Sun, Feb 04, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The fledgling days of 7-Eleven in Taiwan

Despite its dominance today, the convenience store pioneer struggled after its launch in 1980, failing to make a profit until its sixth year

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Southland’s directive was to establish uniform, modern stores that would eventually replace traditional “mom-and-pop” businesses. They targeted housewives primarily and the initial stores were all located in residential areas. As its name suggests, the initial stores opened at 7am and closed at 11pm. And like its US counterparts, it sold Slurpees and other signature items.

However, Hsu noticed that due to the different nature of residential areas in the US and Taiwan, the US-mandated module was not attracting as many customers as they expected. Their prices were also higher — and Taiwanese housewives then were much more sensitive to prices than their US counterparts.

In 1981, the stores experimented with 24-hour service, but its products did not attract late night shoppers and soon reverted to its original hours. The franchising module did not work either as it was uncommon in Taiwan at that time.

Hsu wanted to localize the stores by eschewing the Western fast food for tea eggs and meat buns, but Southland objected on the grounds that it would ruin the image of the store. Hsu insisted, and tea eggs are a staple of all convenience stores today.

The store experienced massive losses, but still had the full support of management. Hsu returned to the fold after a short departure and got rid of 35 underperforming locations, mostly in residential communities. They analyzed the sales revenue from each store and were confident enough in 1983 to make one of the stores permanently 24-hours.

The evolution continued from there. As more women went to work, 7-Eleven in 1985 launched its signature series of microwavable meals. It opened stores in more visible areas and poured money into advertising, also adjusting its target market to the 18 to 35 crowd who were less sensitive to higher prices.

In 1986, six years after the initial venture, the chain made a profit for the first time. There was still a long road to climb, but 7-Eleven was the prodigal son no more.

“We can make up what we lost during those six years in a month or two now,” the late Uni-President founder Kao Ching-yuan (高清愿) said in 1995.

Today, there are 5,235 7-Elevens across the nation, and UPE just opened its first staffless store at their headquarters in Taipei on Monday.

Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.

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