[Editor note: This post completes a four-part history of the rise of self-service filling stations in the United States. Part I examined the discovery and early regulation of this new marketing strategy; Part II covered 1947–51; Part III reviewed the period 1950–70).]
“Government intervention unintentionally promoted self-service. The gasoline shortage of 1974 educated motorists to serve themselves to reduce waiting in line, and the seller’s market deteriorated the quality of service. Regulatory minimum wage and overtime pay scales, which had been steady for years, jumped 25 percent in 1974 and covered more stations.”
Prior to regulation under the Economic Stabilization Act and the Emergency Petroleum Allocation Act (1973–81), independent gasoline retailers were foiling the ambitious expansion plans of the majors with their low-cost service and discount prices. Central to this success was self-service. …
“In the late 1960s, Mobil, Humble, Sun, Texaco, and Cities Service began self-serve experiments. A reason behind the move to (capital-intensive) self-serve marketing by majors was the increasing cost of labor from the manpower drain of the Vietnam War and minimum wage and hour regulations.”
“More and more self-service bans were being challenged; five had been rescinded in 1968, and maverick dealers were converting to self-serve in illegal states to dare a court suit. By 1970, it was just a matter of time before motorists had the self-serve option coast to coast.”
In the 1950s, independent marketers of privately branded gasoline effectively competed against high quality, well advertised major brands by offering lower prices and maintaining high-volume, low-cost operations. It was the independent that popularized the tracksider, self-service, multi-bay pumps, and, now, premiums. …
“Compared to established dealers, self-serves offered price discounts, high volume (self-serves were the first multi-pump stations), novelty, convenience (generally 24 hours), reduced wait (averaging 2 minutes per car), safety (automatic shut-off nozzles, enforced rules), attractive and spacious layout, and glamor (roving female cashiers).”
In 1930, as described in yesterday’s post, a new form of competition arose wherein the motorist got out of the vehicle to self-served and received a lower price for gasoline or diesel. Protest from established dealers, in alliance with local fire marshals, however, led to municipal ordinances to hamper self-serves.
A promising form of low-cost gasoline marketing, rivaling the discounts of tracksiders (stations selling discounted gasoline obtained directly from tank cars at railroad crossings) was postponed.
California … and the Nation
On May 1, 1947, a large self-service operation opened in California that received wide publicity and reawakened entrepreneurs to this particular form of discounting.…