Thanks to Tim Manners of Reveries for a heads-up on this article by Elizabeth Esfahani in Business 2.0. Convenience store chain 7-Eleven is joining retail powerhouses like Zara is engaging its store employees in figuring out how to delight customers. The latest technology helps managers customize their inventory for their most loyal customers and 'team merchandising' brings in small manufacturers to help 7-Eleven create its own products from candy to 'coffee wipes.'
As it happens, 7-Eleven has an underappreciated history of innovation dating back almost 80 years. In 1927 it invented the concept of convenience stores, when an employee at Southland Ice in Dallas started selling milk, eggs, and other sundries to customers dropping by to replenish their iceboxes. Recognizing that refrigerators would soon kill Southland's ice business, president Joe C. Thompson moved to capitalize on demand for convenience by opening a chain of stores that would stay open from 7 a.m to 11 p.m. The concept was an instant hit. By 1980, 7-Eleven had more than 6,000 outlets and had pioneered other ideas that are now commonplace, like 24-hour service and coffee to go.