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Meijer, Inc. (/ˈmaɪ.ər/) is a regional American hypermarket chain with its corporate headquarters in Walker, Michigan, in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area; the facility has a Grand Rapids, Michigan address. Founded in 1934 as a supermarket chain, Meijer is credited with pioneering the modern supercenter concept in 1962. About half of the company's 200 stores are located in Michigan (Lower Peninsula only), with additional locations in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. The chain was ranked No. 13 on Forbes' 2011 list of "America's Largest Private Companies" and 19 in Fortune's 2008 "The 35 largest U.S. private companies". Supermarket News ranked Meijer No. 12 in the 2007 "Top 75 North American Food Retailers" based on 2006 fiscal year estimated sales of $13.2 billion. Based on 2005 revenue, Meijer is the 25th-largest retailer in the United States.
Meijer was founded as Meijer's in Greenville, Michigan by Hendrik Meijer, a Dutch immigrant. Meijer was a local barber who entered the grocery business during the Great Depression. His first employees included his 14-year-old son, Frederik Meijer, who later became chairman of the company. The current co-chairmen, brothers Hank and Doug Meijer, are Hendrik's grandsons. After studying trends in the grocery industry, Meijer was among the first stores to offer self-service shopping and shopping carts. He also offered staple items, such as vinegar, at bargain prices.
The Greenville store went successfully, and additional Meijer groceries were opened in Ionia and Cedar Springs. By the 1960s, the company had over two dozen stores located throughout West Michigan.
In 1949, the first two Meijer stores opened in Grand Rapids, MI. "In a contest, a customer suggests the name "Thrifty" for Meijer's little Dutch boy, who becomes the corporate symbol for the next 30 years."
In 1962, the modern format of Meijer was started, with a store at the corner of 28th Street and Kalamazoo in Grand Rapids. At a size of 180,000 square feet (17,000 m2), it combined grocery shopping and department store shopping in a single large store. The store was built with six-inch (152-mm) thick floors, so should the concept fail, the nongrocery half could be converted into an indoor car dealership. New stores were built in the same manner until the mid-1970s, when an architect mentioned the extra cost to management. The second two were opened in Kalamazoo in the summer or fall of 1963.
The Thrifty Acres stores, now under the leadership of Fred Meijer, became a success and were renamed Meijer in 1986. Meijer's stand-alone grocery operations continued until the early 1990s, as the larger stores became dominant. In 1985, Forbes magazine reported Wal-Mart at the time had failed in what were then known as hypermarkets because Sam Walton and company did not understand the grocery business.
Walton launched the first Hypermart USA store in 1987, opening only four stores, the last in 1990. An article in Forbes Magazine said Meijer understood the importance of the food business, and it was not something just tacked on to a discount store. The quality of the produce is very important; poor-quality produce sold by Wal-Mart was the main reason for their lack of success. By contrast, surveys said then and now that Meijer ranks high on produce quality.
With the increasing dominance of Wal-Mart throughout the country during the 1990s and up to the present, Meijer is facing the effects of an intensely competitive retail industry. In late 2003, the company laid off 350 people from the corporate offices, distribution centers and field offices; a few months later, in January 2004, Meijer laid off 1,896 employees and managerial staff, leading to speculation that the company was losing profitability and market share. A marketing professor, Dr. Ben Rudolph of Grand Valley State University near Meijer's corporate headquarters, lambasted this move, saying they "apparently blinked" and that Meijer's "decision was driven by panic". Continuing cutbacks in 2006, the company outsourced 81 information technology positions to India.
In 2003, the company announced that all new Meijer stores would feature an entirely new format and company image, complete with a new logo intended to make the Meijer stores seem "friendly" and inviting. The midwestern company hired New York City's Rockwell Group to redesign the existing stores and establish a design for new stores. The "new theatrics" for the then-71-year-old company originally started as a "new product introduction program" until David Rockwell talked Hank and Fred Meijer into further changes. Rockwell told the Meijers the new introduction program would "work only if it was part of a new overall creative foundation based on a fresher, younger approach, encompassing architecture, interior design, and graphic design". Despite recent cutbacks, Meijer has been embarking on a new expansion plan that will increase its number of stores in Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio. In April 2003, Meijer selected DeVito/Verdi, an award winning advertising agency in New York, to handle its $25-million account.
In July 2007, Meijer announced to the Michigan press it would be "restructuring" its Team Leader management positions in all 181 stores, stating layoffs would be "minimal" and necessary "to handle more sophisticated products such as flat-screen TVs and high-priced wines". Their spokesperson also said the changes were "not about a labor reduction", but fitting people into the right roles. No corporate staff or hourly workers were directly affected. In August 2007, the store announced they were cutting about 500 managers (12% of existing management staff). The 500 were given severance packages, while other managers were transferred to other stores or "reassigned to different positions". A Meijer spokesperson stated the cuts were made as Meijer "tries to compete with the world's largest corporation, Wal-Mart". On November 25, 2011 Frederik Meijer died. He was 91 years old.
Meijer is credited with being the first hypermarket store in the US, combining a multitude of merchandise under one roof, though rarely acknowledged as such. The concept of a hypermarket has been credited to stores in Europe, most often Carrefour. This may be attributed to Meijer's being a regional chain, rather than expanding internationally, and using the term "supercenter" rather than "hypermarket" when they opened the first Thrifty Acres in 1962. Most US hypermarkets were started at later dates. Meijer describes itself as a grocery chain that added general merchandise to their grocery stores in 1962. The Meijers are very private people and would not talk to Forbes for a 1995 comparison to Hypermart USA and Kmart's American Fare failed hypermarket concepts.
The Portland, Oregon-based Fred Meyer chain (now a subsidiary of Kroger) is unrelated to Meijer. The two similarly named retailers operate similar stores. Fred Meyer's first multiple department store opened in Portland's Hollywood District in 1931.