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Walking since Memphis

Out of all types of shops I enjoy visiting, I think a grocery supermarket - Yes! I said it. - is my favourite. Walking down bright, illuminated aisles that are filled with familiar names and a myriad of colours is enchanting as they weave their way into our lives. We walk and experience with all our senses, objects that mark each of the thousand choices we make throughout the day. Often, these objects serve as reminders to buy, while others tickle our fancy and excite our curiosity. We make small decisions, aisle by aisle, until the sound of our swiping card marks the decision as official.

Continually engaging our choices while walking and shopping did not always exist. Piggly Wiggly was the first store to begin the practice. That's right, you read it correctly. A self-service supermarket, Piggly Wiggly, was the first to allow us to shop as we strolled rather than handing out paper shopping lists to a man behind the counter who, for each item, would select a brand and bag it for you. There is one problem with this model: no choice. It is true that there wasn't much choice for anyone product in these convenience stores, so everyone was at the mercy of what the man at the counter thought he could sell.

There is a name synonymous with “brick and mortar supermarkets” - Clarence Saunders. To him, the shopping experience was supposed to be freed by improving efficiency. Consequently, Saunders developed what is known as the Just in Time model or later the Toyota model, which he developed in order to ensure the variety of products would be delivered in time. In addition to adding prices to every displayed item and offering clear categories for an intuitive customer journey, he provided shopping baskets for easy transfer to the checkout counter. The first Piggly Wiggly store, opened in Memphis, Tennessee on September 6, 1916, and gave him the chance to implement his solution and bring his ideas to life. Piggly Wiggly owned over 1,200 stores by 1922 of which 650 belonged to Saunders; then, by 1932, there were 2,660 stores with $180 million in sales. Most franchises that weren't owned followed the early models of franchising that McDonald's later popularized.

Piggly Wiggly struggled with two issues which are most common in the world of business. Franchises can often lead to sub-standard development in all expansion efforts, as well as the Corner game where the bear cartel began shorting the stock after the recent franchise failures besides spreading rumours about the company. Piggly Wiggly stock began fluctuating in New York, but Saunders started to buy it up. Stocks went up wildly, reaching a high of $124. Saunders appeared to have managed to defeat Wall Street alone when the exchange halted trading and put off the short sellers' delivery deadline just when Saunders was winning. The extended deadlines helped short sellers find shares to deliver. Eventually, Saunders declared bankruptcy and was forced to leave Piggly Wiggly.

Having been unfairly criticized, Saunders earned a lot of sympathy at the time. Still, his stores exemplified his obsession with efficiency. This is certainly not a safe option after the pandemic, but Clarence Saunders created, years ago, a very similar in-store supermarket experience to the one we find today regardless of his fall at Piggly Wiggly. Soon after, other highly automated supermarkets with more curious names followed - Sole Owner Stores and Keedoozle stores, which were clearly ahead of their time. It was he who opened the doors for automation, an aspect relevant to even giants like Amazon that are now trying to replicate their efficiency off-line.

The next time we walk into a new Amazon store, we'll know for sure it was the brainchild of a Memphis man with a penchant for unusual names.


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