John Francis Geisse
Retail Pioneer & Leader
Founder of Target Stores, Venture Stores, The Wholesale Club.
Mary Ann Wakeen Geisse
Father of ten children.
Founder of Target Stores, Venture Stores, The Wholesale Club.
John F. Geisse (died Feb 21, 1992 aged 71) was a pioneer in mass
merchandising. Geisse is the author of the Better Quality Upscale
Discount Store Concept in America and was inducted into Discount Store
News Discount Hall of Fame in 1984. Geisse launched three successful
retail chains. After World War II, Geisse located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and
worked for the Dayton brothers at Dayton Department Stores. In 1962, he
founded and launched the chain Target Stores for the Dayton Company (now Target
Corporation). In 1968, Geisse left Target Stores and was then hired by May
Department Stores, where he founded
chain. In 1975, he
"retired" from May Co. and Venture Stores. He then purchased Ayr-Way Stores,
Indianapolis. After he sold Ayr-Way Stores, he continued his consulting
business and listed as clients, Ames Department Stores and his friend Sam Walton
and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. In 1982, he founded his third chain, the first "Price
Club" warehouse club, The Wholesale Club, Inc. of Indianapolis. February
1, 1991, he sold The Wholesale Club chain to Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and The
Wholesale Club merged with Sam's Club. Geisse and his wife Mary raised ten
John F. Geisse Bio as written by JFG
June, 1991. One may need to zoom to 200%
for better viewing.
Doug Dayton letter to Mary A. Geisse July 17, 1968. One may need to zoom to 200%
for better viewing.
"John F. Geisse, an
early leader in discount merchandising who founded three major store chains,
died on Friday at his home in Indianapolis. He was 71 years old. Mr.
Geisse died of a heart attack, his family said. He was the founder,
chairman and chief executive officer of the Wholesale Club, a chain he started
in 1982. It grew to 28 stores by 1991, when it merged with the Sam's Club
division of Wal-Mart to become part of the largest sales-volume retailer in
the United States. Sam Walton, the founder and chairman of Wal-Mart, who
retained Mr. Geisse as a consultant for 25 years, called him "a pioneer in
innovative retailing concepts." Formula for Success In his first two store
chains, Target and Venture, Mr. Geisse was credited with the concept of
adapting better-quality merchandise to the discount format of reduced prices,
large open stock and essentially self-service shopping. In 1962, working
for the Dayton Hudson company, he created Target Stores, which has grown
through the western half of the nation, to become the nation's third biggest
discount chain. In 1968 he founded Venture Stores, the discount division of
May Department Stores, and served as its chairman and chief executive officer
until 1975. Venture, now an independent company concentrated in the Midwest,
is the nation's 10th largest discount chain. He was also the chief
executive officer of Ayr-Way Stores in 1976 and 1977 and had served on the
boards of Mays, Wal-Mart, Ames Department Stores, Macks Stores and Lieberman
Born in Madison, Wis., he grew up there and in the Washington area. He
graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1941 and served in the
Pacific and Atlantic theaters in World War II. He retired in 1947 as a
lieutenant commander. After the war he settled in Indianapolis, began
working in the Dayton department stores and rose to an executive. Mr.
Geisse is survived by his wife, the former Mary Wakeen; five sons, Lawrence
J., of Huntington Beach, Calif., Timothy F., of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Thomas
J., of Indianapolis, Andrew M., of St. Louis, and John K., of San Rafael,
Calif.; five daughters, Nancy J., of Linden, Mich., Kathleen A., of Tokyo,
Sally J., of Altadena, Calif., Amy L., of Davis, Calif., and Mary Teresa
Dunagan of St. Louis; a sister, Nancy Falls of Red Wing, Minn., and 15
Reprinted by permission of New York Times. For full article visit
The New York Times obit:
Discount pioneer Geisse dead at 71 - John Geisse - Obituary
Discount Store News, Front page,
March 16, 1992 by Arthur Markowitz,
John Geisse, a
pioneering discount store executive who originated the upscale discount store
concept and launched three successful chains, died at his home here Feb. 21 of a
heart attack. He was 71 years old. Geisse's
retailing career spanned over 40 years, during which he profoundly affected both
the business and personal lives of many industry executives. In
recognition of his contributions to discounting, Geisse was inducted into DSN's
Discount Hall of Fame in 1984. The citation notes his "having originated the
upscale, better-quality discount store concept in America and for being the
driving force behind Target and Venture chains, and founder of The Wholesale
Club." He launched Target for the Dayton Co. in 1962 as the industry's
first upscale discount store. That made Dayton, a Minneapolis-based department
store chain, which later became the Dayton Hudson Co., the first department
store with a discount division. Six years later he started Venture stores
for The May Co., another department store chain.
He was also an advisor
to a number of major discounters. He left Venture in 1975 to start a consulting
firm, with Wal-Mart stores as his principal client, and the next year became
chairman of Ayr-Way discount stores. (Ayr-Way, controlled by Stephens Inc., a
Little Rock, Ark., investment banking firm that had taken Wal-Mart public five
years earlier, was acquired by Target in 1980.) In 1978, Geisse
re-established his consulting business, advising such discounters as Wal-Mart,
Ayr-Way and Ames and in 1982 founded The Wholesale Club. His insights on the
wholesale club industry inspired Wal-Mart to start its own membership warehouse
chain, Sam's Club, a year later. The Wholesale Club was acquired by Wal-Mart a
year ago and folded it into Sam's Club.
Sam Walton, Wal-Mart's
founder and chairman, called Geisse "a pioneer in innovative retailing concepts,
creating concepts new and different from anything else in the industry at that
time. He was years ahead of everyone else. "I have never know
anyone else that I respected more for many things, including integrity, morality
and the way he cared for his associates," Walton added.
Dave Babcock, retired
May Co. chairman, knew Geisse since 1951 when both worked for the Dayton Co. He
was present when Geisse started Target and then Venture. In 1960, Babcock was
vice president of personnel, and the first non-family member director of
privately held Dayton. He recalled that "John was a vice president. He had
looked at the early discounters and decided there was a place for an upscale
discounter. His first thought was to get financing and open his own chain."
Geisse reminisced in a St. Louis Dispatch article in 1970 that "Target was my
idea originally and I had decided in 1960 to leave the Dayton Co. and set up my
own operation. The Dayton management pointed out that I would need capital -
something they had. So I agreed to stay with Dayton and develop a discount
subsidiary provided I could have an equity interest." He was given a 6% share of
Target. Babcock said, "John built Target, putting the whole thing together
with help from the Dayton organization. Douglas Dayton, the youngest family
member, went with him into Target, but John created the whole merchandising
concept and ambience. "John was a very, very bright man, a [December 1941]
graduate from Annapolis [Navel Academy], and very creative; he was almost
possessed to do this - and do it right," Babcock added.
Geisse was senior vice
president and general merchandise manager of Target - which had grown to 11
stores in three states - when he resigned in July 1968, telling other executives
in a memo that "I miss the pell mell excitement of the blood, sweat and tears of
the first five years of Target's formation that most of us here today went
through together. I confess to a tremendous pride in you and what you have
accomplished, and I take that pride away with me." He had differed with
other Target executives over expansion strategy, according to a 1967 Harvard
Business School study of the chain, favoring a market dominance plan over
shotgun growth. The Minneapolis Star Tribune said in its obituary that Geisse
left "when he was passed over for the top job."
A month later May Co.
announced that Geisse was joining the company as president of a new discount
store division. "John had tremendous strength as a creator and builder,"
Babcock said, "but he didn't always have the patience to do boring things like
day-to-day management over a long period of time. Had he lived he would probably
have started something else." In 1968, Babcock was May Co. executive vp.
He was traveling on company business when he learned that Geisse had resigned.
May Co. at that time couldn't acquire any more chains under an antitrust consent
decree reached with the Department of Justice. "I felt that there was room
for another Target and told John not to do anything until I talked with him. So
we met with John and his wife, Mary, to discuss the idea. John then made a
presentation to May's executive committee and after some deliberations we
decided to create Venture."
Geisse left Venture at
the end of 1975 when it was a 20-store chain and as he told other executives,
"all of a sudden I am 55. I am free to seek new challenges in our field or in
entirely different fields. "How much did John
Geisse really do and how much did you do yourselves? I'll tell you the answer is
plenty. Your heads, not just mine, went into building this business. My greatest
contribution to Venture was to set it up as a participative management company
and we may well be one of the best examples of this in the retailing business."
Tom Hayes, now May Co. president, worked with Geisse at the start-up of Venture
as senior vp finance and operation. "I came from outside retailing and he taught
me the business. He was a very innovative person, always paying close attention
to customers and associates. He established good criteria for Venture."
Venture chairman Julian Seeherman said Geisse "was an incredible man. He was
always available for advice, counsel and information and was a stalwart
businessman. His concern for his fellow man was as genuine and intense as his
business concerns. I am proud to have had the opportunity to know him."
Geisse was chairman of
Ayr-Way in 1976 to 1977 when Stephens sought to turn around the regional chain.
He supplied the merchandising acumen, while Ron Meyer, formerly chief executive
officer of Wal-Mart, provided the financial/operational expertise. Geisse,
while a consultant, served on the boards of a number of retailers, including
Ames, where he was a personal friend of Herbert Gilman. He and Gilman opposed
Ames' 1988 acquisition of Zayre and both later resigned from Ames' board.
In 1982, Geisse
founded The Wholesale Club as a Midwest regional membership warehouse that grew
into a 22-club chain when it was acquired by Wal-Mart. Jim Berk, now
president and ceo of BizMart, was The Wholesale Club's president from 1986 to
1991. He described Geisse as a "unique individual. He was very driven for
accomplishments and always focused on business. He spent a great deal of time in
stores - ours and competitors - to understand and know the business. "If I
learned anything from John it was to recognize that you could always be better.
In retailing, the status quo is only a day old. The business changes so quickly
you have to strive to always improve."
Geisse was born in
Madison, Wis. He served in the Navy during World War II in the Pacific and
Atlantic theaters, including the Normandy invasion. He retired from the Navy in
1947 as a Lieutenant Commander of the USS Tuscaloosa. He is survived by
his wife, Mary, and their 10 children and 15 grandchildren, and a sister.
Services were held in Saint Luke Catholic Church, Indianapolis.
"Discount pioneer Geisse dead at 71 - John Geisse - Obituary"
Arthur Markowitz "Discount
pioneer Geisse dead at 71 - John Geisse - Obituary". Discount Store News.
FindArticles.com. 14 Nov, 2010.
Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or
distribution is prohibited without permission.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale
Business Magazine feature article on JFG 1987 (may
need to zoom to 200%)
article about sale of The Wholesale Club to Wal*Mart.
In a proposed deal
that would hasten Wal-Mart Stores Inc.`s movement into the Chicago
marketplace, the discount store giant agreed Tuesday to acquire The Wholesale
Club Inc. and add the stores to its Sam`s Club wholesale store chain.
Wal-Mart offered an exchange of its own stock and cash worth $21 a share to
shareholders of the Indianapolis-based chain in a proposal that values the
Wholesale Club at about $170 million. The merger would
combine Wal-Mart`s Sam`s Club, one of the top players in the fast-growing
members-only discount business, with the Wholesale Club, the industry`s fifth
(A story in the Nov. 7 Business section incorrectly described Venture Stores
as a subsidiary of May Co. Venture recently became a new company, Venture
Stores Inc., after a spinoff of the division by May Co.) Wal-Mart operates
141 Sam`s Clubs in 34 states, including 8 in Illinois. The Wholesale
Club operates 27 stores, all in the Midwest. Its newest store is to open
Wednesday in Cicero, and Wal-Mart officials plan to join the festivities, said
Thomas Geisse, senior vice president of marketing for the Wholesale Club.
Wholesale Club executives said they have signed lease agreements to open two
other Chicago-area stores next year, one at Roosevelt Road and Canal Street
and the other in Evanston. If Wal-Mart opens those stores, the Roosevelt Road
site would be Wal-Mart`s first Chicago store.
Wal-Mart`s move into the Chicago metropolitan market has been steady during
the last two years, but it has been mostly through building new stores in
outlying areas. Geisse said the Wholesale Club`s Indianapolis
headquarters eventually will close, but that its approximately 200 employees
will be offered jobs in the Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart organization.
Many Wholesale Club employees are likely to be required to move, Geisse added.
Geisse said he doesn`t expect Wal-Mart to close any Wholesale Club units, even
though the companies both operate stores in Milwaukee, and Wal-Mart plans to
open a Sam`s Club in Indianapolis, where the Wholesale Club already has four
stores. A partnership between the two discounters was not a surprise.
The Wholesale Club`s chairman and chief executive officer, John F. Geisse, has
been on Wal-Mart`s board and acted as a consultant to the discounter. John
Geisse also is co-founder of Target stores, now a division of Dayton-Hudson
Corp., and founder of the Venture store chain, now part of May Department
Reprinted by permission. Visit ChicagoTribune.com for complete article.
http://tripatlas.com/Target_Corporation See: 1962-1971: The founding
From Roseville to Greatland,
Target Still Hits the Mark
Target burst on the American
retailing scene in 1962, a pivotal year in the history of the discount store
industry, but its origins go back two years earlier. In 1960, Dayton's, a
family-owned Minneapolis-based upper Midwest department store chain, began
looking at new retailing concepts as possible growth areas.
The company's investigations included a report prepared by one executive, John
Geisse, that detailed the strengths and weaknesses of the discount stores then
taking the nation by storm. Geisse's study, based on his own observations,
his retailing experience as Dayton's general merchandise manager and a
University of Denver business school research paper on retailing formats,
triggered the department store's decision to launch a discount operation.
Douglas J. Dayton, the youngest family member and a key company executive,
headed up the venture. Geisse was named vice president and general manager,
responsible for day-to-day operations. The discount industry in the early
`60s was in flux, with the various companies - only a handful of which are in
business today - seeking viable marketing roles. Geisse's report insightfully
positioned discounters and department stores are complementary merchants; it
prognosticated Dayton's using the projected discount operation to target a
consumer market the department store chain was missing.
Dayton's proposed venture didn't
follow the concept of other discounters that focused on low-priced goods, with
seconds and irregulars part of the mix. Instead, Dayton said, "We will offer
high-quality merchandise at low margins, because we are cutting expenses. We
would much rather do this than trumpet dramatic price cuts on cheap
merchandise." The new store, called Target, offered
a broad selection, including higher-priced staples, eschewed seconds and
irregulars, and used its low-cost operation to reduce prices to sell goods every
day at very competitive prices.
The chain's name was originated by
Stewart K. Widdess, then Dayton's publicity director. He noted in a company
reminiscence that more than 200 names were considered but didn't include any
that involved the word "Dayton's" so that consumers wouldn't associate the new
chain with the department store. Various motifs of "targets" were
considered as logos, one artist even drew a design with bullet holes. Another
artist finally came up with the original bull's eye logo.
Dayton's married its department
store heritage and Geisse's insights to launch Target as the first upscale
discounter, featuring an attractive shopping environment, an innovative
racetrack layout and a mix that included higher-priced merchandise. With its
chain-orientation, Target's merchandising and operating decisions were made at
headquarters, rather that at the individual stores as most discounters were then
doing. The first Target opened its doors
May 1, 1962, in the St. Paul suburb of Roseville, 60 days after K mart began its
operation and a few months prior to Wal-Mart's debut. The launching of these
three chains, today the nation's dominant discounters, made 1962 a landmark year
in retailing history.
Discounting in 1962 was a turbulent
industry, with some founding companies failing while newcomers entered the
business. That first Target was a signpost of subsequent events for the chain
and the discount industry. Another discounter had planned to
open in Roseville, but when that troubled company called off its expansion,
Target took the building. Recycling stores would later play a key role in the
development of many discounters, including Target's growth in the Midwest, South
and Southwest. Dayton's launched four Targets in
1962; the move spurred other department stores to consider similar steps. In
1968, Federated Department Stores began Gold Circle, Rich's started Richway, and
Strawbridge & Clother followed in 1970 with Clover. Dayton's executives were uncertain
about Target's viability as the discounter at first lost money at first. They
limited its growth to just one more store in 1965, by which time the first group
of Targets were showing 30% to 40% sales gains, with volume that year reaching
$39 million. The next year, Target ventured out of
Minneapolis to Denver, with two stores; the seven-store chain's sales passed the
$60 million level in 1966. The chain grew to nine as two more stores were opened
in Minnesota in 1967. 1968 marked a key transition stage in
Target's history. Dayton moved to the parent Dayton's, to be succeeded as Target
president by William A. Hodder, while the discounter expanded into St. Louis
with two stores, the 11 units reaching $130 million in sales. Target also
started its own advertising department in 1968 and streamlined its bull's eye
trademark to the version currently in use.
The chain's move into St. Louis
triggered a reaction by the local department store powerhouse, The May
Department Store Co. May signed on Geisse, then Target's senior vp, gmm, to
develop its discount chain, Venture. Geisse became president of the new
retailer. Venture debuted with two stores in St. Louis in 1970.
(Geisse note: John F. Geisse had resigned from Target Stores several
months before May Co. contacted him. Thomas Geisse)
As the '60s ended,
Target expanded into Texas and Oklahoma with six stores to become a 17-store
chain. It also launched a regional structure with districts in St. Louis and
Dallas, and opened its Northern Distribution Center in Fridley, Minn., that
included a computerized distribution system. Its parent, meanwhile, merged with
Hudson, a Detroit-based department store chain, to become Dayton Hudson, a
retailer composed of Target and five major department store chains. In
1970, the chain added seven stores, including its first two in Wisconsin, with
the 24 units hitting the $200 million mark. The next year, Target acquired 16
former Arlan's in Colorado, Iowa and Oklahoma, opening two takeovers, plus four
new units. In 1972, the other 14 takeovers and two new stores were added. Target
that year moved its headquarters to the IDS Center, Minneapolis' tallest
building. But the rapid expansion to 46 stores, along with the chain's new
top executives' inexperience as discounters, resulted in a decrease in operating
income and profits. A key error was a combination of overstocking and carrying
the goods from year to year without regard to the inventory and storage costs.
In 1973, Stephen L. Pistner, who had revived another troubled retailer, was
named chief executive officer, with Kenneth A. Macke, senior vp, merchandise
manager of soft lines. Pistner became known as a turnaround specialist because
of his success at Target, and later was asked to do the same at Montgomery Ward
and now at Ames. Target's new management took tremendous markdowns to
clean out the overstock and halted its growth to just one store; then they
focused on reviving and refining merchandising and operations. The two-year
remake of Target included a retreat by company executives to a Minneapolis hotel
in 1974 for a over a week to develop Decision Guides - the operating policies
and philosophies for the chain's future growth. With modifications and updates,
Target has continued to use that blueprint, now called Guides for Growth, to
direct its destiny.
(Geisse note: Guidelines for Growth were developed using John Geisse's
original philosophies for Target Stores and were similar to Geisse's original
1962 documents. Thomas Geisse)
The two-year revamping
paid off in 1975 as Target's recovery turned the discounter into Dayton Hudson's
top chain in revenue. The chain opened two stores, reaching 49 units in nine
Midwestern states and $511 million in sales. There was no stopping Target
now. The discounter added four stores in 1976 as sales reached $600 million and
then seven more units in 1977. That year, Macke, named Target president and ceo
in 1976, was promoted to chairman and ceo to succeed Pistner, who became
president of parent Dayton Hudson; Bruce G. All-bright-moved from the parent
firm, where he was senior vp, specialty stores, to succeed Macke as Target
president. The decade came to a close with Target opening eight stores in
1978, including its first as a shopping center anchor in a Grand Forks, N.D.,
mall, and then 13 the next year to end 1979 with 80 units and $1.12 billion in
sales. The decade began with Target unveiling 17 stores, along with
expansion into Tennessee and Kansas. Then, as 1980 ended, Target acquired the
40-unit Ayr-Way chain which became the discounter's fourth region.
(Geisse note: John Geisse sold his interests in Ayr-Way Stores several
years prior to Target acquiring it. Thomas Geisse)
Distribution Center in Indianapolis was obtained as part of the Ayr-Way deal.
Sales, meanwhile, rose to $1.53 billion, making the discounter Dayton Hudson's
leading business operation, surpassing the combined volume of all the department
stores. Target in 1980 won its first DISC (Discounter in Service to the
Community) award, presented annually by Discount Store News to a chain for its
community service activities during the year. The 40 Ayr-Ways were
remolded during 1981, while 14 new stores were opened, including the chain's
debut in Louisiana, and the Southern Distribution Center was unveiled in Little
Rock, Ark. The chain's size: 151 stores and $2.05 billion in sales. On the
executive front, Floyd Hall was named chairman and ceo as Macke moved to Dayton
Hudson to become the parent's president, while Allbright went to Woolworth as
chairman and ceo of its Woolco discount arm. "Go West" became a reality
for Target in 1982; the discounter acquired 28 FedMarts in Southern California,
with four others obtained in Arizona - another new state - and one in Texas. The
California thrust resulted in Target relocating the region headquarters in St.
Louis to Los Angeles and placing its fourth distribution center in that city.
The year ended as All-bright rejoined Target as vice chairman and chief
administrative officer and the chain grew to 167 stores and $2.41 billion in
sales. The FedMarts were converted to Targets by mid-1983, but the
acquisition temporarily slowed down the chain's growth as it struggled to adjust
its merchandising to the West Coast consumer market from its new home in City
Center in downtown Minneapolis. Target resumed its momentum in 1984 as the
California stores hit their stride and nine new stores boosted the chain's count
to 215, while sales went to $3.55 billion. In 1984, Allbright became chairman
and ceo as Floyd Hall left, with Robert J. Ulrich switching to Target president
from head of the Dayton Hudson Department Stores group. 1985 was marked by
Target unveiling a new prototype, its first in a decade, featuring three
segregated merchandising environments - Fashion World of apparel on the left,
Home World of home goods in the center of Basic & Leisure World of hard lines on
the right. The headlong growth
during the first half of the '80s saw Target add 166 stores through 198 -
growing to 246 units - topped off by its becoming the dominant Southern
California retailer by acquiring 50 Gemcos that year. The fifth distribution
center was opened in Pueblo, Colo., with computerized technology that can sort
up to 110 cartons per minute. In 1987, the Gemcos were unveiled as
Targets, while the discounter opened six stores in metropolitan Detroit to
directly battled K mart on its home ground. With Michigan and Nevada as new
markets, Target's national presence grew to 24 states with 317 stores and $5.3
billion in sales by the end of the year. Ulrich, meanwhile, became chairman and
ceo as Allbright moved to the parent retailer as president. The 1980s saw
continued Target growth and expansion, first into California, then into rival K
mart's home base, Detroit, and finally the Pacific Northwest. As the
decade wound down, Target in 1988 moved into the Pacific Northwest with eight
stores in Washington and three in Oregon, while nationally it reached 341 units
in 27 states. It also completed installation of scanning systems in all its
stores and opened distribution centers in Sacramento and Indianapolis, the
latter a replacement for an older facility. In 1989, Target added 60
units, including further expansion into the Southeast with 14 Georgia, six in
Florida, five in North Carolina and three in South Carolina. It also inaugurated
satellite voice and data communications to all its 399 units in 30 states. Sales
at the end of the decade reached $7.51 billion. The chain's community
service activities during the year - over $5.2 million contributed to more than
800 non-profit organizations - resulted in it again winning DSN's annual DISC
(Discounter in Service to the Community) award, the second time it had done so.
The '90s began on a bright note as Target disclosed plans to open a new
prototype, a customer-friendly 1660,000-sq.-ft. superstore called Target
Greatland. Merchandise will be displayed in groupings that relate goods to
consumers' lifestyles and interests. The firm Target Greatland is set to open
this month in Apple Valley, Minn., almost directly across St. Paul from where
the first Target opened in Roseville 28 years ago.
Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or
distribution is prohibited without permission. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group
To read the article visit Gale Group or Discount Store News.
"From Roseville to Greatland, Target still hits the mark - Dayton-Hudson Corp.
Target Stores - Growth Retailer of the '90s - company profile"
Arthur Markowitz "From
Roseville to Greatland, Target still hits the mark - Dayton-Hudson Corp.
Target Stores - Growth Retailer of the '90s - company profile". Discount
Store News. FindArticles.com. 19 Nov, 2010.
Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or
distribution is prohibited without permission. COPYRIGHT 2004
FOUNDED BY JOHN F. GEISSE IN 1968
Screen print of