Thursday, July 11th, 2019 July11th2019

Sell for More News: The legend of Publix Super Markets

Published on July 11th, 2019

Sell for More News is a weekly blog series with interesting information from the world of commercial real estate.


This week we’re going to break from convention and profile a well-known regional company with a rich history…Publix.

Founded in 1930, Publix Super Markets is now the world’s largest employee-owned business, currently employing more than 190,000 people across the Southeast.  Publix is woven into the life experience in the Southeast…especially Florida.  It’s one of the few stores where millions of people of all ages have shopped their entire lives.

George Jenkins, founder of Publix, was born in Georgia in 1907 and grew up in a small farming community whose economy was completely dependent on its cotton production. His father owned the town’s general store, which sold everything from knitting needles to coffins. The store, however, did not sell food.  It offered everyday items that could not be produced locally. This is largely because the town’s residents grew their own food and traded food items with other members of the community. Young Jenkins would grow up working in his father’s general store, leaving him with an understanding of customer service and retail.

When Jenkins graduated from high school in the early ’20s, an invasive insect spread through Georgia and wiped out all the cotton fields, devastating the economies of countless local farming communities. Jenkins’ father was forced to close his business. Jenkins left for Georgia Tech college with no intention of going into the grocery business.

Jenkins worked several jobs to put himself through school, one of which was a position at a realtor’s office. There, he heard about all the money being made in South Florida, which was seeing what historians now refer to as the Great Florida Land Boom of the 1920s. Jenkins and a friend who had a car drove to Tampa with only $9. They intended to make some quick money in real estate to pay for college.

But first, destiny intervened. A few days after arriving in Tampa, Jenkins met the owner of a local Piggy Wiggly (another interesting business that we’ll profile soon) who offered him a job. In need of money, Jenkins accepted the position and thrived. Within three months, he was promoted and was managing the entire store.

The Piggy Wiggly was very different from his father’s general store. It was, essentially, an early draft of the modern grocery store. Prior to the founding of Piggly Wiggly, shops were not self-service; customers gave a list to the clerk, who would gather all of the items from behind the counter.  Piggly Wiggly customers, on the other hand, picked up their own goods and took them to the clerk for payment.

In 1930, at the age of 22, Jenkins had dreamed up ideas to improve the functioning of the store. But he was ignored and demeaned by the store’s owner. Taking a leap of faith, Jenkins quit his job at Piggy Wiggly — which would have been a terrifying thing to do during the first year of the Great Depression — and opened his own grocery store right next door. He called it Publix Food Store.  The business was founded on the principles of cleanliness, customer service, and employee relations. Jenkins established profit-sharing and employee ownership, a hallmark for which Publix is still known.

The ’30s saw the birth of a new food-store concept: the supermarket. Grocery stores were now making the move into much larger spaces, enabling lower prices because of the store’s ability to purchase in bulk.  Jenkins, who was frequently traveling to find new ideas and to identify products for his stores, must have been enticed by these latest developments in the industry.

In 1940, he purchased a large plot of land and opened the first Publix supermarket in Winter Haven, Florida. It was, as many have called it, his “food palace.”  The store was innovative. It was the first supermarket in history to have automatic sliding-glass doors and air conditioning. The architectural features of this building were very much in the spirit of art deco, an aesthetic Publix still occasionally uses today.

In 1945, Publix procured a warehouse and purchased 19 grocery stores from the chain All American, which Jenkins altered and rebranded under the Publix umbrella. By the late ’40s, Publix had established itself as a chain.

The ’50s were a period of rapid expansion and development for Publix. It was in this decade that Publix-branded foods began to be produced. These initial products included green peas, coffee, eggs, and bacon. It was also the time when Publix opened its first in-house bakery.

The expansion continued at full speed into the ’60s. In 1962, Publix operated 85 stores; that number increased to 150 by 1969.  Publix’s first in-store deli was also established in the ’60s.

Jenkins passed away in 1996.  Today, Publix is a sprawling collection of more than 1,100 stores.  The company still advertises its mission to empower employees, please customers, and provide jobs to some of society’s most vulnerable citizens, including seniors and people with disabilities.

And definitely try the fried chicken…


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About Beau Beach, CCIM

Beau is a tenacious Commercial Real Estate Broker, author and adoring father of four. His clients appreciate his no-nonsense demeanor and his legendary work ethic.

Beau leads Beachwood which is a commercial real estate broker for sellers in the Nashville, Milwaukee, South Florida and Chicago markets.

He’s the author of the books The 3 Reasons: Why Most Commercial Properties Don’t Sell and True Wealth: What Every Seller Should Know About 1031 Exchanges.

Beau can be reached at 800-721-3287, click to schedule a call or