The Allsup’s story is truly one of achieving the American Dream of success through nothing more than hard work and vision. Lonnie and Barbara Allsup grew up in the small town of Morton, Texas. High school sweethearts, they were married in 1950. After a few years in college, and a commitment to the Air Force, Lonnie was discharged and ready to begin a career in the grocery business. He acted on an opportunity to buy a small “drive-in” grocery in Roswell, New Mexico in 1956. As the predecessor of the modern day convenience store, a drive-in was open later hours and seven days a week. It was fully stocked and well lit and served a neighborhood. In addition to staple convenience store goods such as bread, milk and cigarettes, there was a large display of fresh fruit in season and a large display of soft drinks. Customers could even pick up cold watermelons on ice from a horse-watering tank in the parking lot! Lonnie and Barbara both worked in the store from opening to closing each day. Lonnie’s Drive-in, as it was named, had an open front, meaning the glass front of the building slid open like a garage and merchandise was even displayed on the porch! Once inside, shoppers discovered that the store was exceptionally clean and efficiently laid out so that you could get in and out of the store quickly. Click here to read more.
Even in that first store, the founders had a vision that prepared hot foods would sell in a drive-in. Every day they prepared rotisserie chickens and ribs, spicy linked sausage and fresh made donuts. The store was a huge hit, and Lonnie’s knack for high-energy promotion and Barbara’s ability to manage accounting systems and cash flow made them a very effective team. Capitalizing on an opportunity to buy a second store in 1958, and a third store the following year, their business was rapidly growing.
By 1964, with two sons and twelve stores located in three towns, the Allsup family accepted an offer to sell their chain to Southland Corporation (7-Eleven). Terms of the sale restricted the Allsups from operating stores that would directly compete with Southland for ten years prompting a move to Clovis, New Mexico. There they began again with one store - this time as Allsup’s Convenience Store. The Allsup family quickly became known in their new hometown, and benefited from a reputation of over-delivering on any promise they made, promoting their business vigorously, and being very active in the community. That involvement included church functions, YMCA, Little League and many other activities. It did not take long for them to get back to twelve stores and beyond. They continued to center their business model on the hot prepared foods that were so very popular and always experimented with new items. Icee, the frozen drink, was a huge success. Cotton candy, on the other hand did not do so well!
By 1967, in the Allsup’s trade area, no one had ever experienced self-serve gasoline. The Allsups, always up to a challenge, decided to try it out. One unplanned obstacle was that drivers did not know how to fuel their own cars, so the education process began while gas station operators laughed at the ridiculous idea that people would ever fuel their own cars. Imagine that!
The Allsup’s model proved successful, and growth was rapid. The stores were open 24 hours a day; all stores had self-serve fuel and hot prepared foods, including a brand new item, the fried burrito. Allsup’s had expanded their drink selection to include fountain drinks which proved so popular that it was taking all of the clerks’ time to make the drinks. As another industry innovation, to solve that problem, they simply turned the drink machine around so the customer could make their own. The self-serve fountain drink, one of the first in the country, became wildly popular, and the Tallsup and burrito became the combo of choice.
Allsup’s had grown to 100 stores by 1977 and the Allsup’s Burrito, self-serve fountain drinks, and gasoline provided the horsepower. With such success came many challenges for accounting systems, personnel policies and procedures, and logistics. Barbara was always able to develop whatever it took to keep the growth engine fed. She committed early on to the information and efficiencies that could be achieved through automation and invested heavily in computers and software. Having excellent relationships with banks, landlords, and suppliers, they grew to become the 35th largest chain of convenience stores in the world- a long way from that single Lonnie’s Drive-in on 2nd Street in Roswell, NM.
Today, Allsup’s is still owned and operated by its founders, Lonnie and Barbara Allsup. With over 300 stores in 160 towns and cities, some things have changed, but the basic formula of convenience, new products, and good systems has not changed. Lonnie and Barbara still come to work every day, planning and overseeing their far-flung operation, and are supported in their efforts by a professional corporate management team and 3000 loyal store employees, many of whom have been with the company for 20 years or more. Allsup’s employees don’t work for a huge corporation - they work for Lonnie and Barbara. Lonnie and Barbara both speak of loyalty – loyalty of company to employee and employee to company. They believe this “family feeling” will remain the foundation, and in fact, will be the launching pad for the future of Allsup’s Convenience Stores. If not now, there soon will be “One Near You.”
Recently Allsup’s has undertaken a very aggressive new store and remodeling program. In the 4th quarter of 2011 alone, the company will complete the remodeling of twenty-five stores. Lonnie and his team are also actively scouting our trade area for new properties and opportunities. To support the rapid growth of the company, Barbara and her team are building the accounting and information processing structures necessary to keep the company on sound footing financially as well as operationally. High on her list of priorities are implementing a network infrastructure that will insure the privacy of our customers’ data and identities as well as support the rapid exchange of information between the corporate office and retail management. Other projects include new systems to improve upon an extensive and growing gasoline supply chain, implementation of new internet services to support marketing, merchandising and customer interaction, a new proprietary POS system and an expansion of the corporate headquarters in Clovis to accommodate the growing “family” of Allsup’s employees.
Don’t be surprised if Allsup’s comes up with other innovations in the convenience store industry in the coming years. If the past is any indication – you can count on it!
And that burrito? Well, it is now world-famous!