Happy Birthday, Self-Serve Gas

An innovation introduced on June 10, 1964, forever changed fueling.
June 11, 2018

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Today more than 123,000 U.S. convenience stores sell fuel, and self-serve is available in 48 states. But back in 1964, allowing customers to pump their own gas was unheard of, and also was prohibited in most of the country because of state fire codes. Self-serve visionary John Roscoe changed all that when he added remote fueling to one of his Big Top c-stores in Westminster, Colorado, more than 50 years ago.

Roscoe’s stores with self-serve were soon selling an average 4,500 gallons per week. By making the investment in remote fueling, “we effectively got the gasoline business from full-serve gas stations without their labor expenses,” he said. “If you could sell 1,000 gallons of gasoline with a 10-cents-a-gallon margin, you could double your margin without adding much to your expenses.” As state regulations changed and Roscoe’s success caught the attention of others in the industry, self-service became more widely accepted among c-store operators.

Not all were immediately won over, however. “Some convenience store owners thought it was ridiculous, that no one would want to pump their own gas,” said Fred Lowder, who co-owned the Jiffy c-store chain with his father. But as it turns out, cost-conscious customers loved the idea from the start and flocked to c-stores for fill-ups.

There also was the concern about losing store traffic. “Some people thought it was a stupid idea because customers wouldn’t go inside the store anymore, and in-store sales would drop,” said Scott Negley, director of global produce management for Wayne. “But what they found was the opposite: Sales went up because the experience inside the store was better without gas-only customers clogging up the line.”

Fast forward a half-century, and the self-service world continues to evolve. To learn more, read the NACS story about how remote fueling transformed the retail landscape, and watch a video of self-serve pioneer John Roscoe sharing his insights.