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Clarence Saunders

Born: 9-Aug-1881
Birthplace: Amherst County, VA
Died: 14-Oct-1953
Location of death: Memphis, TN
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Business
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Father of modern retailing

Clarence Saunders invented self-service shopping, when he opened a grocery store in Memphis, Tennessee on 6 September 1916, under the whimsical name Piggly Wiggly. Previously, customers at grocery stores had told clerks what they wanted or presented a list, then waited as store employees gathered their groceries from behind the counter -- and if other customers were in line, customers had to wait even longer. For his new "cafeteria grocery", Saunders moved the stockroom into the front of the store and allowed customers to roam the aisles and select their own groceries.

The store was an immediate financial success -- quicker for customers, less labor-intensive for the shopkeeper, the new format allowed multiple customers to shop at the same time, and led to the previously unknown phenomenon of impulse shopping. Saunders soon patented his self-service concept, and began franchising Piggly Wiggly stores. Within five years, the chain had more than a thousand stores, and was the nation's largest grocery retailer. By 1932 there were 2,600 Piggly Wigglies, including stores run by such present-day grocery giants as Kroger and Safeway.

Saunders began working part-time in a grocery store when he was 14 years old, and quit school when the shopkeeper offered him full time work with room and board. He later worked as a grocery wholesaler and distributor before opening his first Piggly Wiggly. When asked why he had chosen that name for his company, Saunders' standard reply was, "So people will ask that very question". He became wealthy with his company's booming success, and had a bright pink mansion constructed in Memphis -- pink being the primary color of his Piggly Wiggly design -- but never lived there. He was driven bankrupt in 1922, when the Governors of the New York Stock Exchange determined that he had cornered the market in his company's stock, and de-listed Piggly Wiggly. He left the company in a swirl of lawsuits and started another chain of groceries, Clarence Saunders Pacific Stores, which went bankrupt during the Great Depression.

In 1937 he opened the first fully-automated store, called Keedoozle. Akin to a walk-through vending machine, customers selected what they wanted from behind glass displays, and the merchandise was mechanically dropped onto a conveyor belt, which whisked it to the check-out station. The machinery, however, tended to break down during the busiest shopping periods, and the store soon went bankrupt. In his last years Saunders fronted a failing business called Foodelectric, wherein customers would not only select their own groceries but bag them and tally their own bills.

More than 600 Piggly Wiggly stores remain in America, all of which are independently owned. Saunders' Memphis mansion, dubbed the Pink Palace, has been converted into a museum, which includes a walk-through replica of the first Piggly Wiggly.

Father: Abram Warwick Saunders (farmer, b. 1833)
Mother: Mary Gregory Saunders (d. 1887)
Wife: Carolyn Amy Walker Saunders (b. 4-Sep-1882, m. 6-Oct-1903, div. 1928, d. 13-Mar-1968)
Daughter: Amy Clare Saunders Bean
Son: Lee Saunders (b. 22-Jan-1906, d. Dec-1979)
Son: Clarence Saunders, Jr. (b. 1909, d. 16-Aug-1941)

    High School: (dropped out)

    Clarence Saunders Pacific Stores Founder and President (1927-33)
    Piggly Wiggly Founder and President (1916-22)
    Bankruptcy 1922


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