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John got the green light to start economy stores far & wide. He operated on a simple formula: $1,000 for equipment, $1,000 for groceries and $1,000 for working capital. In two years he opened 1,600, at the incredible rate of about three every working day. "We went so fast," grins Mr. John, "that hobos hopping off the trains got hired as managers." John laid out each store exactly alike so that people could find things in any store once they learned the layout. "I could walk blindfolded into any store and lay my hands on the pork & beans," he says. By 1916, A & P's sales had soared from $31 million to $76 million. Impressed, father Hartford in 1915 turned the company over to George and John to run as a trust for themselves, their brother and two sisters.* Two years later, at 84, he died.
A & P's growth was just beginning. Mindful of George's early success with the baking powder, the brothers decided they could sell even cheaper by making still more of their goods. They started "Quaker Maid" factories to make A & P's own "Ann Page" preserves, peanut butter, etc. They set up their own American Coffee Corp. to buy direct from the growers in Brazil and Colombia. Still trying to eliminate middlemen, they set up their own Atlantic Commission Co. to buy the stores' produce. They started their own bakeries, candy and pastry shops to turn out everything from a $1 birthday cake to a $500 frosted reproduction of the Staten Island Ferry slip. They started new "combination" stores handling meats as well as groceries.
Likes & Dislikes. They made a study of food likes & dislikes. They found that New Englanders ate most of the corned beef in the U.S., preferred their corn yellow, their eggs brown, and liked a wider, fatter bacon than most other Americans. They found that prim-mouthed Philadelphia was the nation's biggest market for dried prunes, and ate more ice cream per capita than any other city in the world. Richmond liked "triple succotash," a mixture of lima beans, corn and potatoes; Scranton, Pa. bought more butter per capita than any other city.
By 1925 they had 13,961 stores and sales of $437 million. By then John realized that the company had got too big for him to keep track of it all. "George," he said, "we've got to decentralize." "All right," said George. "But lookit here, you'll never decentralize all this cash." They split A & P into seven regional retail divisions, each run by its own president but with central directives from the Graybar sanctum.
But Mr. George did not decentralize the cash ; he kept it under his own control. He leased new stores instead of buying them, devising a one-year lease with nine yearly options for renewal. He kept such close watch on A & P's finances that he was able to batten down the hatches long before 1929's storm broke, lost not a penny of A & P's surplus in the crash.