Thursday, February 11, 2010

“The Finch – Part Three”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: What follows here is not completely true. However, it is guaranteed to be informative and entertaining.

Late last year, I was encouraged to re-open the old Thompson Center Market by members of the Ledge-Geauga Leadership Council. This proposition came through Ezekiel Byler-Gregg, Editor-in-Chief of the Burton Daily Bugle.

They thought that I would be able to accomplish this feat because of my background as a retail manager in the county.

The resurrected store would be named ‘Tiny Finch.’

After considering this unlikely idea, and touring the empty store location, I began to research the grocery business itself. My hope was that studying the industry might help in deciding whether to pursue this local venture.

The journey began with a corporate history of A & P:

“Nearly 150 years ago, The Great American Tea Company opened a store on Vesey Street in New York City and began selling tea, coffee and spices at value prices. (The company was founded in 1859 by George Huntington Hartford and George Gilman.) Soon stores sprung up all around the metropolitan area and salesmen took their wares to the road in horse-drawn carriages bound for New England, the mid-west and the south. In 1869 the Company was renamed the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, in honor of the first transcontinental railroad and hopes of expanding across the continent. A&P did extend its operations to the West Coast and became the first national supermarket chain in the United States. In 1880, A&P introduced the first private label product - baking powder. As the Company grew, private manufacturing became an important aspect of its business and by the 1920s, A&P had opened its own factory, packing plant and bakery with private brands such as Sunnyfield (bacon, butter, flour and cereals) and Sultana (canned goods, peanut butter and jams). A&P attributes much of its early customer recognition to its advertising and promotional activities. It launched the original customer-loyalty program in the late 1800s with premiums and savings coupons.”

The adventure in print continued with a look at the evolution of Kroger:

“In 1883, Barney Kroger invested his life savings of $372 to open a grocery store at 66 Pearl Street in downtown Cincinnati. The son of a merchant, he ran his business with a simple motto: ‘Be particular. Never sell anything you would not want yourself.’ Many aspects of the company’s business today trace their roots to Mr. Kroger’s early efforts to serve his customers. In the early 1900s, most grocers bought their bread from independent bakeries. But Mr. Kroger, always pursuing quality as the key ingredient for profit, recognized that if he baked his own bread, he could reduce the price for his customers and still make money. So he became the first grocer in the country to establish his own bakeries. He was also the first to sell meats and groceries under one roof. Mr. Kroger also spied the promise of increasing his income by manufacturing the products he sold. It began in that first Kroger store on Pearl St. When farmers came to town with their produce, he bought far more cabbage than he could expect his customers to buy. He took the cabbage home to his mother who, following her favorite recipe, turned it into tangy sauerkraut that proved hugely popular with his German customers. The manufacturing effort born in that back room was the beginning of what is today one of the largest food manufacturing businesses in America. Kroger operates 40 food processing facilities that make thousands of products ranging from bread, cookies and milk to soda pop, ice cream and peanut butter. Nearly half of the 14,400 private-label items found in the company’s stores today are made at one of these manufacturing plants. These ‘corporate brands’ today account for an impressive 26% of the grocery dollar sales at Kroger, providing the company with a huge strategic advantage.”

While these pioneers had undeniably left their mark on the business, I remembered another, lesser-known individual from Tennessee who had introduced the modern supermarket concept far ahead of its time:

“Piggly Wiggly, America's first true self-service grocery store, was founded in Memphis, Tenn. in 1916 by Clarence Saunders. In grocery stores of that time, shoppers presented their orders to clerks who gathered the goods from the store shelves. Saunders, a flamboyant and innovative man, noticed that this method resulted in wasted time and expense, so he came up with an unheard-of solution that would revolutionize the entire grocery industry: he developed a way for shoppers to serve themselves. Despite predictions that this novel idea would fail, Saunders’ first store opened September 6, 1916 at 79 Jefferson Street in Memphis. Operating under the unusual name Piggly Wiggly, it was unlike any other grocery store of that time. There were shopping baskets, open shelves and no clerks to shop for the customer – all unheard of! Piggly Wiggly Corporation, established by Saunders when he opened the first store in Memphis, secured the self-service format and issued franchises to hundreds of grocery retailers for the operation of Piggly Wiggly stores… Piggly Wiggly Corporation continued to prosper as franchiser for the hundreds of independently owned grocery stores allowed to operate under the Piggly Wiggly name and during the next several decades, functioned successfully under various owners.”

Each story was compelling on its own. Taken together, they communicated a desire for excellence in the field. But above all, the collection of histories seemed to indicate the value of ‘service’ in any sort of commercial institution.

In personal terms, that message resounded with meaning.

I had always believed that the shopping ‘experience’ was undeniably important. Everyday store conditions and habits had to match the quality of goods for sale. Or the business itself would fade, over time.

After reading through these company biographies, I felt a sense of pride in my erstwhile career. Yet one nagging question remained.

Was I ready to start over again?

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Blogger 搖滾京臨 said...

Man proposes, God disposes.........................................

3:59 AM  

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