Before there were the nationwide chain stores like Kmart, Target, Wal-Mart and various others, there was a chain of stores known as Gibson’s Discount Centers. Gibson’s was founded by Herbert R. and Belva Gibson. The couple exemplified an American dream of starting small and building a national business.
Herbert was born in 1901 in Arkansas. He was the son of William Thomas Gibson and the former Flora Belle Tanner. The Gibson family were farmers. Herbert was the third of six children who lived to adulthood. William Thomas had been born during the Civil War and appears to have died at around the age of 70 at some time between 1930 and 1940.
Herbert had first married Dalta May Nicks in 1921 and the couple had one daughter, Pauline “Polly” Gibson in the fall of 1930. At some point the relationship was dissolved and Herbert married Belva G. Acklin Robertson in 1934. Belva had also previously been married to a Merlin Robertson and brought to the family a daughter named Mary Frances. In 1940, the Gibsons were living in the Lakewood section of Dallas. The blended family consisted of Herbert and Belva, Mary Francis and the three sons of Belva and Herbert, Herbert Jr., Richard and Joe. Herbert’s job or profession was listed as proprietor but his business was unknown. Polly was still living with her mother back in Arkansas.
Herbert was said to have had a 7th grade education, but he was industrious. At various times, the family legend says, he had been a street car conductor, a barber and had held many other jobs, but he had survived the Great Depression. One of his early companies was called Gibson Products Company and the last version of the enterprise before he opened is first Gibson’s Discount Store was a wholesale operation selling small everyday consumables wholesale through a network of representatives and had 34 warehouses. He opened his first retail store in Abilene, Texas in 1958 and eventually the warehouses became part of the early retail operation. By 1968, the headquarters were moved to Seagoville, Texas and retail outlets numbered 434 stores, some of which were franchised and some were company owned. By the 1970s, the stores peaked out at about 684 outlets.
Gibson’s merchandise was geared to appeal to middle income customers, with most of the individual items selling for $25 or less in the 1970s. The main office approved the qualified list of merchandise suppliers to keep the quality consistent and to utilize bulk purchasing economies, although the stores could go outside the company network, on a limited basis. Various members of the Gibson family, including primarily Herbert Gibson, Jr., were involved in running the company.
There is a widely circulated story that Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, once sought an audience with Herbert Gibson, Sr. in 1961 to obtain a Gibson’s franchise, but Gibson is said to have declined Walton’s offer to become a franchisee. Walton, also from humble beginnings, had been operating several dozen Ben Franklin stores at the time and went on to open his first Wal-Mart store the next year.
Late in the 1970s, competition from other chains began to erode Gibson’s share of the market with the appearance of early Wal-Mart stores and others. Herbert Gibson, Sr. retired and passed away in Dallas on February 25, 1986, two years after the company was sold. Then the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1996. Only a handful of independent stores remain today.
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