In the case of five- and ten-cent variety stores, the neglect is particularly unwarranted.(2) Unlike grocery, drug, and department store chains, which entered businesses previously dominated by independent merchants, the dime store chains actually created their own business.
To recruit and motivate the type of men they needed, dime store chains touted their role in creating new kinds of opportunities for individuals to earn high incomes and social prestige.
Because the dime store chains kept labor costs very low by employing local females--usually teenagers living with their families and working at their first jobs--for their sales forces, the turnover rates were high.
By the First World War, when the dime store business had solidly established itself and was on the verge of its greatest prosperity, five chains dominated the field.
Kress, embarked on the path to their own success in the dime store business.
McLellan, who had begun in the dime store business working at an S.
Those pioneers of the dime store businesses were cut from similar cloth.
They made it possible for each customer entering their stores to become rich for the moment, able to say, "Anything I see and want I can buy." Indeed, the president of one of the largest chain department stores in 1940 declared, "There is no more fascinating example of American genius in production and distribution than the counters of a 5-and-10-cent store."(9) The need to keep costs down was basic: the founders and operators of the dime store chains squeezed a nickel so hard, it was said, that the buffalo bellowed.
When they sought out partners and store managers, the dime store operators naturally looked for men like themselves.
Other dime store chains, trying to create their own networks of loyal managers, followed similar methods.
After the First World War and throughout the 1920s, dime store chains enjoyed extraordinary successes.(14) Most chains--but not Woolworth until the 1930s--responded to inflation and changes in consumer tastes by raising their price ceilings and renamed themselves "limited price variety stores." By 1929, Woolworth's sales alone reached over $300 million, and the five largest variety store chains had combined sales of over $638 million, a four-fold increase over 1917.
To manage stores in small towns, where most dime store chains started, they turned quite naturally to men from the same environment, who could understand their customers, feel at home along them, and easily win acceptance.
Frank Woolworth, for example, studied population growth trends during the late nineteenth century and found convincing evidence, particularly in the Census of 1890, of an expanding commercial frontier in cities.(45) With new stores first in Washington, D.C., and then in Brooklyn, he proved that dime store chains could operate very profitably in urban settings.