1920s – The Birth of Convenience Retailing
Back in 1927, a gallon of milk cost 56 cents and ice was sold in blocks rather than bags for ice boxes. The Southland Ice Company was founded in one of Dallas, Texas' older neighborhoods known as Oak Cliff for the purpose selling ice from ice houses as well as delivering ice to homes.
Shortly after the company began operations, an enterprising Southland employee, “Uncle Johnny” Jefferson Green, began offering milk, bread and eggs from the ice house.
He quickly saw a need to carry these items for customers who were out of these everyday staples. He sold a lot of these items on Sundays and evenings when grocery stores were closed.
Realizing the possibilities of Uncle Johnny’s idea to provide customers what they wanted and when they needed it, Joe C. Thompson, Jr., one of the founders and later president and chairman of The Southland Corporation, began selling the product line at other ice-dock locations. At the time, the company had eight ice plants and 21 retail ice docks.
Thus convenience retailing was born. Southland introduced the Tote'm brand for these new convenience stores.
More and more customers caught on to this new idea, and the company increased to 60 Southland-owned retail ice docks within a decade.
1930s – The Customer Appeal Grows
Automobiles were becoming more common and needed fuel, a fact not lost on the little Dallas ice company. Southland ice docks began selling gasoline in 1928, again appealing to what the customer needed.
Customers also liked that the ice docks were built 60 feet back so they could conveniently pull in and out.
The retail ice houses attracted even more customers after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, with the sale of liquor and beer. Sales increased dramatically.
By 1936, people would come from miles to shop at the ice plant/retail shop combo that offered curb service, staples, canned goods and in season, ice-cold watermelon. Stores began to grow again after the depression.
1940s & 1950s: Toting Away Your Purchases
The company's early convenience outlets were known as Tote'm stores because customers "toted" away their purchases, and many stores even sported genuine Alaskan totem poles in front.
In 1946, the Tote'm name changed to 7‑Eleven to reflect the stores' new, extended hours of 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., seven days a week.
To promote the new operating hours, 7‑Eleven achieved another innovation – the first television advertising by any convenience store. The commercial was a combination of animation and film footage and featured a singing owl and rooster. The commercial first ran in 1949. Watch the television commercial.
As convenience stores grew in the 1950s, the retail outlets then served as the “mom-and-pop” neighborhood grocery store, the “ice-house,” the dairy store, the supermarket and the delicatessen all in one location.
At this time, 7‑Eleven stores opened in other parts of Texas for the first time. In 1952, the 100th store opened in Texas.
Shortly after that, 7‑Eleven expanded across state lines. In 1954, the first store opened outside of Texas in Florida. In 1958, the first cold weather store opened in the Northeast (Virginia). Maryland and Pennsylvania followed, and soon 7‑Eleven was operating hundreds of stores across the country.
1960s & 1970s – Expanding Around the Globe
By the end of 1969, 7‑Eleven was known for Slurpee drinks and our new “Oh Thank Heaven for 7‑Eleven” advertising campaign.
During the late 1960s and the 1970s, 7‑Eleven saw incredible growth – passing 3,500 stores in the United States. Some of the growth was accomplished when 7‑Eleven entered the franchising business with the purchase of 127 franchised California Speedee Marts in 1963.
In 1969, we began expanding internationally. The first Canadian store opened in Calgary.
The company then went south to open the first 7‑Eleven store in Mexico in 1971. In the same year, the first European stores opened in England and Scotland. Fueled by this expansion, 7‑Eleven reached a notable milestone – a $1,000,000,000 sales year.
In 1974, the company reached its 5,000th-store milestone, and continued its international expansion overseas in Japan.
1960s – A Drink Revolution
Having a long and unique history, the Slurpee® drink created another reason for customers to come to 7‑Eleven, and come back often. The sensational semi-frozen carbonated beverage was originally introduced as “Icee” in 1965 and later re-launched as a Slurpee drink by 7‑Eleven’s ad agency.
The drink’s appeal gave 7‑Eleven the opportunity to advertise and promote a product like never before at more than 1,500 stores.
Since introduced in 1966, close to 6.5 billion Slurpee drinks have been sold.
Giving customers another take on a popular drink – coffee – 7‑Eleven added to our already impressive list of retail firsts. 7‑Eleven introduced the world to coffee-to-go.
The first cup of coffee ever sold in a to-go cup was sold in Long Island, N.Y. in 1964. This idea was a hit with customers, and 7‑Eleven has since offered customers quick and easy ways to serve themselves their favorite drinks, the way they like it.
1963 – Creating a Chain Reaction
With increased ownership of automobiles, the auto industry grew rapidly. As driving became more and more popular, the demand for convenient shopping also grew.
Convenience stores began establishing themselves in new suburbs and areas too small to support a supermarket. 7‑Eleven capitalized on this idea and grew to 1,000 stores by 1963.
In the same year, one 7‑Eleven store in Austin, Texas, located close to the University of Texas, stayed so busy after a football game, it couldn’t close. The store just remained open. That night was so successful the store began staying open 24 hours every weekend. Soon other 7‑Eleven stores followed suit, staying open around the clock.
This is another innovation by 7‑Eleven – we were the first retail store to operate 24 hours a day.
1970s & 1980s – Self-Service Transformed the Convenience Industry
As work routines and leisure lives continued to change, self-service was key in the changing needs of time-pressed customers. Beginning in the 1970s, self-serve gasoline came to growing 7‑Eleven convenience store locations.
Several little inventions and machines, like the counter-top microwave oven, self-serve soda fountain and roller grill, created new quick- and self-service merchandising opportunities. These conveniences gave 7‑Eleven the Big Gulp® fountain drink and Big Bite® hot dog. 7‑Eleven was the first convenience store to have a self-serve soda fountain, a fact that was promoted in television advertising. Watch the television commercial.
When the 32-ounce Big Gulp® drink was introduced in 1976, it was the biggest fountain soft drink on the market. Twelve years later, 7‑Eleven introduced the giant 64-ounce Double Gulp® beverage, at that time one of the biggest fountain soft drinks on the market.
In 1984, ATMs were introduced to 7‑Eleven stores.
These conveniences quickly became popular in other countries, as well. 7‑Eleven stores opened in Australia, Sweden, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Guam, Malaysia and the Philippines in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The numbers of International outlets at this time were some 2,500 stores.
In 1979, 7‑Eleven reached $1,000,000,000 in sales in a single quarter.
1990s & 2000s – Delivering Only the Best
With people working more and spending less time at home, customers’’ expectations began to change. Choices broadened, and consumers demanded not only speed and ease of service, but also variety, quality and value. In response to the 1990s’ cultural shift to a healthier lifestyle, 7‑Eleven built an infrastructure to support fresh food products delivered daily, even on holidays, at its 15,000 stores.
The company’s exclusive and intricate logistics system enabled stores to receive combined deliveries of high quality, “freshness-sensitive” products daily reducing the number of deliveries its stores must accept.
With a new logistics system in place, the company began to offer fresh, proprietary products like Café Select® coffees, Deli Central™ sandwiches, World Ovens® pastry bakery items, and the Café Cooler™ frozen cappuccinos, entering the fresh food-to-go market.
Another first for 7‑Eleven: the first convenience store to sell pre-paid phone cards.
In the early 2000s, 7‑Eleven focused on bringing this value to the customer and grew to 25,000 stores around the time the company celebrated its 75th anniversary.
Since its inception, 7‑Eleven has banked not on just one great idea, but many to remain successful.
Recently, with the budget-conscious customer in mind, 7‑Eleven was one of the first convenience retailers to offer its private brands, 7-Select™ and 7‑Eleven, for more than 300 food and non-food items.
Today – Where It All Began and Continues Today
The original 7‑Eleven store/ice dock, although rebuilt a few times, remained open at its original birthplace in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas until 1995. Still headquartered in its birthplace city, 7‑Eleven remains an active member of the Dallas community.
In 2011, 7‑Eleven celebrated the 40,000th store-opening milestone. In early 2013, store number 50,000 opened. The fast-paced expansion is fueled through acquisitions, often hundreds of locations at a time, and through franchising. 7‑Eleven has been recognized as a global leader in franchise opportunities.
Through 86 years in business, 7‑Eleven’s mission is still to serve its customers at its more than 50,900 stores around the world.
You’ll continue to find the staples, fresh sandwiches, new-age beverages, and the product that started it all – ice – but now in a convenient-to-carry package for home entertainment.
Our doors are always open, and our friendly store teams are ready to serve you. Come in to any 7‑Eleven store and you’ll find a broad selection of fresh, high-quality products at an everyday fair price, along with speedy transactions in a clean and friendly shopping environment.