Clarence Saunders

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Clarence Saunders

Birthplace: Bedford, Bedford County, VA, United States
Death: October 14, 1953 (72)
Memphis, Shelby County, TN, United States
Place of Burial: Memphis, Shelby, TN, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Abram Warwick Saunders, CSA and Mary Saunders
Husband of Patricia Houston Saunders
Ex-husband of Carolyn Amy Saunders
Father of Lee Saunders; Clarence Saunders, Jr and Private

Occupation: Grocer (developer of Piggly Wiggly, Keedoozle, and Foodelectric store concepts)
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Clarence Saunders

Clarence Saunders (9 August 1881 – 14 October 1953) was an American grocer who first developed the modern retail sales model of self service. His ideas have had a massive influence on the development of the modern supermarket. Saunders worked for most of his life trying to develop a truly automated store, developing Piggly Wiggly, Keedoozle, and Foodelectric store concepts.


Clarence Saunders changed the way people buy their groceries. In his innovative Piggly Wiggly self-service stores no clerks fetched groceries for customers. Instead shoppers selected from items placed on shelves within easy reach. While Saunders did not open the first self-service store, he is credited with selling this idea to a public still accustomed to being waited upon in stores.

Saunders was born in 1881 to an impoverished Virginia family, who moved to Palmyra, Montgomery County, Tennessee. Young Saunders found his calling in a Clarksville wholesale grocery house. While still in his twenties, Saunders left Clarksville for a sales position in a Memphis grocery company. A bold and observant salesman, Saunders paid close attention to the business methods of his retail clients. Displeased by the lack of efficiency, he developed the idea of self-service.

On September 11, 1916, Saunders opened his Piggly Wiggly store for business. Shoppers liked the store where prices were cheaper than competing markets. Within a year he was selling Piggly Wiggly franchises across the nation. By 1923 the Piggly Wiggly chain included 1,268 stores selling $100 million in groceries and was the third largest retail grocery business in the nation. Piggly Wiggly stock was traded on the New York Exchange.

Then Saunders managed to lose it all. An attempt to corner the Piggly Wiggly stock failed, costing Saunders millions of dollars. He resigned from Piggly Wiggly and filed for bankruptcy. Immediately, he opened a competing grocery, called the Clarence Saunders Sole Owner of My Name Stores, or the Sole Owner Stores. A successful endeavor until the Great Depression, Saunders once again lost his business in the 1930s.

For the rest of his life, Saunders experimented with an automated grocery store, which he named Keedoozle. It operated on the principles of the vending machine. The customer slipped a key into a coin slot next to a window display. The key activated circuits that released merchandise from the storage room chutes. The merchandise tumbled to conveyor belts and was carried to the shoppers at the cashier’s desk. Saunders visualized a system that would dispense groceries quickly, with fewer errors, and simultaneously track inventory. Unfortunately, Keedoozle never operated profitably.

On October 15, 1953, Clarence Saunders died. Having built and lost two fortunes, he will be remembered as the man who brought the retail store into the twentieth century.

He was an American grocer who first developed the modern retail sales model of self service. His ideas have had a massive influence on the development of the modern supermarket. Saunders worked for most of his life trying to develop a truly automated store, developing Piggly Wiggly, Keedoozle, and Foodelectric store concepts.

Piggly Wiggly

On 11 Sept. 1916, Saunders launched the self-service revolution in the United States by opening the first self-service Piggly Wiggly store, at 79 Jefferson Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Saunders had renovated his United Store, removing old countertops, and replacing them with characteristic turnstiles at the entrance and exit, and cabinets arranged along a continuous path, which ended at a cashier stand complete with adding machine and cash register. The 1,125 sq ft store included a front lobby, the continuous-path middle salesroom, and rear stockroom. The store incorporated shopping baskets, self-service branded products, and checkouts at the front. Removing unnecessary clerks, creating elaborate aisle displays, and rearranging the store to force customers to view all of the merchandise in a continuous path, were just some of the characteristics of the early Piggly Wiggly stores. The store stocked four times the variety of items normally found in an ordinary grocery store, but did not offer fresh meat in the original store. A refrigerator separated two of the aisles, offering butter and cheese. Bins offered fruits and vegetables, while flour and other bulk good were pre-packaged and placed near the end of the shopper's journey through the aisles. The concept of the "Self-Serving Store" patent was filed by Saunders on 21 Oct. 1916, and granted on 9 Oct. 1917 as Patent #1,242,872. Three new patent applications followed, including Patent #1,357,521 for the basic store design. Patent #1,297,405 was filed on 5 Feb. 1918 and granted on 18 March 1919, which covered his means of tagging prices next to the grocery item. He was also granted a patent for his idea of giving shoppers a printed receipt from the adding machine tape.

Saunders then listed Piggly Wiggly shares on the New York Stock Exchange in Feb. 1922. In April 1922, the company sold 50,000 new shares on the market at $43 a share.[

In 1921, there were 615 stores in 200 cities and 40 states. By 1923, Piggly Wiggly had grown into 1,267 stores, 667 owned by the company and the rest owned by franchisees. The company employed 250 people in Memphis. Stock in Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc., paid a dividend of 11%.

The success of Piggly Wiggly encouraged a raft of imitators, including Handy Andy stores, Helpy Selfy stores, Mick-or-Mack stores and Jitney Jungle, all of which operated under patented systems


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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Clarence Saunders's Timeline

August 9, 1881
Bedford, Bedford County, VA, United States
January 22, 1906
October 14, 1953
Age 72
Memphis, Shelby County, TN, United States
Memorial Park Cemetery, Memphis, Shelby, TN, United States