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A Store Named "Piggly Wiggly" Created the Modern Supermarket

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
August 11, 2022 3:00 am

A Store Named "Piggly Wiggly" Created the Modern Supermarket

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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August 11, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, meet Ron Brown, a man who grew up in a rough area of Chicago, was practically abandoned by his father, and would mend their relationship later on in life. Clarence Saunders developed “self-service” grocery shopping in his Piggly Wiggly stores at a time when store assistants usually collected products for their customers. By introducing checkouts, clearly priced goods, and itemized receipts, he set the foundations for the supermarkets of today.

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Time Codes:

00:00 - Reconnecting With My Absent Father Who Was Presumed Dead

23:00 - A Store Named "Piggly Wiggly" Created the Modern Supermarket

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MUSIC We love to tell stories about faith whenever we can and redemption. And this is one of our best redemption stories brought to us by our very own, Joey Cortez.

Ron Brown grew up on the west side of Chicago. I grew up in a family where my uncles were drug dealers and pimps and I saw that growing up as a kid. It never appealed to me. I can remember as a kid seeing my uncles get shot and different things like that. One guy tried to murder my uncle. And just seeing it and just being a kid like five, six, seven, eight, nine years old, growing up being like, this ain't the way this is supposed to be. I watched certain stories and kids say growing up in the inner city, how they saw drug dealers and that's the only people they saw.

And for them, they saw that as a means to an end to get out the ghetto. As a kid, I don't know what God blessed me with, but he blessed me with the ability to see that was wrong. And that wasn't the way for me to go about my life. He was also blessed with a strong mother who divorced his biological father when Ron was a kid. I can remember he was part of an accident fraud scheme and I remember being a kid telling him, I was like, hey man, you're going to get in trouble. He'd say, son, you know what?

I'm making my living the best way I know how. And eventually he ended up going to prison for a few years for that. And I can remember being a kid and him writing me letters and saying, hey, you know, when I get out, things are going to be different. I'm going to spend more time with you.

I think it's important. And the thing was, he got out and nothing ever changed. He went back to what he knew and he ended up being in the streets for a few more years and he went to jail. My dad was like the real, you ever seen the movie Catch Me If You Can? He was like the real Catch Me If You Can.

You understand what I'm saying? When he came doing checks and stuff like that. And so I can remember having that example from a very young age and seeing all the cars and houses.

And I was like, it just never appealed to me. My mother was fortunate enough and I was fortunate enough. She got married when I was about three or four years old to a great man by the name of Lawrence Hunt. And he was my stepfather and he did everything in his power to just raise me the right way. And I'm so appreciative for the influence even right now as a 45 year old man. I think about the lessons and what you taught me and just different things about manhood and responsibility and all those things.

And so I think having a father made a drastic difference in my life. My mother was a pretty tough lady. She's about 6'2", 6'3". And she didn't play. And my stepfather was about 6'5".

He didn't play either. So I grew up in a home where my parents were really about education. I remember being a kid and saying, hey, you know, I want to be a professional athlete. I want to do this and do that. And my parents were always like, look, that's a great goal. But let me give you an amazing dream.

Whatever you can do with your mind instead of your body will facilitate you to have a very, very lengthy career. I can remember my father getting tickets to take me to go see the Chicago Bulls and I sit there watching them playing. And Michael Jordan was lighting them up that night.

The arena, everybody was yelling and screaming. And I'm eating my popcorn and I'm looking and I got a pretzel in one hand and popcorn on the floor, drinking, drinking. I'm having my best time ever. And he taps me on the shoulders when the Bulls call a time out. And he says, son, let me ask you something. I said, what? He says, who has the greatest job in this whole arena? And I kind of looked at him because I thought it was a crazy question. And I was like, Michael Jordan. And he tapped me on the shoulder and he said, you see that box up there with those guys walking around eating those hot dogs? And I said, yeah. He says they have the best job in the building.

They're the ones who pay Michael Jordan. And so even though people may not be screaming for him, they're the reason why all this is going on. So I want you to learn the big picture approach to life.

And so that just really kind of got me thinking in life. They say, you know what? Mike's going to retire one day, but the Bulls are still going to be here. Mike's going to have an injury one day. But guess what?

The Bulls are still going to be here. And he's like, that's what I'm getting. I want to I want you to learn about life, being the guy that's still there as transitions continue to happen through life. And that lesson really, really stayed with me all through life. My father, I'm going to tell you something.

It wasn't a good experience with him growing up, but those bad experiences with him made me, I think today, a much better father. So he would say, hey, I'm going to pick you up, you know, so get dressed. We're going to go. We're going to hang out for the day.

And so my mother would say, hey, look, don't don't make this kid promises. You know, I show up and I can remember one particular time getting dressed up. I mean, I had on my pants and my shirt and my tie a page and he called me and said, hey, I'm ready. He says, OK, I'll be there in a little while. And I remember sitting in the window dressed up and waiting on my father to come and waiting on him to come to the point that I fell asleep.

And my stepfather. Picking me up and putting me to bed and taking my shoes off and I kind of woke up as he was picking me up. I said, did he come? He said, no, he didn't come. He says, but you know what?

I'm here. And I always remember that memory, you know. And so for me, anything with my with my children, I don't care if it's a basketball game or if it's a football game.

If I tell him I'm coming, I'm coming. And so through the years, I never hated my father because he was my father. But I didn't understand. And so with that, I was able to find out how he grew up there. You know, his father one day said he was going out to the store to go get a pack of cigarettes. And he asked him and his brother, what do you want?

They said they wanted some candy. He said, OK, I'll be back. His father never came back. He may have been like six, five or six. He never saw his father again.

And so at that point, I kind of realized that my father didn't know how to be a father because he never had that example. So I grew up with those things. And I'll tell you something. Of course, they shape you. But I didn't let them break me.

And I think some of these situations in our lives, they break us and they turn us into broken people. And so from from that moment on in my life, as I went up, I had like I said, I had a great stepfather. I was just very determined that I would never do that to my kids. And so no child of mine can say, hey, I sit there on the doorstep and waited for my dad to come. And he didn't come.

And that's important to me. And you're listening to Ron Brown and his real dad, his biological dad. Well, he was a character right out of Catch Me If You Can.

Just a black version, passing checks, living a bad life, making bad choices. He grew up, though, in a home that was all about education, a stepdad that really loved him right. He said those bad experiences of my biological father made me a better father. I never hated my father. I didn't understand him until I learned about how he grew up.

His father's father, when he was five or six years old, went to the corner store and never came back. When we come back, more of Ron Brown's story here on Our American Story. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation.

A monthly gift of seventeen dollars and seventy six cents is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American stories dot com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming. That's our American stories dot com. And we're back with our American stories and Ron Brown story. We left off with Ron describing his difficult relationship with his absent father and the lessons he learned from that.

Back to Ron with the rest of this story. The funny story about it is that he came to my high school graduation to Holy Trinity and he made a big deal about it. He told me he was so proud of me for graduating high school. And I think I saw him a little bit over that summer and I never saw him again. I didn't see him again until 20 years later, which is really kind of crazy because he had a brother and his brother had died. And so I think I was living in Atlanta at the time and I got word that my father had died and I thought he had actually died. But it was kind of some confusion.

So for years I thought he was dead. A few summers after that, my wife sent some information in first to be on the Family Feud. And so we become contestants on the Family Feud with Steve Harvey and they tape it up in Atlanta and we go ahead and we have this this show and we lose by one question. And we're like, man, we came all the way up here.

We had a good time, but it would be nice if we would have won. And so this is what I think about how everything happens for a reason. Well, fast forward years later, because after you do a Family Feud episode, they keep playing the episode over and over and over and over and over again.

And so it stays in rotation for years. And so I just started law school and I was making a trek from Atlanta to Birmingham three nights a week for school. And it was one particular night I was leaving criminal law class and I get a phone call from a number I had never seen before. I was like, who is this calling me this late?

It's about, I don't know, eight, thirty, nine o'clock at night. And I answered the phone. And it's just something about your parents voice.

You never forget it. And even though I hadn't heard my father's voice for 20 plus years, the phone rings and I answer it and he says, Hello, son. And at that moment, I just broke down and cried.

I had to pull over to the side of the road of Highway 20. And I was like, Dad? He was like, son, I've been looking for you. And I was like, I've been looking for you. I was like, how did you get my number?

And it was a ray of emotions. And I was crying and he was crying. He said, you know, I went there some time and, you know, I lost track of you when I got out and I didn't know where you were. He said, I always knew you. You always said you want to be in business.

You want to be a businessman. And I looked and looked and he says, I'm gonna tell you something. I actually was sitting down with my girlfriend the other night. We watch a Family Feud. He says, I've never watched Family Feud.

It's her favorite show. And it came to you and you said your name. He said, that's my son. And she said, that's not your son. He's like, no, that's my son. That's who I've been looking for.

That's my son. He's like, she didn't believe me. He says, well, what he did was he listened to my mother-in-law, Dawn White.

When you do that, the Family Feud, they ask you, what do you do and where do you live and all that. And so at that moment in time, she was a senior VP for Coca-Cola. And she said that. And so his girlfriend and him called Coca-Cola. They got in contact with her and she did some vetting. I didn't even know this was going on, but she did some vetting and to make sure who he said he was. And then they called my wife and they went on three way. And my wife was like, we thought you were dead.

He's like, no, that's my brother. And they gave him my number. And we talked for about an hour. And I just told him, you know what, despite everything in the world, I still love you and you're my father.

You're the reason why I'm here. And that was very important to me because I lost my mother back when I was 27 years old. So him and I kind of reconnected when I was probably like around 38.

And so that was a powerful moment for me, because as a man, even though I had a wife and the children I had, you still feel a level of loneliness because my parents, you know, I felt that both my parents were going and it just I would always ask myself, well, who buries me? You know, something happens to me, you know, I guess with him. But due to the fact that he was still alive, we went ahead and put our relationship back together that night. I actually end up flying to go see him two days later. And I spent my birthday with him.

But I can give you any of that, though. My wife had had our our second son, Jackson. And so she said, what do you want to name him?

And we got some names. I said, we'll name him Jackson. I said, but his middle name is going to be Owen.

And so my wife was very surprised. She was like, why would you name him Owen? Your father and you guys didn't have the best relationship.

Why would you name him Owen? I said, you know what? Despite us not having the greatest relationship, I still love my father and I wanted him to be better. And at that time in his life, maybe he couldn't be.

I said, but you know what? I forgive him for everything that's happened in my life. I just forgive him and I can't hold on to it. And I say, you know, Jackson Owen Brown, you know, he'll make that name good. This kid will never go to the penitentiary. This kid will do something great with his life and we'll have his grandfather's name. And so my wife thought that was very powerful.

And she said, OK, his name will be Jackson Owen Brown. Well, the irony of that is that my son was born like about two weeks before my father came back in my life. So I don't know if people think about life and letting things go and getting right with God or getting right with who you are as an individual. But I actually believe in my heart that of me making that decision to forgive my father for everything that happened in the past. Every hurt, every hardship, every disappointment and giving my youngest son his name. I think for some way that opened the door and that allowed us to find each other.

And that's been seven years ago. And so now we talk every other day. That's my guy. He came to my law school graduation and he was very proud. He looked and said, you know what, to see how I did everything wrong in life and to see that you did so much right. I'm just so proud of you. So that's a that's that's a big part of my journey.

So even though he didn't start off being the most amazing dad in the world, years later, he's become a great, great, great, a great dad and a great grandfather. You know, something my parents would always see my mom always taught me was the importance of forgiveness. That nobody's perfect. Everyone does something wrong. She would always talk about, you know, when Jesus would say, who could throw the first stone?

And no one can throw the first stone. And even though he didn't get it right, I was open to allowing him to get it right. I was open. I think you have to be open sometimes.

And it's a big thing. You have to forgive because here you are carrying that around with you. I just really think that it just really, really erodes your spirit. It erodes everything in you because you're carrying around the baggage and the hurt of something that happened years and years and years ago. And when you can't get over it and you can't move past it, it keeps you locked in that place.

One of my good friends, he's a mentor of mine. He always said that anger is a wasted emotion. Anger will cost you a lot in your life. There are a lot of people sitting in the penitentiary right now because they were angry in a second and they did something that if they could take back, they would. And so I just learned the importance of just you can't hold on to it. Sometimes you've got to move on and move past it. But you can't hold on to it because it keeps you stuck. So there's a line in the Bible where Jesus said, how many times should you forgive somebody?

And it's an enormous numbers like 60 times 60 times. You know, it's really kind of crazy that that's what the Lord and Savior says that you should. And I'll give you the greatest story of that is that Jesus knew that Judas was going to be a Judas. You know, Jesus knew that he was going to be betrayed by Judas, but Jesus still continued the journey with him. And so it was all the fact that he knew he was going to betray him, but he still loved him.

And that's an important message right there. He still loved him. He knew he was going to do what he did, but he still loved him and he kept him around. If you read the Bible, you know, there was points where, you know, they kind of felt that he was stealing. But Jesus was so in love with the man and the relationship that that didn't even matter. And that's pretty tough in this day and age for someone to still love someone, even though that's the way it is.

But you know what? I equate that to like a true father's love. You know, our kids don't always do what we want them to do. They don't always go the way we want them to go. But they're still our children and we still love them and we still desire relationships with them and we still wish them well. And I think that's how God looks at us on the throne, even though we get up in the morning and maybe we have great intentions and some people have bad intentions, but they go out here and they do things. But he's still in love with you.

He's still in love with who you are. And the door is always open for you to come back. There's nothing you've done that's been too enormous that God can't forget. And I think that's the most powerful thing about the Christian faith is that the door is always open for you. And I'm nowhere near Jesus Christ.

I'm nowhere near God. But I've learned the importance of keeping the door open because people can change. People can change. What a message from Ron Brown. And when faith is a part of people's lives, we put it right out there. And his forgiveness, which came straight from his faith, well, it opened a door. And my goodness, what a door it opened.

And my goodness, what he did with his wife just weeks before wanting to name his son after the father that was never there with the middle name and the wife saying, what gives? And him walking through that he'd forgiven his own dad and teaching his wife the power of forgiveness. And two weeks later, that call comes. I've been looking for you.

Hello, son. And he said, I just cried. Some of us believe in coincidence. Some of us believe in fate and destiny. And some of us believe in God.

And for believers, that's a God moment, a God wink if ever there is one. Ron Brown's story. And we'd love to hear yours. Send your stories to our American stories dot com. That's our American stories dot com.

Ron Brown's story, a beauty here on our American stories. And we continue here with our American stories, grabbing a basket while grocery shopping may seem second nature today, but the idea was once groundbreaking. And that was far from the only thing that changed when Piggly Wiggly, the first modern American supermarket opened over 100 years ago on September 6, 1916. Hundreds of curious shoppers came out for the opening of a new grocery store at 79 Jefferson Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. And we broadcast here in Oxford, Mississippi.

Memphis is only one hour practically due north for weeks. They'd seen billboards and read newspaper ads about this grocery store with the funny name that promised an entirely new shopping experience, one that would, according to its owner, forever change the retail grocery business. Greg Hengler sat down with Mike Freeman near the location of that first Piggly Wiggly in downtown Memphis. Mike Freeman is the author of Clarence Saunders and the founding of Piggly Wiggly, the rise and fall of a Memphis maverick. I took a job at a restaurant in downtown Memphis that happened to be at 79 Jefferson. And that was the first location of Piggly Wiggly store. It was an interesting fact.

You know, I became interested in that. My employer wanted me to do some research because he was curious as well, you know, what happened in the building and such. It's important to know what Saunders did differently was, in the old days, if you went into a store to shop, you couldn't just reach out and pick out your own groceries. You had clerks do that for you. So you had to wait for them to, you tell the clerk what you want and then they would bring it to you. And Saunders thought, well, this is really slow.

This is so inefficient. And all this tied in with brand advertising before the turn of the century. You had all these brands we still recognize. Kellogg's Cereal, Van Camp, Pork and Beans. All these companies were selling their products in stores. And Saunders knew, well, you don't need a clerk to tell you what cereal you like. You like Kellogg's Cereal? There it is.

You get it yourself. The most important thing to him is I could sell more groceries at less cost because I could pay fewer people. Saunders grew up from a family that was poor. In fact, there's one story that a neighbor bought Clarence a pair of shoes. And then when Saunders had money later in life, he sent a check to that family for a number of years because they helped him out. He really needed it. So he knew what it was like to suffer hardship. And he carried that with him.

That probably motivated him as much as anything to do something. Saunders became a traveling salesman for wholesale company. So he would call upon grocers and Saunders developed a reputation for being a bit brash. He would go into a store and he would tell the store owners, you know, you would sell more vegetables if you displayed them this way. This is the way you had it. And some thought, well, what does this guy know?

So not everybody appreciated his advice, but it shows that he was already thinking about trying ways to do things a bit better than before. There was a man in Memphis who built a chain of stores, Mr. Bowers stores. They were small corner grocery stores, but every Bowers store looked exactly the same as the signs in the front and the layout of the store where the groceries were placed. So each Bowers store was identical.

And that was an innovation, too. If you went from one store to the other, you know exactly where to find what you wanted to buy. Because everything was in the same place, despite, you know, in different locations.

And Saunders, he absorbed these ideas. That's the principle of a chain store. Everything is alike, as much as it can be. So if you're comfortable with what they do, they can shop at the chain store no matter where that location is. So you could go into a town where you're unfamiliar to you and find your favorite grocery, you know, whatever the business is. Or Starbucks, for that matter.

And get exactly what you want. And that's the whole principle of a chain store. Bowers did that before Saunders. He clearly learned from Bowers how to manage a chain store business. The one thing that Bowers did not do was arrange things for customers to pick out themselves. He still had clerks.

And Saunders thought this was an inefficient way of doing things. And he was kind of sarcastic. He says, you know, when a store is not very busy, the poor customer can't get the attention of a clerk because they're busy goofing off in the back room. He says if that happens, or they're so busy, like during Christmas season, you know, everyone's shopping in the store so busy they can't handle the orders properly. The arrangement of the store that Bowers and the older merchants had was you walked up to a counter and once you had your clerk's attention, you would rattle off what you wanted. And then he would go about the rest of the store picking out the items you wanted and bring them to the front.

And then you would transact business and off you go. And Saunders thought, well, you know, they don't need a clerk to tell them that Campbell's soup is good or if you just put it on a shelf they can find it themselves. He took this journey to Terre Haute, Indiana to look at a store that he was told was unique and designs differently. And he came back a bit disappointed.

It wasn't really anything special at all. And Saunders told the story often. He said on the way back, he saw this mother pig at a farm and he saw all these piglets trying to feed off the mother pig. And it reminded him of customers trying to attract the attention of a clerk. And then the idea popped in his head. He had the name Piggly Wiggly just from seeing this pig. OK, that's the name. And then he went about designing.

Well, how are we going to actually do this? You'd have to practically rebuild the interior of the store to change its self-service. Piggly Wiggly. That was his name. It was a very unusual name.

I mean, I think it was perfect for what he was trying to do because he should be indifferent. And then he would he began writing advertisements where Piggly Wiggly became a character. Piggly Wiggly goes to town. Piggly Wiggly does this.

And so, you know, that's how he built his brand identity. He made a story out of an imaginary pig that went shopping. I'll read part of one is Piggly Wiggly. Ain't that a funny name?

The fellow that got up that name must have a screw loose somewhere. All this may be so. But Piggly Wiggly knows its own business best. And his business will be this. To have no store clerks gab and smirk while folks are standing around 10 deep, get waited on. Every customer will be her own clerk. So if she wants to talk to a can of tomatoes and kill her time, all right and well.

But it seems likely this would be a mighty lonesome chat. Saunders addressed customer fears. You know, it used to be if you went in certain stores in the old days and, you know, the clerk might put his thumb on the scale so you'd pay extra for tomatoes or potatoes or whatever, or they'd sell you food that was out of date. Saunders thought all that was just just wrong.

It was just not good business. He could sell more groceries just by being honest. And he was very proud. He talked a lot about labeling prices on everything. So you walk in, go to the canned soup aisle, you know exactly what the price of that soup is. It didn't matter what store you're in. One of the stores, they all price things about the same. And it didn't matter who you were or whether the clerk knew you or not.

You got the same price. When we come back, more of Mike Freeman telling the story of Clarence Saunders, the founder of Piggly Wiggly, here on Our American Story. And we continue with Our American Stories and with author Mike Freeman telling the story of Piggly Wiggly and its founder, Clarence Saunders.

Let's continue with Mike. He knew he was taking a less profit and he probably had people in the grocery business say, well, you can't make any money. You're not selling high enough.

You're not making enough profit. But he was thinking of volume, you know, and he could open more stores, you open the more volume you have. And then, you know, one of the benefits of self-service is you are selling more goods per day. And that helps eliminate the problem of spoiled food or expired food. And Saunders was aware of that. And he would advertise to people, see, this is what I'm doing.

I'm going to treat you fair. I mean, now you can't imagine going in a store and not having a label on it. This is 32 cents or whatever. Can't imagine it. But for, you know, the 20th century, that was commonplace. You know, once you label everything, then no grocery store can hide. His competitors are thinking, oh, you're going to have to do something different. You know, he proved right there that first year that he had about eight or nine stores in Memphis and Bowers had over 40. And he outsold Bowers stores simply because he made it easier for people to shop.

And they just started swarming into Piggly Wiggly's. You know, he's one of those rare individuals that has an idea that worked and it transformed part of our society. I don't say he's as great as Henry Ford, but Ford decided, well, why can't we put an engine in this little carriage and hook it up to some wheels? And then we don't need a horse and buggy anymore.

We have a car. Change the world. Saunders isn't of that level of success, but I think he had the same mind where he thought, well, let's do something a little different here.

You know, the old ways are you can do a little faster, a little bit better than that. And that's what Piggly Wiggly was. Grocery store is a version of the Model T. What's interesting is that next year he started franchising and he actually filed for several patents. But he started selling the idea that, well, you guys down in Arkansas and Mississippi, you can build a Piggly Wiggly. There's towns all over the South that were large enough to support a couple of grocery stores.

And that proceeded very rapidly, selling franchises all over the place. You could argue that the founder of Wal-Mart did virtually the same thing. He put a Wal-Mart in medium sized towns. You know, if a town doesn't have a Wal-Mart, then it's kind of not a town. But having a store like that in your community, hiring the local folks to work in the store, probably manage the store, it built a loyalty for that brand, but Wal-Mart still exists. The difference between Walton and Saunders is Walton never lost his business.

He held onto it. But I think Saunders had a lot of the same attitudes, same personality in some way. He wanted to be that champion, but in the end he didn't keep that business long enough. Right now, most people don't know who Saunders is. Saunders achieved a level of celebrity and wealth that most people only dream of. He's most famous for, the Pink Palace is a building, I don't know how many square feet it is.

Well, they've added on to it, but the majority of that 36,000 square feet is what he built. It was to have a swimming pool, it was to have everything a rich person would want. Saunders tried to outsmart traders of Wall Street, and to explain it simply, he didn't realize they wrote the rules of trade. There was no governing agency overseeing financial trade that we have now. It was whatever certain people, what we call Wall Street, decided to do is what was done.

They made the rules among themselves. I have trouble sometimes describing a short sale. This is a stock maneuver where different people in the financial business spread rumors that a company's in trouble, that the stock's not worth what it's listing at now.

And Saunders thought that was horrible. Piggly Wiggly had over-expanded when there was a franchisor or two that had gone bankrupt. That was all the trigger that these short sellers needed. And he started this campaign to take the shares out of the hands of these Wall Street thieves or wolves, and he started a buying campaign in Memphis, you know, save Piggly Wiggly from Memphis. Most people in Memphis or any city outside of New York probably thought about Wall Street saying it was he dead.

It was sort of a kind of a villainous place. And he was playing on that, you know, don't let these thieves take our Piggly Wiggly away from us. So everyone invested in Saunders' scheme to buy all the shares and hold them. Well, he pushed these traders into a panic because whatever they borrow, they have to repay. And if he's buying all the shares, they have to come to him to repay what they owe him. I mean, he was trying to trap them. And the board of directors of the stock exchange in New York kept Saunders from doing that and let the traders off the hook. They could change the rules. See, there was no government agency overseeing stock trade.

Whatever the board of directors thought was legal was illegal. And especially if they had friends who got caught up in the scheme and were begging, you know, don't let us die out here. Well, we'll let Saunders die. You know, they don't know him. They don't care about him.

He's not part of their social group or anything like that at all. It's just some hillbilly from Tennessee thought he knew what he was doing. They just, you know, interpreted rules to let him die. So he had borrowed all that money. Instead of gaining what he thought would be hundreds of millions of dollars, he had nothing. You know, 12 millions, a lot of money today to lose.

Imagine what it was like in 1923. What Saunders had done, and there were people that really liked him because he was, you know, become very famous, was that he had begged Memphians to pool together money to pay off this debt so they could legally get back to normal operating under his leadership. And people did. They held rallies for Save Piggly Wiggly from Memphis. That was the campaign. Not for Saunders. He was careful to say, Save Piggly Wiggly from Memphis.

And he had a point there, too. I mean, you know, there's a lot of jobs in Memphis now because of this store, this business. And then he made the dumb mistake of putting money into this, what we now know as the Pink Palace, which was an extravagant home. You know, the people that invested in Piggly Wiggly must have been shocked. What in the world are you doing? We're taking time away from our business, spending our money to bail you out, and you're building this stupid house.

You don't have time for that anymore. How did they find out about it? Well, a workman had been injured and the newspaper published a story.

It was holy cow, you know, they couldn't believe it. It was just a terrible mistake he made. And it cost him. Well, I mean, he tried again to make money and he's dead, but... I mean, he's still famous for what?

Piggly Wiggly. And he lost it. He only ran the company for six years. I guess the story is remarkable in itself is that he started with one store, six years later he had a thousand. You know, he had a substantial chain. I mean, he was successful. He did build something that was unique.

He just didn't hold on to it. He would be Sam Walton today, or his memory would be as big as Sam Walton if he had just held on to Piggly Wiggly like Walton held on to Wal-Mart. The most fitting memorial to him is the ordinary self-service store. Sam Walton founded Wal-Mart in 1962. By the end of his life in 1992, Walton owned the largest retail merchandising company in the world. In his autobiography, Sam Walton Made in America, he credited the enormous success of his retail stores to the principle of self-service. His brief description of the benefits that self-service gave to him and his desire to pass on the savings to his customers seemed to be a near match to Saunders own words two generations before.

During the past 25 years, supermarkets and large merchandise stores have become popular in nearly every country in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and parts of Africa. In an odd way, Clarence Saunders' prophetic slogan for Piggly Wiggly all over the world has come true. And great job on the piece as always by Greg Hengler. And a special thanks to Mike Freeman who wrote the book, Clarence Saunders and the Founding of Piggly Wiggly.

And what a story. And that he started the idea of pricing and transparency and volume so that we could lower profits on each individual item but make up for that with volume. And that is indeed what Sam Walton did. There's no doubt that Sam took a lot of the ideas of Piggly Wiggly and scaled them to a much larger operation. The story of Piggly Wiggly. The story of Clarence Saunders. Here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 09:16:58 / 2023-02-17 09:32:21 / 15

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