I hope everyone got to enjoy their free slurpee this week at 7-11. On Friday July 11, (7-11!), 7-11 stores around the world gave away free slurpees for the 12th year in a row. If you missed it, there is another chance next Friday. If you did, though, make sure to thank Japan! While most Americans don’t realize it, 7-11 is a Japanese company.
It didn’t start out that way, of course. In 1927, Southland Ice Company started selling milk, eggs, and bread from one of their Dallas ice houses. Soon, the little stores that sold convenience items from ice houses became Southland’s main business, and by 1946 the stores expanded to stay open from 7 am to 11 pm - unheard of in those days!. After opening their 100th store, they opened their first 24 hour market in 1962 in Austin, Texas. Unfortunately, by the 1980s 7-11 and Southland Corporation became the victims of junk bonds, high debt, and the 1987 stock market crash. Facing bankruptcy, they found a rescuer across the pacific ocean in Japan.
Years before, 7-11 had sold its Japanese franchises to Ito-Yokado company, who built a hugely successful chain of their own 7-11s in Japan. While Wall Street viewed 7-11 as a dying brand, Ito-Yokado bought it, debt and all, and turned it around. By 2005, Ito-Yokado (now known as Seven & i Holdings) bought the rest of 7-11. Today, Japan’s Seven & i owns about 53,000 stores worldwide. Almost 16,000 of those stores are in Japan - 2,000 in Tokyo alone! The company also owns Japan’s Denny’s family restaurants as well as the Sogo and Seibu Departement stores.
Still, while you are enjoying your slurpee, you can rest assured that someone in Japan can too. After removing slurpees due to low demand in the 1980s, slurpees returned to Japanese 7-11 stores in 2011. And don’t worry if you can’t remember the name - while it might be a little dry for Americans, in Japan the name Seven & i Holdings is proudly displayed throughout the country.