Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sol Price - The Founder of FedMart

Taking a brief detour from our current story to honor a true retail pioneer. It has been my plan to do a set of posts on FedMart early in the New Year, but I wanted to make note of the passing of Sol Price this past Monday at the age of 93.

Price is probably best known as the founder of Price Club, a San Diego-based chain of stores that pioneered the membership warehouse store concept in 1976. In 1993, Price merged his company with another firm to form Price Costco, forerunner of the modern day Costco, an unabashed retail success.

A year later, Price left the company to run a new venture, PriceSmart, from a group of stores spun off in the merger. PriceSmart continues to operate warehouse stores in Central and South America and in the Caribbean Islands.

But before all of that, there was FedMart. Founded in 1954, FedMart was Price’s original retail concept – a no frills, low overhead discount chain that eventually grew to some 40 units, located mostly in Southern California and Texas. FedMart was sold to a German firm in 1975 and folded seven years later.

Price’s legacy lives on, not only in the two membership store chains he was directly connected with, but in another very significant one – no one, with the possible exception of Harry Cunningham, the “father of Kmart”, had a greater influence on Walmart founder Sam Walton. Walton was an enthusiastic student of Price’s merchandising and cost control methods. And Sam’s Club, Walmart’s membership warehouse banner, started out as largely a knockoff of Price Club - as Walton admitted in his best-selling autobiography.

Even today the influence is felt – take a good look at the logo on the pictured store (the location of which I would love to know), circa early 1970’s.

From everything I’ve read about Price, it’s clear that he was a man of inventiveness, and above all, integrity. He will be missed.

Thanks to the several readers who identified this store location for us - on Harbor Boulevard at the Chapman Avenue intersection in Garden Grove, just down the street from The Happiest Place on Earth. It is now a Target store.

23 comments:

  1. FedMart, under Sol Price was an excellent store to shop at. FedMart sold good quality merchandise. I still have and use hand tools that I purchased at FedMart in the early 70's. They had a very lenient return policy, you could buy an item knowing they wouldn't hassle you if you chose to return it. Sadly, once Hugo Mann took over and dispatched Mr. Price, it was a slow downward spiral. Still, it was a very sad day when it was announced that FedMart was closing. You can always tell when a store was stocking junk - no one was buying it when it was marked down! Eventually they did sell it all off and quietly exited the retail business. As a San Diegan my whole life, there were no other stores that were "ours" like FedMart was.

    Mr. Price will live on through his generous support of many worthy causes.

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  2. It looks a lot like the building Target currently occupies at the corner of Chapman and Harbor in Garden Grove.

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  3. "Price Club" and "Sol Price"??? Coincidence?

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  4. I'm going to agree, that looks very much like the Target in Garden Grove on Chapman and Harbor. I'll have to ask my Mother in Law if it was originally a FedMart.

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  5. We were lamenting on the name of Price Club over at Remembering Retail. I was very surprised that the founder's last name was actually Price. Maybe there IS a J. Crew after all :D (Anyone that gets that reference is a total geek like me).

    I went to the store once or twice back in the early 90s, perhaps a year or two before they merged with Costco. Not sure if my dad got the membership or was he just trying it out. I don't recall. I wonder if he remembers.

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  6. I too recognized this as the Harbor & Chapman location, having grown up in that area during the 70s.

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  7. If some Current and ex-Targets in the Socal and Arizona areas remindo you of Fed-Marts it's no coincidence. 33 of the 40-odd FedMarts were swallowed up by Target after FM shut down in 1982 and reopened in 1983. FedMart along with the 54 Gemco stores it bought three years later made Tar-zhay an 800 lb gorilla in Socal and neighboring markets, rivaling K-mart and predating the Beast from Bentonville by about eight years.

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  8. Definitely the store in Garden Grove on Harbor and Chapman. It was remodeled a few years back but still retains for the most part the original design.

    This store also was huge.

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  9. David - As mentioned, everything I've heard about Mr. Price was positive, and that extended to the stores he ran. It must've been sad to see FedMart's decline after he sold it off, but it seems that most of the favorite discounters we grew up with met a similar fate. Definitely a bygone era!

    Charles - An intentional coincidence, no doubt! :)

    Didi - I don't know about a J. Crew, but there's definitely a J. Peterman - both real and fake versions!

    Anonymous - FedMart's demise certainly helped Target get a jump start on the West Coast, no question about it. That headstart was all too needed when W-M came their way.

    DanGarion, Synthetrix, Jeff amd Anonymous - Thanks for confirming the store location for me! I have to admit I wondered if that location was the one. On my most recent business trip to L.A. in early 2008, I stayed at a hotel in Garden Grove on Harbor Blvd., just down the street from it. Thanks again!

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  10. I write this comment on December 25, a day to think about more than profit.

    Sol Price was a genius, and changed the face of retail. But it is equally important to note he devoted enormous time, talent and resources..... along with his considerable influence..... toward philanthropy. The City Heights development project is just one example of a deep commitment to improving the lives of marginalized populations.

    Sol was committed to education, human rights, social justice..... and he put his great intellect and his dollars into action. He modeled giving a hand up rather than a hand out.

    I was lucky enough to have known this wonderful man, and hope his legacy will always include note of his caring and action for society.

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  11. Anonymous – Thanks so much for that wonderful, heartfelt comment. The truly great people in retail, or business of any kind, were and are about so much more than just business, but about using their resources and influence to improve the condition of their fellow human beings. Legacies like this, including Mr. Price’s, will long outlive any retail format or innovation. Thanks for reminding us of that on Christmas.

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  12. I worked for the Fedmart in Anaheim next to the bowling alley but I cannot remember the name of the street it was on. Any other old employees of Fedmart out there?????

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    1. Yes, it was on Lincoln west of Euclid between Crescent and Muller. I worked there as well. The building has been removed in the last few months. The bowling alley (Anaheim Bowl) was taken out years ago. When did you work there?

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    2. Yes, it was on Lincoln west of Euclid between Crescent and Muller. I worked there as well. The building has been removed in the last few months. The bowling alley (Anaheim Bowl) was taken out years ago.

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  13. I was a truck driver for Fed Mart right up until the end. 13 years. I started at IDC in Anaheim in 1969. I recently saw Jim Sinegal at a CostCo opening in Lake Elsinore.

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  14. Fed mart was located on the corner of Lincoln and Crescent.Next to LinBrook Bowl... ;)

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  15. i remember the FedMart that was on Sports Area Blvd, that later split up after FM closed to Ralphs, Target, and Mervin's, next door was a HandyMan Hardware, and on the other end was a full services FM car wash, and I think I gas station as well as Dorman's auto service.
    Anyone have photos of FM at Sport's area blvd San diego?

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    1. I remember working at that FedMart on sports arena blvd. I worked as loss prevention (security) an caught a lot of shoplifters in that store. I was brought to that store by Gil Gilgen who was one of the Secuirty Directors. I actually came from the FedMardt store in National City on Plaza Blvd. Frank Wilson didn't like me, neither did Ryan and I end of leaving because of those farts. But I loved the store and the people that I worked with.

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    2. I am probably the Ryan in your post, and I am so sorry that anything I could have done has obviously caused you a lasting pain. I too loved my experience at FedMart, but I was very young man with a lot of responsibility and I know my immaturity often resulted in dysfunction behaviors. I have worked hard to be a good person in the following decades. Best wishes to you. Mike Ryan

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  16. I worked at the FedMart located at 3010 Grand Ave, Phoenix , Arizona. 1971 until the closing in 1982

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  17. I worked at the Fed Mart in San Diego for 8 years, it was the Kearny Mesa store. I started at the Fed Mart car wash at $2.10 an hour. I eventually went to the Sports Arena car wash as a transfer. I then went back to Kearny Mesa as a night stocker in the store, and I loved my job. Sol made sure his stores were union, so i got medical and dental benefits even if part time. He chose employees first, then profits next. The funny part about my story, I just retired early from the post office. Target just hired me part time at the sports arena store, and I feel good about working in the old Fed Mart store. SO WIERD,,,lol

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  18. i loved shopping at fedmart. they had a store brand hambuger helper like product named beefy rice that was out of this world. wish i could find that today. wish fedmart was still around

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  19. I don't think this is the Fedmart on Chapman and Harbor. The entrance to that store would be on the other side of the building. BTW, that building (Harbor and Chapman) started out as a Two Guys.

    The Fedmart on Brookhurst and Westminster (now a Target) started out as a Cal Store. Cal store had a smaller building (now gone) attached to the south side that was the Cal Store grocery store.

    The brick building that is currently a tire store is one of the original building on that site.

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