A Modern, Old-Fashioned Store

I was talking to an old friend of mine in San Francisco some time ago, and something in his conversation gave me what I think was a good idea. I’ll pass it along and you see what you think about it. My friend was telling me about the old days when he used to call on grocery stores as a part of his job. He was making a call and, in talking to the owner of the store, he mentioned that he had noticed a sign in the window that the grocer made free deliveries as a part of his service.

The grocer replied that he did, but he also said that it didn’t make any difference as business was bad and he hadn’t used his delivery truck in two weeks.

My friend said to him, “I can give you an idea that will guarantee you’re making ten deliveries this afternoon.”

Well, the grocer was astonished and incredulous. He asked, naturally, “How?”

My friend picked up the telephone book, opened it at random and said, “Pick any name you like.” The grocer selected a name. “Now, call the lady of the house and tell her who you are. Mention that you’re going to be in her neighborhood this afternoon with your truck and that you’ll be glad to bring her anything she happens to need.”

Well, the grocer made ten phone calls and got ten orders. He also learned that afternoon that his business could be just about as good as he wanted to make it.

And while you can’t place a price on an idea like that, it could have been worth several thousand dollars.

It was this story that gave me my idea. And since the idea seems so good to me, the chances are that it is in use someplace. Here’s the way I’d work it. Supply hundreds, even thousands, of homes with a catalog of all the items carried in the grocery store or supermarket, and have a special telephone order department just like the department stores. In this way, the lady of the house could do about ninety-five percent of her list from a catalog and, while it probably couldn’t list the prices because they fluctuate, she has a pretty good idea of what these items cost. The telephone operator in the store could simply check off a master sheet, write down the name and address, and the order could be fulfilled and delivered that day.

Maybe the lady of the house still wants to select her own fresh vegetables and fruit, and maybe a special roast for Sunday dinner, but it’s still a lot better than having to load the car down with heavy bags and then having to transfer them from the car into the kitchen.

This was the way grocery stores used to operate back in the old days.

I think that by combining this method with some streamlined modern procedures (catalogs, a credit card, etc.), a person would have a tremendous advantage over the competition. It would increase costs, but the additional volume would probably make up for it. In the final analysis, it rests with the lady of the house. If she would rather go to the store and do her own shopping and be her own delivery truck — well, that’s the way it’s going to be. But I’ll bet there are thousands, even millions, of women who would rather shop by phone. The modern female is quite an executive, with a fairly busy schedule and, after all, this is the way the executives do it. Isn’t it?

To me, there’s nothing more exciting than a good idea.

And a good idea is usually nothing more than a reshuffling of existing conditions to make things easier, faster, and more convenient. You just can’t put a price tag on ideas. They pay for themselves.

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