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Marsh Supermarkets, Inc.

Marsh Supermarkets, Inc.

9800 Crosspoint Boulevard
Indianapolis, Indiana 46256-3350
U.S.A.
Telephone: (317) 594-2100
Fax: (317) 594-2704
Web site: http://www.marsh.net

Public Company
Incorporated:
1933 as Marsh Food Stores, Inc.
Employees: 14,300
Sales: $1.74 billion (2005)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
Ticker Symbol: MARSA
NAIC: 445110 Supermarkets and Other Grocery (Except Convenience) Stores; 445120 Convenience Stores

Marsh Supermarkets, Inc., is one of the largest regional supermarket chains in the United States, despite limiting its operations almost entirely to Indiana and western Ohio. The company has 117 supermarkets that operate under the Marsh, LoBill Foods, O'Malia's Food Markets, Arthur's Fresh Market, and Savin$ Mercado banners. Marsh also operates 161 Village Pantry convenience stores and several McNamara florists. Its Crystal Food Services subsidiary provides upscale catering, cafeteria management, and related services. Supermarket operations accounted for more than 78 percent of company revenues in fiscal 2005.

A Depression-Era Success

The first attempt by a member of the Marsh family to enter the grocery business came in 1922, when Wilmer Marsh left farming to buy a small grocery and general goods store in North Salem, Indiana, population 75. All seven of Marsh's children helped in running the store, but it was Ermal Marsh, the second youngest at 12 years old, who took the most interest in the store's operations, taking charge of the books and ordering merchandise. The store did well enough; but in 1925, during a holdup by a member of the Al Capone gang, Wilmer Marsh was shot in the head. Although he suffered only a flesh wound, Wilmer Marsh sold the store and returned to farming.

Two years later, however, Wilmer Marsh bought a new store in New Pittsburg, Indiana, population 50. That store was successful enough for Marsh to open a second store in Ridgeville, Indiana, in 1929. Ermal Marsh, then completing his first year of college at Ball State, left school to manage the new store. Grocery stores of the era were small, about 2,400 square feet, and sold a variety of dry goods in addition to foods, which the grocer would gather from the shelves for the customers. For the new store, Ermal Marsh joined the Independent Grocers Association (IGA), which advocated new selling techniques, such as advertising and allowing the customer to choose their purchases for themselves. Three weeks after the Ridgeville store opened, the stock markets crashed, and the Depression era began. Despite the bleak economy, the new store proved successful and was operated by brother Estel, when Ermal Marsh returned to college.

In order to finance his education, Ermal Marsh opened his own store in Muncie, Indiana, in 1930, borrowing $2,900 from an older brother. The first day's sales totaled $7. Yet the store, an IGA affiliate, proved successful enough for the newly graduated Ermal Marsh to open a second store two years later. The following year, Marsh closed that store and moved its stock to a new store located in Muncie's commercial district. He also incorporated his business as Marsh Food Stores, Inc., listing himself as secretary and treasurer, and his older brother as president.

Marsh sought financing to expand his company, but banks were reluctant to lend in the early Depression years, especially to the low-margin grocery business. By 1935, however, Marsh had arranged sufficient financing to open a third Muncie grocery. The next year, Marsh closed his second store and reopened it in a new, larger location. The new stores, both IGA affiliates, featured meat counters, fresh produce, and a sound system providing background music and in-store announcements. By the end of the decade, Marsh sought to expand again. He sold one store and opened another, larger store. Then, together with several other store owners, Marsh formed the Carload Buyers Association to purchase dry goods at wholesale for distribution to its member stores. The association next teamed up with another wholesaler, changing its name to Mundy Sales, Inc.

The U.S. entry into World War II barely slowed Marsh's growth. By 1943, Ermal Marsh had added three more stores to his operations. The following year, he opened his first store outside of Muncie, in the Jay County town seat of Portland. Two more stores were added that same year, in Dunkirk and Marion, and in 1946, Marsh opened a new store in Muncie, closing his original store. Marsh's biggest advancement, however, would occur the following year.

Postwar Growth

Marsh opened two new groceries in 1947 and planned to open a third, somewhat larger store that year, complete with a parking lot. Unable to get permission to break the curbstones for entrances, Marsh decided to use the parking space to expand the size of the store. The new store, at 6,430 square feet, became Marsh'sand Muncie'sfirst supermarket. Called Marsh Foodliner, the store proved profitable in its first week. Encouraged by the store's success, Marsh determined to convert his operation entirely to supermarkets. The company began to expand its corporate staff; by then Marsh operated its own fleet of trucks to service its stores. Over the next three years the company opened four more storesincluding a second Foodliner in Muncie, helping to prove the viability of the supermarket concept. Store size was reaching 9,000 square feet. The company started its own bakery in 1949, and then added a new sideline business, making ice cream in the basement of one of the stores. Sold in gallon containers, Marsh Ice Cream proved immediately popular with customersselling five million gallons by 1957 and eventually making Marsh the country's largest distributor of gallon ice creambeginning a long line of Marsh private-label products.

By 1951, Marsh was outgrowing its facilities. In that year, the company purchased an abandoned milk condensery in Yorktown, Indiana, and began construction there on the Marsh Food Center, housing production, distribution and warehouse facilities, and corporate headquarters. To finance the construction, Marsh went public, issuing 40,000 shares of nonvoting stock. The following year, Marsh restructured the company's various operations as a single entity under the name Marsh Foodliners, Inc. The supermarket chain had grown to 16 stores, all in Indiana. That changed in 1956, when Marsh opened its first two stores in western Ohio. Until this time, Marsh supermarkets were found only in mid-sized towns and cities. In 1957, the company opened its first store in a large urban market, Indianapolis. Sales for that year reached $34 million.

Marsh stepped up its expansion in the final years of the 1950s when it acquired the eight-store Food-Lane Stores, Inc., chain based in South Carolina and Georgia. Marsh followed that acquisition with the purchase of Bellman Markets, a five-store supermarket chain with an average store size of 13,000 square feet, based in Toledo, Ohio. Ermal Marsh's five-year plan called for even faster growth, but he did not get to see completion of his plan. Ermal Marsh died in 1959 when the plane he was piloting crashed.

Settling In: 1960s70s

Marsh's brother Estel, then serving as executive vice-president, took over as head of the company, now renamed Marsh Supermarkets, Inc., and continued the pattern of growth set by Ermal Marsh. By 1960, the chain had expanded to 62 stores, reaching annual sales of $80 million. The company maintained its rapid expansion, adding 34 stores between 1960 and 1963. By 1966, Marsh had topped $100 million in sales. By then, the supermarket concept had captured the grocery market, ending the era of the small grocer. The demise of the small stores opened a new market for the increasingly mobile American public. Convenience stores had begun to appear in various parts of the country, but Indiana's restrictive laws regarding sales of beer and gasolinethe most profitable aspects of the convenience store businessleft that state mostly free of competitors.

Marsh opened its first Village Pantry convenience store in Muncie in 1966. That division, led by then executive vice-president Don Marsh, oldest son of Ermal Marsh, grew quickly, adding nine more Village Pantries in two years. The company also experimented with another type of store concept, called Family Market, which offered a no-frills concept. When Estel Marsh was appointed chairman in 1968, Don Marsh was named president of the company. Following the lead of other supermarket chains, Marsh moved into the drugstore business, opening its first Marsh Drug Store in 1969. Under Don Marsh's leadership, the company exited the food production business, contracting with outside companies to supply its private-label products, in order to concentrate on its growing retail empire. Marsh closed out the 1960s with revenues of $122 million.

Marsh continued to expand its operations at the start of the 1970s, but a slowdown in the economy, rising building costs, and increasing price competition with other supermarket chains cut deeply into the company's profits. With a 49 percent drop in net income in 1971, the company closed its Family Market operation, and then sold its truck fleet in a sale-leaseback arrangement. The company stepped up the growth of its Village Pantry chain, bringing the total to 30 stores by 1973. In that year, the company acquired 15 convenience stores from Nite Owl Food Marts, Inc., and, with the addition of more Village Pantries, the convenience store division reached 62 stores by 1974. By then, however, the Arab oil embargo and the resulting surge in inflation began to restrict Marsh's growth.

Nevertheless, Marsh made international news in 1974 when its Troy, Ohio, supermarket became the first in the world to offer Universal Product Code (UPC) scanning. The new system would greatly enhance the company's ability to track its customers' purchases; linked to inventory, scanning also helped streamline its ordering and delivery processes. Before long, UPC scanning became ubiquitous in the supermarket industry and soon spread to nearly every retail industry.

Company Perspectives:

Marsh Supermarkets, Inc., strives to attain and maintain a position of leadership and market dominance in Indiana and other outlying territories through a commitment to aggressive marketing of new products, service innovation, and support by a first class sales organization, support staff, and community involvement.

Through the second half of the 1970s, Marsh, by then topping $200 million in annual sales, continued adding to its chains, although its growth was slowed somewhat by the eco-nomic problems of the day. To aid in its expansion, the company adopted a "last-in, first-out" accounting method. During this time, Marsh also began moving away from leasing its Village Pantry locations to owning them outright. The advantages of owning also led the company into acting as its own building contractor for the construction of new Village Pantries. Meanwhile, Marsh unveiled a new supermarket concept in the mid-1970s when it opened its first integrated supermarket-drugstore site. The new prototype stores, called "Combos," were former Marsh supermarkets that had been expanded to an average 25,000 square feet. Two years later their success led the company to developing an all-new store concept, this time built from the ground up, with selling area and warehouse space growing to more than 35,000 square feet.

Estel Marsh retired in 1978 and was replaced by Don Marsh as CEO and chairman. By the end of the 1970s, the company had grown to include, in addition to its supermarket chain (which had launched a new, expanded prototype called Marsh Xtras) 109 Village Pantries; 15 Marsh Drug Stores; and three new venturesthe first of a chain of restaurants called Foxfires; a seven-store chain of Tote 'N' Save markets, a return to the no-frills shopping concept; and the first store of another division, called Farmer's Market, specializing in produce sales. None of these new ventures would survive the coming decade, however.

Price Wars in the 1980s and 1990s

Marsh had successively competed in its Indiana market with other, national supermarket chains, but a new type of grocer soon threatened the company. The 1983 entry of Cub Foods and its warehouse concept stores into Indiana sparked a vicious price war that would last more than two years, driving down the profits of the larger chains and forcing at least 35 independent grocers to close. Yet Marsh, which saw its net income drop to $1.6 million on sales nearing $600 million in 1984, managed to come out of the fray intact. Better, the company actually saw an increase in its market share, capturing many of the customers of the failed supermarkets. Marsh responded to the store wars by increasing its operating efficiency and cutting out luxury expenditures, such as the company's fleet of jets. Marsh also began heightening its customer service, adding bulk food items, increasing its range of fresh foods, such as cheese, and including other services such as in-store banking and video rental. By 1985, despite a meager 4 percent revenue growth, to $628 million, over the previous year, Marsh was able to post a net profit of $4.7 million.

Not all of the Marsh empire came out unscathed. The company sold off its drugstore division to the Peoples drugstore chain. Marsh also unloaded its restaurant division, and shut down both its Tote 'N' Save and Farmer's Market divisions. The company instead returned its focus to its supermarkets and Village Pantries, raising the number of Marsh supermarkets to 76 and the number of Village Pantries to nearly 170 by the end of the decade. The company also picked up CSDC to serve its Village Pantry stores and other convenience stores in the Midwest. By 1990, sales had topped $1 billion.

The 1990s brought a new growth spurt to the company, which moved its headquarters to Indianapolis in 1991. The launching of a new superstore conceptwith stores of 60,000 to 80,000 square feetsparked several years of intensive capital investment. The company also rolled out its Lo Bill store concept, offering lower prices and more limited selectionand offering the company the ability to convert its older, smaller Marsh supermarkets to the new concept. The company added another new division, Crystal Food Services, bringing the company into the catering and foodservice area.

In the mid-1990s, the company faced the emergence of a new competitor in its core Indiana market. Michigan-based Meijer, a chain of "hypermarkets" with warehouse-style stores averaging 200,000 square feet, entered Indiana in 1993with a reputation for allowing new stores to take losses until they had beaten competitors. Marsh responded by adding warehouse-style departments to its superstores, launching more superstores, and expanding the fresh foods departments of existing stores, while appealing to six decades of Marsh family service to its Indiana and Ohio customers. The strategy appeared to be working. Despite the entry of 14 direct competitors, Marsh's revenues rose to $1.4 billion, and net income increased to $9 million.

Competition Leading to New Concepts in the Late 1990s and Beyond

The company spent the remaining years of the 1990s successfully fending off intense competition. Marsh spent heavily on information technology, opened new stores, and rolled out fresh and updated store formats for its existing locations. It also purchased three Cox Supermarkets in late 1999. As a result, Marsh entered the new millennium on solid footing with sales and profits on the rise.

Key Dates:

1927:
Wilmer Marsh buys a grocery store in New Pittsburgh, Indiana.
1930:
Ermal Marsh opens his own store in Muncie, Indiana.
1933:
Ermal Marsh incorporates the company as Marsh Food Stores, Inc.
1947:
Marsh Foodliner, a 6,430-square-foot supermarket, opens its doors in Muncie.
1956:
Two stores open in Ohio.
1959:
Ermal Marsh dies in a plane crash.
1966:
Marsh opens its first Village Pantry convenience store in Muncie.
1969:
The first Marsh Drug Store opens.
1974:
The company's Troy, Ohio, supermarket becomes the first in the world to offer Universal Product Code scanning.
2001:
CSDC is sold to McLane Company Inc.
2004:
The Arthur's Fresh Market concept debuts.
2005:
The company opens its first store in Naperville, Illinois.

During this time period, the company made several moves to increase its share of the regional market. Marsh bolstered its holdings in 2000 with the acquisition of five Ross Supermarkets. One year later it added O'Malia Food Markets to its arsenal. In order to focus on core retailing operations, the company sold its Convenience Store Distributing Company (CSDC) to McLane Company Inc. in 2001.

Marsh also launched several new concepts in order to remain competitive in the consolidating grocery industry. The first Savin$ Mercado, a store developed in a large Hispanic neighborhood, opened its doors in 2002. During 2004, the company's Trios Di Tuscanos debuted in Noblesville and marked one of the first times a supermarket chain opened a stand-alone restaurant. The Tuscan-style eatery featured a wide variety of food, including gourmet pizzas and rotisserie chicken. Further expansion in the Midwest was dependent on the success of the concept in the mid-2000s. Marsh also launched Arthur's Fresh Market that year. The 22,000-square-foot store offered fresh food, prepared meals, baked items, salads, sushi, and wine in upscale neighborhoods.

Another new concept in Marsh's strategy was the Lifestyle supermarket. The first Lifestyle location opened in early 2004 and featured 66,000 square feet of shopping space catering to customers looking for gourmet, natural, and organic foods. The store included a coffee bar with sofas, plasma televisions, magazines, and books; a kid's club that gave away free gifts each week; and a floral department that included a gas fireplace. A January 2004 Supermarket News article described the unique look of the new store, reporting that it was designed in "a double-racetrack format, with an expansive produce department and coffee bar occupying most of the center area of the store and various departments in separate 'rooms' around the perimeter." Marsh entered the Illinois market for the first time in 2005 when it opened a store with the Lifestyle format in Naperville.

While developing its new concepts, Marsh's revenues and net income had fluctuated over the past several years. The company's financial instability demonstrated just how volatile the grocery market had become with large competitors including Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Meijer eating away at market share. During fiscal year 2005, the company's revenue and net income rose slightly while management remained focused on securing stronger financial results by cutting costs. By opening new stores with the Lifestyle design and by introducing new store formats, Marsh was optimistic that it would differentiate itself from the competition and remain a leading regional chain for years to come.

Principal Subsidiaries

Marsh Drugs, Inc.; Marsh Village Pantries, Inc.; Mundy Realty, Inc.; Mar Properties, Inc.; Marlease, Inc.; Marsh Drugs, Inc.; Marsh Village Pantries, Inc.; Marsh International, Inc.; Marsh Supermarkets of Illinois, Inc.; North Marion Development Corporation; Contract Transport, Inc.; Crystal Food Services LLC; LoBill Foods LLC; Marsh Supermarkets LLC; Crystal Cafe Management Group LLC; Crystal Food Management Services LLC; Butterfield Foods LLC; Floral Fashions LLC; O'Malia Food Markets LLC; McNamara LLC.

Principal Divisions

Supermarket; LoBill Foods; O'Malia Food Markets; Pharmacy; Village Pantry; Food Service; McNamara; Floral Fashions.

Principal Competitors

The Kroger Company; Meijer Inc.; Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Further Reading

Albert, Barb, "Indianapolis-Based Supermarket Chain Plans Acquisitions," Indianapolis Star, August 4, 1999.

"Distributor Shake Up," Convenience Store News, October 21, 2001.

Hamstra, Mark, "Marsh's New Lifestyle," Supermarket News, January 26, 2004.

Higgins, Will, "Marsh Benefits from Price War Industry Fallout," Indianapolis Business Journal, June 24, 1985, p. 9.

Johnson, J. Douglas, "CEO of the Year: Don Marsh," Indiana Business, December 1993, p. 8.

Kukolla, Steve, "Marsh Takes on Meijer, Disputes Meager Predictions by Analysts," Indianapolis Business Journal, June 27, 1994, p. 3.

Lasting Values: The First Half-Century of Marsh Supermarkets, Inc., Yorktown: Marsh Supermarkets, Inc., 1984.

"Lifestyle 101," Progressive Grocer, November 1, 2005.

Marsh, Don E., Marsh Supermarkets, Inc.: Sixty-Four Years of Continuous Smiles, New York: The Newcomen Society of the United States, 1996.

"Marsh Knows Supermarketing," Progressive Grocer, December 1992, p. M6.

"Marsh Supermarkets Opens Standalone Eatery in Noblesville, Ind.," Indianapolis Star, April 14, 2004.

"Marsh Supermarkets Readies for Illinois Debut," Progressive Grocer, August 8, 2005.

Sherman, John, "Don Marsh Talks Shop," Indiana Business, March 1986, p. 46.

Zwiebach, Elliot, "Marsh Rolls Out 'Refresh' Program," Supermarket News, August 9, 2004.

                                                  M.L. Cohen

                              update: Christina M. Stansell

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Marsh Supermarkets, Inc.

Marsh Supermarkets, Inc.

9800 Crosspoint Boulevard
Indianapolis, Indiana 46256-3350
U.S.A.
(317) 594-2705
Fax: (317) 594-2705

Public Company
Incorporated: 1933 as Marsh Food Stores, Inc.
Employees: 12,400
Sales: $1.39 billion (FY ended March 30, 1996)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ

SICs: 5411 Grocery Stores; 5912 Drug Stores & Proprietary Stores

Marsh Supermarkets, Inc. is one of the top 50 supermarket chains in the United States, despite limiting its operations almost entirely to Indiana and western Ohio. Many of the 78 Marsh Supermarkets feature a superstore concept, which, with an average 60,000 to 80,000 square feet, house various departments emphasizing fresh, perishable, and takeout foods, as well as video rental, pharmacy, and other services. The company also operates the 12-store chain of Lo Bill Foods, a smaller concept store focused on low prices and located primarily in urban markets. Marshs chain of Village Pantry convenience stores has grown to 181 stores, 70 percent of which sell gasoline, making Village Pantry the largest distributor of gasoline in Indiana. Marshs Convenience Store Distributing Company (CSDC) supplies Village Pantry and more than 1,300 unrelated stores in a nine-state area. The companys Crystal Food Service is Indianas largest catering and food service operation. The company also operates eight stores in New Delhi, India. Marsh is led by chairman, president, and CEO Don Marsh, son of company founder Ermal Marsh. In the fiscal year ended March 30, 1996, Marsh recorded sales of nearly $1.4 billion.

A Depression-Era Success

The first attempt by a member of the Marsh family to enter the grocery business came in 1922, when Wilmer Marsh left farming to buy a small grocery and general goods store in North Salem, Indiana, population 75. All seven of Marshs children helped in running the store, but it was Ermal Marsh, the second youngest at 12-years-old, who took the most interest in the stores operations, taking charge of the books and ordering merchandise. The store did well enough; but in 1925, during a holdup by a member of the Al Capone gang, Wilmer Marsh was shot in the head. Although he suffered only a flesh wound, Wilmer Marsh sold the store and returned to farming.

Two years later, however, Wilmer Marsh bought a new store in New Pittsburg, Indiana, population 50. That store was successful enough for Marsh to open a second store in Ridgeville, Indiana in 1929. Ermal Marsh, then completing his first year of college at Ball State, left school to manage the new store. Grocery stores of the era were small, about 2,400 square feet, and sold a variety of dry goods in addition to foods, which the grocer would gather from the shelves for the customers. For the new store, Ermal Marsh joined the Independent Grocers Association (IGA), which advocated new selling techniques, such as advertising and allowing the customer to choose their purchases for themselves. Three weeks after the Ridgeville store opened, the stock markets crashed, and the Depression era began. Despite the bleak economy, the new store proved successful and was operated by brother Estel, when Ermal Marsh returned to college.

In order to finance his education, Ermal Marsh opened his own store in Muncie, Indiana, in 1930, borrowing $2,900 from an older brother. The first days sales totaled $7 dollars. Yet the store, an IGA affiliate, proved successful enough for the newly graduated Ermal Marsh to open a second store two years later. The following year, Marsh closed that store and moved its stock to a new store located in Muncies commercial district. He also incorporated his business as Marsh Food Stores, Inc., listing himself as secretary and treasurer, and his older brother as president.

Marsh sought financing to expand his company, but banks were reluctant to lend in the early Depression years, especially to the low-margin grocery business. By 1935, however, Marsh had arranged sufficient financing to open a third Muncie grocery. The next year, Marsh closed his second store and reopened it in a new, larger location. The new stores, both IGA affiliates, featured meat counters, fresh produce, and a sound system providing background music and in-store announcements. By the end of the decade, Marsh sought to expand again. He sold one store and opened another, larger store. Then, together with several other store owners, Marsh formed the Carload Buyers Association to purchase dry goods at wholesale for distribution to its member stores. The association next teamed up with another wholesaler, changing its name to Mundy Sales, Inc.

The U.S. entry into the Second World War barely slowed Marshs growth. By 1943, Ermal Marsh had added three more stores to his operations. The following year, he opened his first store outside of Muncie, in the Jay County seat town of Portland. Two more stores were added that same year, in Dunkirk and Marion, and in 1946, Marsh opened a new store in Muncie, closing his original store. However, Marshs biggest advancement would occur the following year.

Post-World War II Growth

Marsh opened two new groceries in 1947 and planned to open a third, somewhat larger store that year, complete with a parking lot. Unable to get permission to break the curbstones for entrances, Marsh decided to use the parking space to expand the size of the store. The new store, at 6,430 square feet, became Marshsand Munciesfirst supermarket. Called Marsh Foodliner, the store proved profitable in its first week. Encouraged by the stores success, Marsh determined to convert his operation entirely to supermarkets. The company began to expand its corporate staff; by then, too, Marsh operated its own fleet of trucks to service its stores. Over the next three years the company opened four more storesincluding a second Food-liner in Muncie, helping to prove the viability of the supermarket concept. Store size was reaching 9,000 square feet in size. The company started up its own bakery in 1949, and then added a new sideline business, making ice cream in the basement of one of the stores. Sold in gallon containers, Marsh Ice Cream proved immediately popular with customersselling five million gallons by 1957 and eventually making Marsh the countrys largest distributor of gallon ice creambeginning a long line of Marsh private label products.

By 1951, Marsh was outgrowing its facilities. In that year, the company purchased an abandoned milk condensery in Yorktown, Indiana, and began construction there on the Marsh Food Centerhousing production, distribution and warehouse facilities, and corporate headquarters. In order to finance the construction, Marsh went public, issuing 40,000 shares of non-voting stock. The following year, Marsh restructured the companys various operations as a single entity under the name Marsh Foodliners, Inc. The supermarket chain had grown to sixteen stores, all in Indiana. That changed in 1956, when Marsh opened its first two stores in western Ohio. Until this time, Marsh supermarkets were found only in mid-sized towns and cities. In 1957, the company opened its first store in a large urban market, Indianapolis. Sales for that year reached $34 million.

Marsh stepped up its expansion in the final years of the 1950s when it acquired the eight-store Food-Lane Stores, Inc. chain based in South Carolina and Georgia. Marsh followed that acquisition with the purchase of Bellman Markets, a five-store supermarket chain with an average store size of 13,000 square feet, based in Toledo, Ohio. Ermal Marshs five-year plan called for even faster growth, but he did not get to see completion of his plan. Ermal Marsh died in 1959 when the plane he was piloting crashed.

Settling inthe 1960s and 1970s

Marshs brother Estel, then serving as executive vice-president, took over as head of the company, now renamed Marsh Supermarkets, Inc., and continued the pattern of growth set by Ermal Marsh. By 1960, the chain had expanded to sixty-two stores, reaching annual sales of $80 million. The company maintained its rapid expansion, adding thirty-four stores between 1960 and 1963. By 1966, Marsh had topped $100 million in sales. By then, the supermarket concept had captured the grocery market, ending the era of the small grocer. The demise of the small stores opened a new market for the increasingly mobile American public. Convenience stores had begun to appear in various parts of the country, but Indianas restrictive laws regarding sales of beer and gasolinethe most profitable aspects of the convenience store businessleft that state largely free of competitors.

Marsh opened its first Village Pantry convenience store in Muncie in 1966. That division, led by then executive vice-president Don Marsh, oldest son of Ermal Marsh, grew quickly, adding nine more Village Pantries in two years. The company also experimented with another type of store concept, called Family Market, which offered a no-frills concept. When Estel Marsh was appointed chairman in 1968, Don Marsh was named president of the company. Following the lead of other supermarket chains, Marsh moved into the drug store business, opening its first Marsh Drug Store in 1969. Under Don Marshs leadership, the company exited the food production business, contracting with outside companies to supply its private label products, in order to concentrate on its growing retail empire. Marsh closed out the 1960s with revenues of $122 million.

Company Perspectives:

Marsh Supermarkets, Inc. strives to attain and maintain a position of leadership and market dominance in Indiana and other outlying territories. It is the companys intention to accomplish this through aggressive marketing of new products, accompanied by service innovation with the support of a first class sales organization, support staff and community involvement. As the company progresses, it will improve profits through efficient management. Above all, providing excellence to the customers we serve, remains our first priority.

Marsh continued to expand its operations at the start of the 1970s, but a slowdown in the economy, rising building costs, and increasing price competition with other supermarket chains cut deeply into the companys profits. With a 49 percent drop in net income in 1971, the company closed its Family Market operation, then sold its truck fleet in a sale-leaseback arrangement. The company stepped up the growth of its Village Pantry chain, bringing the total to 30 stores by 1973. In that year, the company acquired 15 convenience stores from Nite Owl Food Marts, Inc., and, with the addition of more Village Pantries, the convenience store division reached 62 stores by 1974. However, by then the Arab oil embargo and the resulting surge in inflation began to restrict Marshs growth.

Nevertheless, Marsh made international news in 1974 when its Troy, Ohio, supermarket became the first in the world to offer Universal Product Code scanning. The new system would greatly enhance the companys ability to track its customers purchases; linked to inventory, scanning also helped streamline its ordering and delivery processes. Before long, UPC scanning became ubiquitous in the supermarket industry and soon spread to nearly every retail industry.

Through the second half of the 1970s, Marsh, by then topping $200 million in annual sales, continued adding to its chains, although its growth was slowed somewhat by the economic problems of the day. To aid in its expansion, the company adopted a last-in, first-out accounting method. During this time, Marsh also began moving away from leasing its Village Pantry locations to owning them outright. The advantages of owning also led the company into acting as its own building contractor for the construction of new Village Pantries. Meanwhile, Marsh unveiled a new supermarket concept in the mid-1970s when it opened its first integrated supermarket-drug store site. The new prototype stores, called Combos, were former Marsh supermarkets that had been expanded to an average 25,000 square feet. Two years later their success led the company to developing an all-new store concept, this time built from the ground up, with selling area and warehouse space growing to more than 35,000 square feet.

Estel Marsh retired in 1978 and was replaced by Don Marsh as CEO and chairman. By the end of the 1970s, the company had grown to include, in addition to its supermarket chainwhich had launched a new, expanded prototype called Marsh Xtras109 Village Pantries, fifteen Marsh Drug Stores, and three new ventures: the first of a chain of restaurants called Foxfires; a seven-store chain of Tote N Save markets, a return to the no-frills shopping concept, and the first store of another division, called Farmers Market, specializing in produce sales. None of these new ventures would survive the coming decade, however.

Price Wars in the 1980s and Beyond

Marsh had successively competed in its Indiana market with other, national supermarket chains, but a new type of grocer soon threatened the company. The 1983 entry of Cub Foods and its warehouse concept stores into Indiana sparked a vicious price war that would last more than two years, driving down the profits of the larger chains and forcing at least .35 independent grocers to close. Yet Marsh, which saw its net income drop to $1.6 million on sales nearing $600 million in 1984, managed to come out of the fray intact. Better, the company actually saw an increase in its market share, capturing many of the customers of the failed supermarkets. Marsh responded to the store wars by increasing its operating efficiency and cutting out luxury expenditures, such as the companys fleet of jets. Marsh also began heightening its customer service, adding bulk food items, increasing its range of fresh foods, such as cheese, and including other services such as in-store banking and video rental. By 1985, despite a meager four percent revenue growth, to $628 million, over the previous year, Marsh was able to post a net profit of $4.7 million.

Not all of the Marsh empire came out unscathed. The company sold off its drug store division to the Peoples drug store chain. Marsh also unloaded its restaurant division, and shut down both its Tote N Save and Farmers Market divisions. The company instead returned its focus to its supermarkets and Village Pantries, raising the number of Marsh supermarkets to 76 and the number of Village Pantries to nearly 170 by the end of the decade. The company also picked up CSDC to serve its Village Pantry stores and other convenience stores in the Midwest. By 1990, sales had topped $1 billion.

The 1990s brought a new growth spurt to the company, which moved its headquarters to Indianapolis in 1991. The launching of a new superstore conceptwith stores of 60,000 to 80,000 square feetsparked several years of intensive capital investment. The company also rolled out its Lo Bill store concept, offering lower prices and more limited selectionand offering the company the ability to convert its older, smaller Marsh supermarkets to the new concept. The company added another new division, Crystal Food Services, bringing the company into the catering and food service area.

In the mid-1990s, the company faced the emergence of a new competitor in its core Indiana market. Michigan-based Meijer, a chain ofhypermarkets with warehouse-style stores averaging 200,000 square feet, entered Indiana in 1993with a reputation for allowing new stores to take losses until they had beaten competitors. Marsh responded by adding warehouse-style departments to its superstores, launching more superstores and expanding the fresh foods departments of existing stores, while appealing to six-decades of Marsh family service to its Indiana and Ohio customers. The strategy appeared to be working: despite the entry of 14 direct competitors, Marshs revenues rose to $1.4 billion, and net income increased to $9 million.

Principal Divisions

Marsh Supermarkets; Village Pantry; Lo Bill Foods; Convenience Store Distributing Company; Crystal Food Services.

Further Reading

Higgins, Will, Marsh Benefits from Price War Industry Fallout, Indianapolis Business Journal, June 24, 1985, p. 9.

Johnson, J. Douglas, CEO of the Year: Don Marsh, Indiana Business, December 1993, p. 8.

Kukolla, Steve, Marsh Takes on Meijer, Disputes Meager Predictions by Analysts, Indianapolis Business Journal, June 27, 1994, p. 3.

Lasting Values: The First Half-Century of Marsh Supermarkets, Inc., Yorktown: Marsh Supermarkets, Inc., 1984.

Marsh, Don E., Marsh Supermarkets, Inc.: Sixty-Four Years of Continuous Smiles, New York: The Newcomen Society of the United States, 1996.

Sherman, John, Don Marsh Talks Shop, Indiana Business, March 1986, p. 46.

Marsh Knows Supermarketing, Progressive Grocer, December 1992, p. M6.

M. L. Cohen

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