Discount retail innovator Ferkauf dead at 91

The retail industry lost one of its legends this week when Eugene Ferkauf, founder of the E.J. Korvette chain of stores passed away at his Manhattan home.

Before Sam Walton or Harry Cunningham opened their first discount stores 50 years ago, Ferkauf established the principles of discount retailing with his stores in the New York area. The first Korvette’s store opening in 1948 and at its peak the company operated 45 stores.

While that’s not a large enterprise by today’s standards, Ferkauf and Korvette’s hold a special place in the annals of retailing because he was a pioneer of discounting. His approach to no frills merchandising on diverse assortment of goods offered at steep discounts to generate high volumes spawned a generation of discount store operators and gave rise to a new sector of the industry. He was even featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1962 with the headline, “Discounting Gets Respectable.” Walmart, Target and Kmart all opened their first discount stores that year.

Korvette’s went out of business in 1980 and other regional operators experienced a similar fate the following decade as the growth of Walmart, Target and to a lesser extent Kmart, forced consolidation.

For more on Ferkauf’s contribution to retail click here.