A retail legacy to live by

July 19, 2011

A grocer who seasoned his store with kindness passes, and the charm of his caring independent shop endures.

Today’s data-driven retail food industry leaves too little room for warmth and compassion from its business leaders. Some do manage to deliver the personal touch, regardless of competitive pressures. The grocery world lost a member of this rare breed in May when John Johnson, the owner of John’s Friendly Market, in Haddon Heights, PA, for more than half a century, died at the age of 91.

Customers told plenty of stories about countless acts of kindness and generosity that made lives better for his shoppers and employees.  He’d hand bags of food to people in need, treat people to sandwiches, arrange for birthday flowers to be delivered, employ local youth and more, according to accounts reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The button he wore daily proclaimed him The Boss long before Bruce Springsteen ever reached the stage. But that wasn’t his manner; Johnson’s humility earned him remembrance by families of every generation. And through decades, it helped earn his store a base of loyal shoppers.

That is part of the lesson Johnson leaves behind – that business can and should include a hefty portion of humanity. The Lempert Report applauds retailers and CPG that get behind periodic large-scale, organized charity programs that do good and grow business. Yet there’s a difference between these initiatives and the homespun feel-good nature of people like John Johnson, whose consistent acts of kindness go on quietly and seed neighborhoods with an ‘I’ve got your back’ culture that many households would appreciate today. America can use more of both.