By Joe Skorupa
A few years ago I wrote a blog called “10 Retailers That Shook the World” to single out the most significant pioneers in retailing. I did a ton of research and got lots of feedback, and although it was well-received I had a nagging feeling it needed revising. So, with the benefit of additional experience and insight I revisited the list and made some changes. See if you agree.
The ground rules for the story are to select groundbreaking retailers whose achievements had game-changing implications for consumers, businesses, retailing as a whole, and, in some cases, the culture at large. The retailers also had to still be in operation today and only chain retailers of 10 or more stores were eligible.
Here are 10 retailers on the original list: 7-Eleven, Amazon, Bass Pro Shop, Home Depot, IKEA, King Kullen, Sears, Starbucks, Walmart and Whole Foods.
After doing more research I realized two incredibly influential retailers weren’t on the list and needed to be added. That meant two originals had to be removed. So, here is the new list starting with the two additions followed by the original eight and, just so you can judge for yourself, the two that were replaced.
The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company
From 1915 to 1975 The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, better known as A&P, was the largest food retailer in the nation and from 1915 to 1965 it was the largest retailer of any kind. It began in New York in 1859 as a chain of tea and coffee stores and then evolved into the country’s first grocery chain by the late 19th century. In 1930 it had $1 billion in sales and 16,000 stores.
What makes A&P a game changer was its ability to adapt and perfect new retail concepts quickly and roll them out on a massive scale. It introduced an economy-store concept in 1912 that featured everyday low prices that were achieved by leveraging its purchasing clout through the supply chain. In 1936 it rolled out its version of the self-serve supermarket concept and then a large-format concept in 1950.
Basically, A&P was the Walmart of its day, single handedly keeping national food prices low and ultimately suffering from a backlash due to its overwhelming success, which at one point counted for a 10 percent share of all retail sales in the country, something no retailer is ever likely to achieve again.
Lord & Taylor
A&P is a youngster compared to Lord & Taylor, a company started by Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor in 1826 in New York City. Although Lord & Taylor is a multi-store chain today, it spent much of its life as a single flagship store with what it called “branch” stores in the suburbs of New York.
The reason Lord & Taylor is a game changers is the remarkable list of “firsts” it has achieved over its nearly 200 years. These include; the first store to present innovative Christmas windows filled with animated holiday displays rather than merchandise, the creator of the personal shopper concept of one-to-one service, the first to anchor a suburban shopping mall concept in 1941,and the first major retailer to name a woman president (Dorothy Shaver) in 1946.
Other distinctive firsts may not seem revolutionary today, such as installing a passenger elevator in 1860 and erecting the first building in New York with an iron frame in 1872, but they are indicators of a corporate DNA that constantly pushed retail boundaries and changed the concept of what a retailer could be along the way.
8 from the Original List
Here are the eight retailers singled out from the original list in alphabetical order:
Yes, there once was a time when you couldn't make a midnight run to the convenience store to pick up Dr. Pepper and bag of jalapeno chips. It took the Southland Ice Company in Dallas, founded in 1927, and Joe Thompson, its president, to make it happen. Thompson initially called the concept Tote'm Stores. In 1947, the name was changed to 7-Eleven stores to emphasize the extended hours of operation, which ultimately became 24-hour service in the early 1960s.
Today, the inventor of the Slurpee and Big Gulp, is privately owned by Seven-Eleven Japan. With 34,200 stores it is the world's largest store operator ahead of McDonalds and has operations in 18 countries.
Is there a more perfect embodiment of revenge-of-the-nerds syndrome than techno-geek Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon? Probably not. What launched as an online bookstore in 1995 is now an online everything store that sells products ranging from music and toys to groceries and apparel. It also sells unique products such as the electronic book reader Kindle, and the Segway Human Transporter, for which it is the exclusive retailer.
Seattle-based Amazon also acts as a platform for customers to sell merchandise, powers Web sites for retailers, serves as a multi-channel platform for enterprise clients, makes films, and, finally, offers online data storage, cloud computing and Web-store technology tools. The revenge factor? Bezos still owns 24 percent of one of the king of online sales and one of fastest growing companies in the world.
Bass Pro Shop
If 7-Eleven is the ultimate in convenience, Bass Pro Shops, from Springfield, Missouri, is the ultimate in customer experience. Its 50 Outdoor World Stores in the U.S. and Canada are cavernous, 280,000-square-foot outlets. They not only sell outdoors accessories, but also include archery ranges, fish tanks, snack bars and outdoors skills classes. The company started in 1976 as a bait-and-fishing supply store by Johnny Morris, who still owns the company. It quickly morphed into a giant sporting goods cataloguer.
Today, the company reels in several billion dollars in sales from a number of subsidiaries that include a wholesaler, boat manufacturer, 850-acre fishing lodge and several restaurant chains. The original outlet, which opened in 1981 and is called the "grand-daddy," has become a popular attractions complete with a museum of wildlife.
There used to be a time when you went to a hardware store, lumber yard, paint store and plumbing supply shop to purchase home improvement products. That was before 1978 when Home Depot put 45,000 items under a 100,000-square-foot roof.
Thirty years later, mega-billion-dollar Home Depot is one of the largest retailers in the U.S. operating 2,300 stores. Its rapid rise began in Atlanta when Bernard Marcus and Arthur Blank (along with several others) decided to start their own home-improvement center that was larger and more comprehensive than any of their competitors. Marcus and Blank had plenty of motivation. They had just gotten fired and wanted to show their old company they could do it better. Getting fired turned out to be a good career move for them and DIYers everywhere.
If you have ever struggled with inscrutable directions to assemble a bookcase at home, you can thank Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA. Kamprad began selling a variety of products in 1943, but settled on furniture and home products by the 1950s. To cut transportation costs, he pioneered the use of flat packaging and home assembly.
The first official IKEA store opened in 1958 in Sweden. Today, 35 countries are home to more than 270 IKEA stores, large warehouse-type buildings with a one-way traffic pattern that winds through the showrooms. Customers write down what they want in the showrooms and then find it themselves in the warehouse. Most stores have Swedish cuisine restaurants and large play areas for children. The name is an acronym for Ingvar Kamprad (the name of the founder) plus Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd (his boyhood home).
Although it has seen better days, Sears is a retailing giant with a storied pedigree. It began with Richard Sears, a mail-order catalog pioneer in the early 1890s. He teamed up with Alvah Roebuck to push the concept as far as it would go by printing catalogs 500 pages thick and featuring a range of products that included refrigerators, stoves, automobiles and houses.
The first store opened in 1925, and in the 1980s Sears was the largest retailer in the U.S. But in recent decades it has suffered from too many owners, too much diversification, and too much Walmart. Today, there are 3,900 stores in the chain counting Kmart, which merged with Sears in 2005. It built Chicago's 110-story Sears Tower in 1974, once the world's tallest building, which it no longer occupies.
What more can be said about the number one retailer in the world and America's largest corporation? The numbers for Walmart are staggering. It operates 7,250 stores, employs two million people, pulls in revenue approaching $500 billion, and sells to a third of all Americans each week.
What began as Sam Walton's Five and Dime in 1950 has become a leviathan of international expansion, innovative technology, disciplined business operations, and a relentless pursuit of driving down prices.
Walmart's formula for success has shifted over the years from serving rural communities to supply chain efficiency to buy American first to buy Chinese first to unbridled expansion. But one thing it never loses focus on is offering the lowest possible prices. Customers will never turn their backs on a bargain.
John Mackey was way ahead of the shift by consumers to eating health-conscious foods. He founded Whole Foods in 1980 in Austin, Texas, and rode the natural, organic and fresh foods wave as it became the fastest growing segment in the grocery business.
But this alone would not have created the 275-store, multi-billion dollar giant that Whole Foods has become. Mackey is a relentless acquirer of regional natural food chains, an approach that culminated in the purchase of its main competitor, Wild Oats Markets. A big part of Whole Foods' appeal, aside from the health-conscious food, is a self-imposed standard for selling products that are natural, animal friendly, socially and ethically produced, and environmentally responsible.
So, my current edition of the 10 retailers that shook the world is:
Bass Pro Shop
Lord & Taylor
Two That Just Missed
Finally, here are the two retailers that were pulled to make room on the list for A&P and Lord & Taylor:
Someone had to invent the supermarket, at least that's what Michael Cullen thought in 1929 when he worked for Kroger. He developed a business plan for a new concept of self-service, high-volume, highly promoted, discount supermarkets of "monstrous size" that would sell food and non-food products. Kroger wasn't interested, so Cullen found a partner and opened his first King Kullen supermarket in 1930. It was an instant success, averaging 20 times the volume of its competitors.
While the chain didn't conquer the world, the concept Cullen pioneered was widely imitated. Today, it is roughly a billion-dollar company with 51 stores throughout the metro New York City area and is still owned by the Cullen family.
Howard Schultz didn't start Starbucks, but he knew what to do with it once he got it. Today, there are 16,000 Starbucks coffee shops in more than 44 countries. It also owns Seattle's Best Coffee, Torrefazione Italia coffee brands and sells music, books, coffee equipment and branded products through grocery stores.
What started as a simple chain of high-quality coffee houses has become a multi-billion dollar force of nature. Although it was founded in 1971, it began its meteoric rise in 1984 when Schultz acquired it. In addition to offering customized beverages, Starbucks is frequently cited as one of the country's best places to work. And with its stuffed chairs and wireless connectivity it is frequently cited as the "third place" (after home and work).
So, that’s my modified list of 10 retailers who shook the, plus to alternates. Let me know what you think. Did I hit the mark? Did I miss a few that should be included? Should the list include Apple Stores, Build-a-Bear Workshop, Zara, Best Buy or others? Let me know so that I can prepare for Retailers That Shook the World 3!
10 Retailers That Shook the World