1977 Australia’s first 7-Eleven

The first 7-Eleven convenience store opened in the Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh on 24 August and within a year there were several 7-Eleven stores trading beyond the 7 am to 11 pm suggested by the name. Along with 7-Eleven stores came the dreaded Slurpee, a brand owned by 7-Eleven and one that has spawned a whole culture of its own.

The 7-Eleven chain traces its origins back to 1927 when an employee of the Southland Ice Company in Dallas, Texas, began selling eggs, milk and bread from one of the ice house storefronts. The Southland Corporation opened several stores around Dallas which, early on, were known as Tote’m Stores.

The name was changed to 7-Eleven in 1946 and the stores traded from 7 am to 11 pm. The first 24-hour store opened in Austin, Texas, in 1963 and the first franchise operations began in 1964. The Southland Corporation had financial challenges on a number of occasions and in 1990 transferred 70 per cent of the control of the company to the Japanese affiliate Ito-Yokado. There are now more 7-Eleven stores in Japan than anywhere else in the world – around 31 per cent of the world’s total of more than 67,000 stores.

In Australia, the area licence was acquired by the Withers and Barlow families in 1976. The Withers family had been active in the grocery trade since George H Withers opened his store in South Yarra in the early 20th century. 7-Eleven grew to become one of Australia’s largest fuel and convenience retailers, with around 750 stores across Victoria, NSW, ACT, Queensland and Western Australia. The majority of stores are in metropolitan areas and the expansion of the chain was helped by the acquisition of Mobil petrol stations in 2010.

The chain has been in the public eye for all the wrong reasons since a TV program in 2015 exposed many franchisees for wage theft. An investigation by the ABC and Fairfax media found that there was systematic underpayment of wages and doctoring of payroll documentation. Employees who objected (often overseas students working illegally) were threatened with deportation. Whistleblowers alleged that head office not only turned a blind eye but actively encouraged the practice. The 7-Eleven chain has since stumped up more than $110 million in compensation to underpaid workers.

In May 2023, the Withers and Barlow families announced that the operation would be offered for sale. As of September 2023, there were no takers.

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