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The Museum

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Clarence Saunders (1881-1953) is the father of self-service shopping. The son of a poor Virginia tobacco farmer, Saunders left home at 14 to clerk in a grocery store. He moved to Memphis in 1904 to work as a salesman for a wholesale grocery. While calling on customers, Saunders saw that many stores were failing because they did not control costs and overhead.

Traditionally, shoppers brought in a list of the goods they wanted and gave it to a clerk who selected the items, packaged them, charged the order and had the bags delivered.  This was time consuming, inefficient, and expensive. Saunders developed a plan to correct these problems that literally revolutionized the way we shop.     

He designed a systematically arranged store that offered self service/cash and carry shopping. He believed that if he offered lower prices than his competitors, people would wait on themselves, pay cash and carry the bags home. His store had a turnstile entry that forced customers to move in one direction and to pass all the items he offered. Impulse items like candy were stocked at the registers.

After getting patent rights to his pricing and merchandising innovations, he opened his first store at 79 Jefferson in 1916. Our Piggly Wiggly exhibit is an exact replica. The origin of “Piggly Wiggly” isn’t clear. Sometimes Saunders said it just came to him; at other times he said he got the idea after seeing a group of piglets pushing and wiggling as they nursed. Whatever the origin, the name has always caught people’s attention.

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