet paper
Vintage 7-Eleven stores in the 80s
Movie Quik movie rental section
Some 7-11s had VHS movie rentals available 24 hours a day.
In Back to the Future III, Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) explained his shooting skills…
Some of the snacks & fast food at vintage 7-Elevens
Retro chips & snacks, including fried pork skins & vintage toasted corn Doritos
The old Deli Central Marketplace
Breakfast sandwiches, personal pizzas, grilled sandwiches & hot dogs