The 1960’s saw two major developments in the history of 7-Eleven and its parent, the Southland Corporation. The first was a continuation of the company’s rapid geographical expansion, which would result in 7-Eleven becoming a virtual nationwide presence by the end of the decade. The second was the 1967 introduction of the company’s signature product, the Slurpee.
In March 1964, Southland made what would probably be its most important single acquisition, the 100-store Speedee Mart chain, with stores in all of the key markets in California. With this purchase, Southland not only picked up a solidly managed operation in the country’s most dynamic markets, it gained a crucial foothold in the field of franchising. Speedee Mart was a successful franchise-based operation. In the coming years, franchising would serve as rocket fuel for Southland’s expansion plans. For a couple of years after buying out Speedee Mart, Southland would maintain the Speedee Mart name, augmented with 7-Eleven’s logo.
7-Eleven entered the Chicago market in 1965, and within two years had 14 stores in the area. The following year, they acquired the 86-store handy-Pantry chain in Georgia and Tennessee, and in 1968 they bought out Gristede’s, an upscale chain of 115 small grocery stores in the metro New York area. Not long afterward, the company would add the New England, Detroit and Buffalo markets as well. Southland also bought out a number of prominent local dairies in the 60’s as well, both to supply dairy products to the 7-Eleven stores and in some cases, home delivery. These dairies included Wanzer’s in Chicago, Adohr Farms in California, Midwest Farms (multiple Midwest locations), Velda Farms in Florida and Embassy Dairies in DC.
Look carefully at the first photo, which dates from 1965, and you’ll see that the drinks the kids are enjoying are in fact not Slurpees but Icees, an independently owned frozen drink that’s been around since 1959 (and until very recently was sold in cups of the exact same design as those pictured). In 1965, Southland launched a test in three stores utilizing a new and fairly expensive piece of equipment, the Mitchell frozen drink machine. The test far surpassed the company’s expectations, and plans were quickly laid in place to install machines in 100 more stores, followed by the green light to implement them chain-wide in all of the chain’s stores. It was determined that a slightly different process (using the Taylor frozen machines) and an exclusive brand name was needed to firmly link the new frozen drinks with 7-Eleven in consumers’ minds, and thus the Slurpee was born (One might assume that from that point forward, Icees were forevermore banned from 7-Eleven premises, but in fact the Icee machines were used in a number of their stores for several more years).
A huge success, the Slurpee proved that if a company can effectively appeal to the kids’ market, then more often than not their parents are locked in as well. McDonald’s would realize this on an even larger scale with introduction of the “Happy Meal” twelve years later. Another benefit 7-Eleven gained from the Slurpee was a multitude of packaging and promotional possibilities (which were also areas McDonald’s would later excel in with the Happy Meal), mostly revolving around collectors’ cup designs, which my friends and I treated like gold - Baseball Tradin’ Cups, Superhero Tradin’ Cups, Star Wars and even Rock Group Tradin’ Cups (my brother had a J. Geils Band tradin’ cup, which looked pretty nasty after a year of dishwashing, trust me). For a couple of years we lived close to a 7-Eleven in Arlington Heights, IL where my brother and I stopped in on a near-daily basis.
In later years, 7-Eleven would tilt the scales back toward more adult tastes by heavily promoting a new line of gourmet coffee. A few years ago, my childhood 7-Eleven experience was repeated in a strange way. I was working with a customer in Long Island, New York, for which I had to fly in for meetings every few months over the course of a year. We would start the meetings about 8am. Invariably, about an hour into the meeting, regardless of the importance of the topic being discussed or who else was there, the main guy would stand up and say “This coffee’s crap, let’s go to the Sev”. Of course, we would all load up into his car and drive the few blocks to the friendly local 7-Eleven (I’ve called them “The Sev” ever since) where I admit the coffee wasn’t bad at all. I didn’t save the cups this time, however.
The second photo is an interior from 1964, the third an exterior from the following year.