Chain Store Guide Through The Ages: 1970s
This year, Chain Store Guide celebrates its 80th anniversary. In honor of this occasion, we are hosting a monthly series of editorials called “Chain Store Guide Through The Ages”, starting with the 1930s. Each month we will take a look at a different decade and review what was happening in that time and how it effected the industries we now serve. Though we started off printing paper directories, our delivery of essential business sales leads has evolved into a robust and powerful online database system used by many of the top Fortune 500 companies today.
Chain Store Guide In The ’70s
The 1970’s saw many of the trends from the previous decade carry over. Activism continued including civil rights and women’s rights. The decade brought the close of the Vietnam War with American forces pulling out in August of 1973. Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States due to the Watergate scandal. A new social cause called environmentalism started to gain popularity and the first “Earth Day” was celebrated on April 22, 1970. The baby boom had ended and the growth rate of the population was the lowest in U.S. history. In 1970 a new house cost $23,400, the average income per year was $9,350 and a gallon of gas was 36 cents.
The 1970’s began with a continuation of the hippie look from the 1960’s including bell bottoms, miniskirts, hot pants and blue jeans. During the 1970’s a large variety of clothing became popular. It was normal for women to wear pants on a daily basis. In fact, many of the styles of the decade were androgynous. Another trend for both sexes was the fitted blazer, which flared slightly at the hip. It came in a variety of fabrics, including wool, velvet, suede, and leather.
1970’s fashion included platform shoes which appeared on the fashion scene in 1971 and often had soles two to four inches thick. Both men and women wore platform shoes. Wide-legged or flared jeans and trousers were another fashion mainstay. The disco look was popular and included three-piece suits for men and rayon or jersey wrap dresses for women. By the mid-1970’s hip-huggers were gone and were replaced by the high-waist jeans and trousers with wide flared legs. These lasted until the end of the decade when the straight cigarette-leg jeans came into style.
Several top companies were founded in the 1970’s. Top men’s apparel specialty retailers The Men’s Wearhouse and Destination XL Group Inc. were founded in 1973 and 1976, respectively. Top women’s retailers Bebe Stores, Body Central, Bon Worth, Cache, Charlotte Russe, Dots and Victoria’s Secret all started in the early to mid-1970’s. Family apparel stores starting in the decade include American Eagle, Burlington Coat Factory, Fifth & Pacific Cos., Rue 21, The Marmaxx Group and Urban Outfitters Inc.
Economically, the decade of the seventies was a particularly strong extension of the sixties. Internationally, the dollar was king. Militarily, while The Soviet Union was thought to be neck and neck with the US, their respective standards of living and projections for domestic growth were almost diametrically opposed. Westerners visiting the Soviet Union often discovered long lines outside food stores and were even approached by Soviet citizens seeking charity such as an orange, soft drinks or cigarettes that may have ‘accidentally’ found their way across the border.
While the Discount/GM big box had pretty much been born in 1962 with the founding of Walmart, Kmart, Target and Shopko, the wild success and growth of these retail formats only encouraged others to try the format on for size. Thus in 1976 Costco came on board under the Price Club name, its initial location in a converted airplane hangar in San Diego.
Originally the company served only small businesses, however the company soon saw that it could reap far greater buying power by also adding select non-business members. This idea ignited the growth of the warehouse club industry. In 1983, the first Costco warehouse location was opened in Seattle. In 1993 Costco and Price Club merged under the banner PriceCostco and the rest is a very successful, innovative history.
The prosperous seventies also witnessed the birth of eventual national retail titans including large formats Bed Bath & Beyond, Michaels Stores and Hobby Lobby. The nation’s love affair with automobiles, in part as a result of a recently minted, comprehensive national highway system, was continuing to grow as witnessed by the founding of two giants of the automotive aftermarket AutoZone and Tire Kingdom.
A relatively new concept, office services, was created in 1970 with the founding of Kinko’s. Back at the start, the services pretty much were offered in the form of a copy shop. Ultimately Kinko’s was acquired by a company which coincidentally was founded a year later in 1971, on another revolutionary concept which had been scripted in a college paper and was inaugurated as Federal Express. Of course, Kinko’s is now FedEx Office.
Another distinctive, new-fangled operation began in 1976, founded by three partners, one of whom, Steve Wozniak, actually designed and hand built the kits that were to introduce the Apple 1. Few thought the company would succeed for any length of time. It almost didn’t and several times was on the ropes financially, during the next two decades. As proof of the degree of early doubt as to the company’s eventual success, the third partner who founded Apple, sold his shares in 1977 to the two Steves, Wozniak and Jobs, for $800.
No one at the time of Apple’s inception anticipated that a literally, home-grown computer manufacturer, which had emanated from such humble beginnings, would eventually redesign personal communications. Certainly no one had an inkling this manufacturer would become one of the world’s most admired retailers and one of its most profitable companies. Several other unique retail concepts were founded in the seventies. The Container Store began as a single unit retailer with just 1,600 sq. ft. of retail selling space. 1-800 FLOWERS commenced operations during the bicentennial and was one of the first retailers to offer a 24/7 toll free number to a public which then had a revolutionary, simple, stay-at-home option to give gifts to loved ones virtually anywhere in record time, long before there was a worldwide web.
As with many retailers in the country during this time, drug stores were trying to adapt to the rapidly changing needs of the customer. CVS began differentiating itself from its competition by opening small health and beauty aids stores in enclosed shopping malls. By 1974, the company achieved $100 million in annual sales, with the help of two multi unity store acquisitions – the larger being its 1972 acquisition of 84 Clinton Drug and Discount Stores. However, CVS still lagged behind industry leader Walgreens, which reached $1 billion in sales by 1975. During this time, Rite Aid’s 267 stores had spread across 10 states, and the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Also during this time, a significant technological advancement in pharmacy retailing emerged – the electronic portable digital counting device for prescription medicine. The technology was invented in Manchester, England by brothers John and Frank Kirby and patented in 1970. By 1975, it was exported to American and greatly helped to automate and increase efficiencies.
HOME & HARDWARE INDUSTRY
In the mid 1950’s, Chain Store Guide founder Irving Slobod coined the term Home Improvement Center, as colleagues sought to define the coming larger prototypes which would supplement the increasing demands on traditional hardware stores by a growing and ever more affluent population. Thus for the next two decades home centers continued to expand the dimensions of the industry, as a strong economy induced growth in building as well as remodeling.
Home Centers flourished despite a well-earned reputation for often operating as part on an old boy’s network. Expanded buying power and a large box offering a fairly total package to customers was so compelling that maximum efficiencies were not seen as paramount to the ability to rake in considerable profits.
With this in mind, The Home Depot was founded. Its four founders envisioned the efficiencies, especially in terms of buying power, which would gain major accommodations directly from manufacturers based on customer demands which could be best satisfied by a warehouse sized format.
They also carefully planned this grand, new organization to make sure that as it saved customers dollars, those savings were a direct reflection of a carefully, tightly run organization. These factors plus the ability to more thoroughly compete with pro dealers for the builder’s market, pretty much doomed many of the existing home center operators who clung to their old boy’s ways.
Also of note during the seventies was the founding of Harbor Freight Tools which created an almost big box concept to offer the full gamut of tools and devices that could satisfy the desires of any builder or do it yourselfer. Also prominent regional powers Ridout Lumber and RP Lumber were established during this decade.
By the 1970s, the world was a little more settled. The Vietnam war came to an unsatisfactory conclusion with the fall of Saigon. The hippies had gone home, and disco dominated the music and fashion scene. Women took to the streets and the halls of Congress demanding equal rights, and Richard Nixon was forced to resign in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
The 1970s were boom years for restaurant growth, with nearly 800 companies in the CSG Database debuting between 1970 and 1979. Women were an increasingly large part of the workforce during this time: According to U.S. government numbers, the participation rate of married women jumped from 27.6% in 1960 to 39.7% in 1970 up to 54.1% by 1980. Married women often have families so this movement of women into the workplace began to signal the increasing importance of quality time with their loved ones. Casual-dining chains such as Bennigan’s, Cheddar’s, Cheesecake Factory, Houlihan’s, Ruby Tuesday, and Tony Roma’s all premiered during that decade, offering consumers a relaxed, friendly atmosphere where they could congregate with family and friends over adult beverages and eat mostly American food that they didn’t have to cook themselves or clean up after.
Perhaps because of the burgeoning Subway chain, the era also saw the proliferation of sandwich chains, including Au Bon Pain, Jason’s Deli, Cousins Subs, Mr. Submarine, Port of Subs, and Potbelly Sandwich Works. There was also an increasing emphasis on ethnic food, especially from south of the border. Taco Cabana, Taco Mayo, and Taco Maker joined the growing Taco Bell chain in bringing Mexican food to the masses. Baja Cantina, Chili’s, El Toro, Hacienda Mexican Restaurants, King Taco, Mighty Taco, and others were part of the movement. Starbucks served its first cup of coffee in 1971, launching the gourmet coffee trend that continues up to today.
SUPERMARKET / GROCERY INDUSTRY
The tastes of the food consumer were changing, but not towards flavors. Shoppers began to be put off by the flashy, colorful trends of the 1960’s while wondering what the costs of these amenities might be. The backlash began with ‘discounting’ in the late 1960’s, and continued into the 70’s. Kroger introduced a new ‘superstore’ prototype in 1972 during the peak of this trend. However, a bigger shakeup was on the horizon in the world of supermarket retailing. The low-price focus and discounting trend were leading to new store formats, with warehouse concepts and outlet centers gaining steam. Perennial supermarket leader A & P was late to arrive to the discounting theme, and struggled to find its way during this time.
Don’t forget to read our Company Snapshot follow-up stories that will spotlight a company from each industry in this decade. You can read them later this month on our NewsRoom page, or by signing up to our email newsletters.
Chain Store Guide
|Read all of our Chain Store Guide Through The Ages series:|