7-Eleven- The Beginning of the Convenience Store

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Even the largest companies started as small startups with not much more than a dream and a few dollars in their pocket. Sound familiar? Today, we look at 7-Eleven, a small business startup and how they went from a startup to the largest operator of franchised convenience stores in the world.

When we’re first starting out, it’s hard to see much beyond tomorrow. How will the bills be paid? How will we find the time to expand when simply keeping things afloat is part of the day to day operations? You aren’t alone. Even the largest companies went through that phase.

You’ve certainly heard of 7-Eleven. 7-Eleven is now the largest operator of franchised convenience stores in the world but they started as something much smaller: An ice maker in Dallas, Texas.

Joe Thompson worked as a manager at the Southland Ice Company in 1927. At the time there were stores that were operating as general stores but in Texas, getting to these stores was often a lengthy endeavor. Thompson had the idea of selling bread, milk, and eggs from one of the loading docks at the Ice making plant. This was largely convenient because he could use the ice already present to keep the milk and eggs at the proper temperature. This small little business startup was born.

This idea took off and Thompson ended up purchasing the Southland Ice Company and transforming it in to the Southland Corporation which managed “convenience” stores all around the Dallas area. He also did something that was unheard of at the time: He kept his stores open for a larger part of the day: 7:00AM to 11:00PM. For this reason, he called the stores, “7-Eleven”. By 1952 7-Eleven had opened its 100th store and was incorporated in 1961.

In 1962, he experimented with  24 hour stores and by 1963, 24 hour stores were opened in the Texas area. From 1963 to 1981 7-Eleven continued to grow but in 1981, they ran in to financial difficulties, eventually filing for bankruptcy and being rescued by a Japanese franchisee. Then, John Philip Thompson bought out the company that his father founded only to fall victim to the 1987 stock market crash.

The company was forced to sell bonds to interested investors and in 1991, a Japanese company gained a controlling interest in the company.

If you’re a small business startup owner, what can you learn from the story of 7-Eleven? First, entrepreneurs come from somebody with a great idea. You don’t need a lot of training and college degrees to be the next innovator. Next, have a unique selling point. 7-Eleven had a unique selling point: They were open much longer than other stores of their time and eventually, they had 24 hour locations. If you want to compete, make sure that you’re unique in some way.

Finally, every business, no matter how established, will go through hills and valleys. 7-Eleven was the inventor of the modern convenience store from the late 1920s to the 1980s. Then they went through tough times and as a result, innovation resulted in a rebirth.

There’s one more piece of the story about the once small business startup: In 2007 7-Eleven announced the opening of 1,000 new stores worldwide. After those tough times, 7-Eleven is once again back to being the best known and the largest operator of convenience stores all over the world.