W.T. Grant: Leaving a Legacy in the Retail Industry

William Thomas Grant (1876 – 1972) was the founder of W.T. Grant, a chain of mass merchandise stores that operated from 1906 to 1976. These stores adopted the variety store format in its downtown locations, which accounted for its success during its early years of operation.

Grant was an entrepreneur at an early age – his first business venture was selling flower seeds when he was just 8 years old. His goal: To sell affordable merchandise to people with a modest profit coming his way and, thus, he established his first store, the W.T. Grant Co 25 Cent Store in Lynn, Massachusetts.

He started his business with $1,000 as capital but by 1936, his business grew to nearly $100 million in yearly sales, thanks to the affordable prices and fast inventory turnover. By the time of his death, the chain had almost 1,200 stores across the United States.

In 1936, Grant also started the William T. Grant Foundation. He became its President and Chairman of the Board of the foundation as well as Chairman of the Board of his W.T. Grant Company. Even when he retired from his positions in these organizations at age 90, he continued serving in an honorary capacity until his death at age 96.

He was also awarded the honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from the University of Miami and the Bates College in Maine.

But his business legacy was soon ended after his death when the company failed in 1975 and was liquidated in 1976. Its demise was due to several factors including the failure to adapt to the demands of the changing marketplace; the lack of uniformity in size and layout among the stores; and the failure of the management to eliminate shareholder dividend.

Despite the business failure, Grant is still a well-known figure in the business industry because of his pioneering principles and practices in retail sales as well as his philanthropic works.


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