February 10, 2007

Eckerds

And the man behind the brand is...
Jack Eckerd

Jack Eckerd was never one for waiting around. It was a trait that was to mold his business career and alter American’s shopping habits.

As a 19-year old in 1932 Eckerd set out to be a barnstorming pilot around Erie, Pennsylvania. He convinced his father to buy an airplane so he could fly him around to his small chain of drugstores. After two years he flew to California for
a one-year course in commercial aviation. But waiting around for a pilot opening was not for him and Eckerd went east to the drugstore business.

He bought a quarter-interest in two Wilmington, Delaware drugstores but World War II interrupted his blossoming retail career. Eckerd spent the war in the Air Transport Command delivering planes from Wilmington to Prestwick, Scotland. After the war he bought both stores outright.

In 1948 Eckerd bought two dilapidated drugstores from his father in Jamestown, New York. He didn’t plan to just rebuild the tired stores. Eckerd had investigated self-service in California and was ready to try the no-waiting concept in his new stores. Customers were thought to want to rely on a druggist’s help but Eckerd anticipated the over-the-counter explosion with open access to goods.

When his small chain reached Erie Eckerd was forced to call his self-service drugstore QuikCheck to avoid confusion with his father’s stores. The new store was a phenomenal success but people still confused newspaper ads with the conventional Eckerds’ stores. Jack Eckerd didn’t want to change the name so he started considering a totally new market.

On a dreary March day in 1952 in his Wilmington office a direct mailing arrived from a Tampa druggist offering three stores for sale. The gray skies outside were excuse enough to fly to Florida and check out the properties. He raised $150,000 in cash, in part from his brother in exchange for 50% of the new stores and his Jamestown stores.

It took two years for the Florida stores to break into the black and after six years only three stores were added when he was offered a chance to build 5 stores with Publix, the leading Florida grocery chain. This twinning of drugstores to supermarkets ignited Eckerd’s growth. Eckerd built his chain to 1700 stored from Florida to New Jersey.

Jack Eckerd spent the 1960s building his business and in the 1970s, dissatisfied with Florida government, he entered the state gubernatorial race. Despite never running for anything in his life Eckerd forced a run-off with the incumbent governor before losing. He lost a race for a United States Senate seat in 1974 and another bid for governor but went to Washington and served as administrator of the General Services Administration under Gerald Ford. After his flirtation with politics, Eckerd retired, devoting his time to Christian charities and sailing.

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