IGA: Then & Now

Dec 18, 2019

What do you think the original founders of IGA would think about the company today? J. Frank Grimes, his board of distributors, and a group of entrepreneurial grocery retailers started IGA a little less than 100 years ago. Their mission: help independent grocers compete against the emerging national chains. At that time, the national chain they were talking about was A&P.

Here, at the end of a decade, it would be amazing to know what they would have thought. We can’t go back in time to talk to those visionaries, but recently I had a conversation with J. Frank Grimes’ grandson, Joseph Grimes. He called me because he has seen some cool press on IGA recently and wanted to talk about his grandfather’s legacy.

We talked about the challenges that seem the same today as they probably did back then: big national chains, with more resources and more clout, seem to crop up everywhere. A&P is long gone but the cast of competitors is bigger, better financed, and more aggressive today than ever before.

We talked about the changing needs of the shopper, and how retail today is much more complicated than it was even 20 years ago, much less 90. And of course, we talked about technology, and the way it seems to be in every part of our business, for good or ill.

He was exceptionally proud that his grandfather’s vision continues to grow. I told him that IGA will have the single biggest growth year in our modern history, with more retailers joining IGA in 2019—in the U.S. and globally—than ever before. He was excited to hear how our new tools, like the modern signage and visual merchandising system, our email and social media, and our digital promotions network were advancing IGA into the next decade.

But I think the thing that he was most proud of was that the legacy of hometown proud retailers continues. “My grandfather was a deeply spiritual man, and prayed every day before starting work. He wanted to build something that really mattered,” Grimes said.

Today, just like in 1926, our stores are so much more than boxes that sell stuff. At IGA we are integrated parts of the community. We feed families, we support local farmers and other local businesses, we feed the hungry and employ children of the newest generation of taxpayers. IGA is still fiercely local.

Grimes told me that it's no wonder that IGA is going so strong today, where A&P is long gone. "National chains come and go, but great local retailers thrive because what we do matters.”

J. Frank Grimes wasn’t a retailer, but he certainly understood the challenges retailers face. I grew up in retail stores and know firsthand what it means to come in early, leave late, work weekends and holidays, and deal with a thousand problems all day long. It can often feel like it is too hard. And sometimes seeing the big picture is impossible when getting through the day means focusing on the details.

But J. Frank’s grandson is right. Like almost no other business I can name, local grocers make our communities happen. We step in when impersonal national chains pull back. We commit to serving our neighbors because that’s exactly what our customers are. Nothing can beat that feeling when you help someone out whose own family supported our family business for generations.

As the holidays speed by and the next decade approaches, I’d like to imagine what the next 10 years will be like. More competitors? Online and digital changes shifting demand from center to service areas of the store? Certainly. Those are the changes we can see happening now.

But there is one thing I know won’t change in the next 10 or the next 100 years: IGA families take care of their associates. We take care of our neighbors and our communities. And no matter how hard the job can be, no matter how tough and fickle the market, IGA wins because what we do truly matters.

Have a wonderful Christmas, and the happiest of New Year's.

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