Autry Greer & Sons Inc., a local grocery chain better known by the iconic alias Greer’s, recently announced plans in celebration of its 100th anniversary this year.
Founded in 1916 by Autry Greer, the company is a fifth-generation, family owned and operated business with 34 locations in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.
“We are blessed and humbled to have reached our centennial and are excited to share this year of celebration. We know that we have reached this milestone with the commitment of thousands of associates, the loyalty of hundreds of thousands of customers and the much-valued support of our many business partners,” Jan Greer Endfinger, director of human resources and marketing, said.
In 1916, Autry Greer opened a modest grocery store on the northwest corner of Water and Saint Michael streets in Mobile. At the time, the new shop was considered an industry pioneer in the “cash and carry” food store concept. Self-service soon followed and eventually evolved into the modern Greer “Cash Saver” business model still in use today.
The original locale downtown was the first and, for several years, the only grocer in Mobile to advertise prices. Oftentimes offerings were among the lowest deals in town because other stores sold on credit and delivered, which incurred extra costs. Greer’s established a no-frills philosophy of offering high quality and low prices, sans delivery or credit, and turn-of-the-century shoppers responded enthusiastically.
As Greer’s sons came of age, they also became involved in the business. Autry Vidmer “Jack” Greer, Joseph Barton Greer and Elijah Sumner “Bussie” Greer continued the family legacy over the ensuing 60 years.
The business operated as a partnership until 1958 when it incorporated with founder Autry Greer as chairman of the board. In the 1980s some family members were bought out and the chain is now owned by Jack V. Greer, Jack V. Greer Jr., J. Barton Greer Jr. and Robert A. Greer.
The board of directors currently consists of: J. Barton Greer Jr., chairman; Jack V. Greer Sr., president; Robert A. Greer, vice president and secretary; Jack V. Greer Jr., vice president and treasurer; and O.M. “Mac” Otts III, chief financial officer.
“Over my 39 years in the grocery industry we have witnessed a huge consolidation which is still going on to some extent,” Jack V. Greer Jr. said. “In the ‘70s and ‘80s large regional chains dominated the big markets. Smaller independent grocers like Greer’s filled in the niches and smaller markets. Big box retailers have driven out or caused many of the regional chains to buy each other and consolidate. This has made it tough for independents to survive, but the struggle has made our company better and more competitive.
“In my time helping lead the family business with my cousin Robert, the key reflection for me would be change, adapt or fail. For any business to succeed, and certainly to have a chance to continue to succeed for multiple generations, the leaders must maintain an entrepreneurial spirit, a hard-work ethic and a willingness to invest in its people and other improvements,” he said.
Falling in line with family tradition, additional fourth-and fifth-generation family members have joined the business in the last decade to continue developing leaders internally: Jan Greer Endfinger, director of human resources and marketing; Stephen Thomas, director of operations; Lucy Greer Cheriogotis, corporate spokesperson, corporate chef and director of catering; Gray Fobes, perishable operations, meat department; and Les Buerger, perishable operations, produce department.
In 1967 Greer’s built a distribution center with an attached corporate headquarters. This warehouse supplied all of its stores for more than 40 years. In 2007, Autry Greer & Sons Inc. became affiliated with Associated Wholesale Grocers, one of the nation’s largest independent grocery co-ops.
According to Jack Greer Jr., most independent chains today have joined together in various wholesale co-ops to remain competitive. AWG serves about 3,000 grocery retailers nationwide. Locally owned businesses, whether a grocery store, restaurant or other retailer, can usually serve communities better than large, impersonal and inflexible big box, cookie cutter-type operations, Jack V. Greer Jr. said.
In 2014, the company partnered with Ace Hardware Corp., a retailer-owned hardware wholesaler that began operation in 1924, to bring groceries and hardware together in one place. Greer’s currently operates two Ace Hardware Express locations, one in Mobile and the other in Quitman, Mississippi. A third location to is planned for the new Bay Minette Greer’s in March.
While continuing to serve all demographic groups, Greer’s newest generation of young leaders are implementing internal changes to meet the needs of 21st-century customers by adopting the latest technologies. Examples include enhanced communication through social media, the addition of automated self-checkouts to reduce wait times, online shopping and delivery in various locales and improved health and wellness nutritional tags in stores to facilitate healthier food selections often desired by millennial shoppers.
“We have come full circle to our beginnings in downtown Mobile to one of our newest stores at the corner of Government and Broad streets. We feel one of the greatest joys of a family business is for different generations of people to work together and learn from each other. The old teach the young and the young keep the old ones feeling young and energized — all throughout the business,” vice president Robert Greer said.
“While Greer’s invites all to enjoy celebrating a century in the grocery business with us this year, the current company leaders prefer to focus on the future. We love the challenge of changing with the times, and our latest generations of leaders are taking us in exciting directions,” Endfinger said. “As Jackie Greer likes to say, ‘We’re not 100 years old, we’re 100 years young.’