At one time, this chain had nearly 700 stores in the south-central United States and as far away as Hawaii and Guam. At the time the chain died, its headquarters were here in Dodge City.
Prior to 1936, when Herbert “Herb” R. and Belva Gibson opened the Gibson Novelty Company in Abilene, Texas, Herb had worked in a variety of occupations, including streetcar conductor, professional wrestler, barber, and carnival barker.
The Great Depression had not been kind to Herb. In 1929 it was worth around $40,000, which is well over half a million in today’s money. When the Gibsons opened their wholesale business seven years later, Herb had only $300 and a “decent” car.
The business environment during the Depression was poor and Herb Gibson did not follow a straight line to victory.
But after some ups and downs, the company was successful.
At first the company focused on novelty items, but Herb, being a former barber, began selling mainly beauty and hairdressing supplies and he renamed it the Gibson Products Company.
At the time, the demand for small, inexpensive everyday objects was strong. In addition to hairbrushes, combs and hair oil, Gibson sold its well-known razor blades.
His business depended on a small army of salesmen who fanned out across the countryside in their cars and trucks to wholesale his products to other businesses.
In 1958, the company had 34 warehouses.
In 1960, after seeing declining sales, the Gibsons moved into discount retail and opened the first Gibson’s Discount Center in Abilene. All warehouses were eventually turned into remittance centers.
In 1968, when Gibson’s headquarters moved to Seagoville, Texas, 434 stores brought in $2 billion in sales. Gibson’s official slogan was “Where you buy the best for less”.
In 1972, Herbert Gibson passed the business on to his sons Herbert Jr. and Gerald. After his sons took over the business, Herbert Gibson commissioned a book about himself “This Man Gibson” in 1974.
This item was to be stocked at all Gibson stores.
The chain continued to grow, and at its peak in 1978 had 684 stores. Unfortunately, many franchisees soon began to give up and the company faced legal issues.
The largest franchisees, Pamida, Inc., ceased as Gibson’s and continued as Pamida.
The worst business decision Herb Gibson made was refusing to franchise Sam Walton in 1961.
In response, Walton launched Wal-Mart; the nation’s most successful discount retailer and one of the competitors that ultimately led to the demise of the Gibson chain of stores.
In 1984 the chain was sold to Gary Chaffin who owned it for eight years before selling it to new owners who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1996. Chaffin bought the chain back in 1999.
When Chaffin first owned the company, he moved his headquarters to Dodge City. Meanwhile, founder Herb Gibson died aged 86 in 1986.
When the chain closed in 2003, there were only 17 stores left. One was in Dodge City on Central Avenue in the building occupied by Tractor Supply.
Today, only two separately owned discount stores in Texas bear the Gibson name – one in Kerrville and the other in Weatherford.
When the Dodge City store closed, an independent pharmacy remained at the store’s location. It still bears the Gibson name but is now in a new building down the street.
Herb Gibson’s photo is from a blog by former Gibson employee Greg Riley.