It is almost as if this year's inductees into the Supermarket News Hall of Fame were able to see into the future.
The three — Joe Coulombe of Trader Joe's, Joseph B. Hall of Kroger Co. and Sam Walton of Wal-Mart Stores — all spearheaded groundbreaking, forward-looking changes at their companies that have had a lasting impact on the food-retailing industry.
In an interview with SN , Coulombe admits he wasn't shy about stealing other retailers' ideas — but he also came up with plenty of his own as he built Trader Joe's from a small group of convenience stores into a significant specialty food retailer.
“When every last cent you own is invested in the business, you tend to come up with a lot of ideas,” he told SN.
Coulombe evolved his concept by instinctively reacting to consumer trends, such as the increasing culinary sophistication brought on by world travel and higher education.
“He was constantly coming up with new ideas that were five or 10 years ahead of others in the industry,” said Leroy Watkins, one of the company's early employees.
Unlike the other two inductees this year, Hall didn't found a company, but he did usher Kroger into the modern-day world of supermarket retailing .
In nearly two decades as president and chief executive officer, the no-nonsense Hall established a management structure and implemented retailing initiatives that are reflected in the company's modern-day success. Unlike A&P, which like Kroger once had a huge network of corner grocery stores, Kroger was able to successfully transform into a chain of full-fledged supermarkets in a corporate structure built for the long haul.
“He shepherded the transformation of the company into a multi-divisional operation, and built the basic structure for what would become a multibillion-dollar organization,” said Robert Aders, who worked under Hall at Kroger and later became the company's chairman.
Hall also is credited with instilling in the company a strong focus on the customer, and with strengthening the company's captive manufacturing operations.
Walton, meanwhile, built his vision for providing low-cost goods to small-town consumers in the rural South into a global empire that remains one of the world's largest and fastest-growing companies .
Beginning with a single discount store he opened in 1962, Walton brought a low-margin discipline to discount retailing and was able to maintain that as the company grew and passed to younger generations.
“When Sam was building his company, his people had a viewpoint that was different than everybody else,” said C. Britt Beamer, chairman of America's Research Group. “They knew they could live in these low-margin worlds and be happy.”
Chairman and CEO
H.E. Butt Grocery Co.
President and CEO
Costco Wholesale Corp.
Wegmans Food Markets
Chairman, president and CEO
Publix Super Markets
Chairman and CEO
Procter & Gamble Co.
MICHAEL J. KULLEN
King Kullen Grocery Co.
Whole Foods Market
ROBERT AND JAMES UKROP
Former chairman and CEO
Ukrop's Super Markets