On Sept. 6, 1916, Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Memphis, Tennessee. Piggly Wiggly introduced large-scale self-service grocery shopping in America, replacing the existing system of giving grocery orders to store clerks. Saunders founded the Piggly Wiggly Corporation and partnered with retailers to establish franchises nationwide.
Although origin stories exist, Saunders refused to reveal the true meaning behind the Piggly Wiggly name, preferring to take advantage of its mystique to generate buzz. The Piggly Wiggly Corporation is credited with creating the standards and practices associated with modern grocery shopping, such as uniformed employees, shopping baskets, national brand advertising and individual price marking on inventory. Saunders envisioned the self-service shopping model as an alternative to inefficient clerk-based systems, which required customers to wait while store clerks collected the items on each grocery list.
Despite criticism, Saunders instituted open shelving customers could access freely and pursued patents for the retail equipment and fixtures he designed. Piggly Wiggly also introduced the concept of refrigerated cases and checkout stands and revolutionized the industry by using low profit margins to drive high-volume sales.
Although Saunders originally facilitated Piggly Wiggly’s transition into a publicly traded company, he lost control of the corporation in the 1920s. As of 2015, Piggly Wiggly is headquartered in Keene, New Hampshire, and operates more than 600 independently owned stores.