The first Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store – and a couple of thoughts about Innovation

Piggle WigglyMy wife and I traveled to Memphis for our vacation this year.  For the last few years, we have gone to Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, Little Rock, and now Memphis, on our own series of Civil Rights vacations. The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, located at the Lorraine Motel (the site of the assassination of Dr. martin Luther King, Jr) is a sobering and respectful museum. And, it is genuinely instructive and revealing to tour it slowly, as we did.

But, a surprise on our Memphis trip was the journey through The Pink Palace, a massive mansion that was begun by Clarence Saunders, the creator of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain. He went bankrupt before he could finish his mansion; he never lived in it, and it was completed by the city of Memphis, and turned into a museum.

here is one of the appetizing, appealing offerings from within the Piggly Wiggly

here is one of the appetizing, appealing offerings from within the Piggly Wiggly

Inside the space is a replica of the original Piggly Wiggly. The first Piggly Wiggly was opened in 1916 in Memphis.   What an innovative grocery store! Before the Piggly Wiggly, a person would walk into a store, hand a list of items to a clerk, who would gather the items and present them and receive payment. But the Piggly Wiggly allowed the shopper to walk through the aisles, and gather their own items. They would walk thorough a turnstile, walk the pre-determined path laid out in the aisles, and at the end pay for their selections.  In other words, it was the first “self-service” grocery store.

And it changed shopping forever.

It reminds me of so many lessons that are true about innovations.  Here are two:

#1 – Find a better way to do what needs to be done anyway. People were shopping anyway.  This just made it easier.

#2 – Make it user friendly.  The lay out was so very simple. You walk up one aisle, and down the next.  It did not require instruction to take advantage of this innovation.

I’ll be writing more about our trip to Memphis; especially regarding the Civil Rights insights. (Yes, and maybe a word or two about that other King connected to Memphis; Elvis).    But I will remember quite fondly my trip through the aisles of the Piggly Wiggly.

Piggly Wiggly 2

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