Entrepreneurs of North Carolina History Exhibit
A Basket of Grocery Entrepreneurs
1936William Thomas Harris | Harris Teeter
Harris Teeter attributes the vast diversity of products in their grocery stores to the the many agricultural entrepreneurs that feed our hungry nation annually. Hundreds of thousands of products stock the shelves of their local grocery stores, and each product has a story. William Harris’s story began as both a grocery store owner and a dairy farmer in Charlotte in 1936.
Harris’s store broke the mold in customer satisfaction, customers were the first in North Carolina to pick products off the shelves without employee assistance. It was one of the first stores to open late, closing at 9 pm instead of 5 pm, which gave the business more family appeal and was the first in Charlotte to add the comforts of air conditioning. Harris’s dairy farm provided his store and pioneered a dairy co-op among local dairy farmers. The family worked together to diversify products and quality in their store to carry more than just food products, they added beauty products, school supplies, and focused on education of employees in the grocery business. At the same time Willis L. Teeter and his brother Paul Teeter were pushing forward with a grocery store brand that paralleled the successful techniques of Harris’s stores in Morrisville, NC in 1939. Shortly after the two companies began to cooperate and the stores merged February 1, 1960.
Harris Teeter’s legacy resides in its customer satisfaction and high quality products instilled by its original founders. Since its merger the grocery store has grown to supply products to customers all over the south eastern United States. With over 200 stores and over $3 billion in annual revenue Harris Teeter is the second largest grocery chain in the United States.
1957Ralph W. Ketner | Food Lion
Ralph Ketner cofounded Food Lion (then Food Town) in 1957 after working in the grocery business as a child in his father's store and as a teen in his brother's store. An innovative businessperson, Ketner was never afraid to take risks. After disappointingly slow growth in the chain's first decade, he slashed prices in January 1968 because he was convinced that storewide discounts increase sales enough to make a profit. Ketner advertised that the chain had the "Lowest Food Prices in North Carolina" (LFPINC), which led to a 35% annual growth rate until 1991.
Other innovations during Ketner's tenure included centralizing buying to make it more efficient and less costly to customers and naming the chain's competition in advertisements. When Ketner retired in 1991, he had turned Food Lion into a leading chain with almost 800 stores.
"We’d rather make five fast pennies than one slow nickel."
"I would just like people to think Salisbury was a better place because I was here."
1967Sam Wornom, III | Pantry
Sam Wornom, III, began by working part-time at a Big Value Discount Store in Greenville, NC, and later full-time at Big Value stores in Tarboro and Sanford, but he wanted to go into business for himself. He saw a need for stores that stayed open late selling household items and gas in small towns. First he needed a partner. Truby Proctor, whose family owned an oil company in Sanford, was the perfect candidate because he knew the gas business. Wornom and Proctor opened the first Pantry store in 1967. The Pantry expanded to dozens and then hundreds of stores across North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana. In 1987, Wornom sold The Pantry to Montrose Capital, an investment firm. It went public and operates under the Kangaroo Express banner today.
Wornom is also associated with other successful businesses, including Capital Bank and Imperial Freezer Services. In addition to his accomplishments in business, Wornom is an active community member, devoting his energy to the Boys & Girls Club of Lee County as well as other philanthropic activities.
"In most small towns back then, you couldn’t buy a quart of milk or get gas after five o’clock. We thought we could make money serving that need." - Sam Wornom
1975Michael Barefoot | A Southern Season
Soon after graduating from UNC, Michael Barefoot started A Southern Season as a coffee roastery in Chapel Hill, NC.
Now the company has more than 300 employees.
1982Ray and Beverly Berry | The Fresh Market
Ray and Beverly Berry opened the first The Fresh Market in 1982 in Greensboro, NC. The couple's goal was an open European-style market that retailed fresh perishables and emphasized customer service. Ray focused on products, prices and layouts, Beverly on the design and atmosphere of the store. The Fresh Market broke the mold by concentrating on high-profit perishable items rather than prepackaged vegetables. It was an early provider of organic and local produce. The company now operates 106 stores in 21 states. In 2009, The Fresh Market had revenues of $861. It went public in 2010.
"While many people didn’t understand what we were about or how to shop our store, most people really enjoyed the quality of our products and kept coming back." - Ray Berry
"The hard part about growth is that I no longer know most of our employees personally." - Ray Berry