Where It Began…
Piggly Wiggly®, America’s first true self-service grocery store, was founded in Memphis, Tennessee in 1916 by Clarence Saunders. In grocery stores of that time, shoppers presented their orders to clerks who then gathered the goods from the store shelves. Saunders, a dynamic 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 his novel idea would fail, Saunders’ first store opened on September 6, 1916 at 79 Jefferson Street in Memphis. Operating under the unusual name ‘Piggly Wiggly®’, it was unlike any other contemporary grocery store. There were shopping baskets, open shelves, and no clerks to shop for the customer – all of which were previously unheard of!
Piggly Wiggly Corporation, which Saunders established when he opened his first store in Memphis, secured the self-service format and issued franchises to hundreds of grocery retailers to operate their own Piggly Wiggly® stores.
Piggly Wiggly Corporation became the owner of all Piggly Wiggly® properties – the name, the patents, etc., and Saunders began issuing company stock soon after. The stock was successfully traded on the New York Stock Exchange for some time, but through a series of trades in the early 1920s, Saunders lost control of Piggly Wiggly® and had no further association with the company.
Despite Saunders’ departure, Piggly Wiggly Corporation continued to prosper as a franchiser for hundreds of independently owned grocery stores operating under the Piggly Wiggly® name.
All in a Name
Saunders’ reason for choosing the intriguing name “Piggly Wiggly®” remains a mystery; he was curiously reluctant to explain its origin. One story says that, while riding a train, he looked out his window and saw several little pigs struggling to get under a fence, which prompted him to think of the rhyme. Someone once asked him why he had chosen such an unusual name for his organization, to which he replied, “So people will ask that very question.” Regardless of his inspiration, he succeeded in finding a name that would be talked about and remembered.
Piggly Wiggly® “Firsts”
Piggly Wiggly’s introduction of self-service grocery shopping truly revolutionized the grocery industry. In fact, many of the conveniences and services that American shoppers now enjoy were introduced first by Piggly Wiggly®.
Piggly Wiggly® was the FIRST to…
- – Provide checkout stands.
- – Price mark every item in the store.
- – Give shoppers more for their food dollar through high volume/low profit margin retailing.
- – Feature a full line of nationally advertised brands.
- – Use refrigerated cases to keep produce fresher longer.
- – Put employees in uniforms for cleaner, more sanitary food handling.
- – Design and use patented fixtures and equipment throughout the store.
- – Franchise independent grocers to operate under the self-service method of food merchandising.
What Happened to Saunders?
After Saunders’ disassociation with Piggly Wiggly®, he opened a new chain of stores which operated under the name “Clarence Saunders, Sole Owner of My Name Stores.” Although it was initially successful, the Depression forced Saunders to close the chain.
In 1937 he designed and constructed a prototype of a new, automated grocery store, which he called the “Keedoozle” (for “Key Does All”). Saunders had captured the country’s attention with his latest venture, but mechanical failures eventually closed the store.
At the time of his death in October 1953, Saunders was developing plans for yet another automated grocery store system he called the “Foodelectric.” His new automated store, which was to be located just two blocks from his first Piggly Wiggly® store, never opened.
Clarence Saunders never fulfilled his dream of opening a truly automated store. Sadly, he passed away just as the full impact of his better idea for grocery merchandising was becoming apparent. Saunders’ entrepreneurial genius was decades ahead of his time.
Piggly Wiggly® Today
Today there are more than 530 Piggly Wiggly stores serving communities in 17 states. All Piggly Wiggly® stores are independently owned and operated, and though they are located primarily in the Southeast, there are Piggly Wiggly® stores and as far north as Wisconsin.
Piggly Wiggly, LLC’s corporate headquarters are in Keene, N.H. It issues Piggly Wiggly® franchises to qualified independent grocery retailers. The company also provides the retailers with services such as support, marketing programs, and a line of promotional items.
Piggly Wiggly, LLC is an affiliate of C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc., which ranked as the 10th largest privately-held company in the US by Forbes magazine in 2010. For over 90 years, C&S has provided first-class warehousing and distribution services to its customers. From more than 50 warehouse facilities throughout the United States, C&S serves some of the largest supermarket chains in the nation. Their corporate offices are located in Keene, N.H.