How Great Marketing Makes Retailers Rich

By George Farris

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – If you were starting a business right now, what type would it be?  Would you choose a business that’s web-based – maybe a cool app – or something that sells unique products online? 

And hey, if you’re going to invest in your own business, you want it to be a business that can make you rich eventually. I mean just look at Jeff Bezos and those other tech wizards. They’re all loaded and Bezos is one of the richest dudes in the world. So, if you are starting a business, an online-business is the way to go – isn’t it?

You can do that. Assuming you could be unique and get funding and work out the bugs and offer something that is not already offered, you could hit the jackpot and get rich.

Or … you can open a retail business. Yes, a retail business – because if one of your goals is to get rich, the retail industry has a long history of making people wealthy. And it’s not just history – it’s still happening today.

The Meijer family still runs the business founded by their ancestors.

In 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression, a modest local barber in Greenville, Michigan, saw an opportunity. In an effort to take care of the customers who visited his barbershop, Hendrik Meijer bought $338.76 worth of merchandise on credit. Together, with his 14-year-old son, Fred, they opened Meijer’s Grocery. According to Zippia, Meijer’s now has annual revenues of $19 billion.

In 1952, Bob Sheetz bought one of his father’s underperforming dairy stores to open Sheetz Kwik Shopper in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Bob hired his brother, Steve. Together they worked toward achieving Bob’s goal of opening 100 stores. Today, family-owned Sheetz brings in about $6 billion a year from its 669 convenience stores.

Jimmy Haslam, known to many as the owner of the Cleveland Browns, opened his first Flying J truck stop in 1981. He eventually partnered with Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway and now has more than 800 locations. Pilot Flying J hit $21 billion in revenues in 2022 from its gas-and-go truck stops and the food franchises contained within. According to Forbes, Haslam now has a personal worth of $4.8 billion.

What makes these retailers so successful and their owners so rich? Most experts agree: It’s the marketing.

Remember, marketing is not just advertising. Marketing is every communication and effort that helps to sell products, build the brand and retain customers.

Then again, Meijer, Sheetz and Pilot Flying J are not your average retailers. They take customers and acquisition and retention to the next level.

For example, the first time you shop at Meijer, you are encouraged to download the app for savings. The savings are impressive. The day after I made my original visit, I received a notice that I would get $20 off my next visit – no matter what I bought.  Three to five visits after that, I was still getting $10 to $20 discounts.

Using sophisticated tracking, Meijer continues to send coupons for the items you are already buying. Does that strategy bring customers back? Heck yeah.

Successful retailers always put themselves in their customers’ shoes. As Sheetz CEO Travis Sheetz says, “We don’t decide what we sell. The customer does.”

Successful retailers treat customers as they want to be treated and then try to go beyond what’s expected.

The bottom line: Retailers who do it right often get rich. Very rich.

So, what type of business do you want to start? 

George Farris is CEO of Farris Marketing. Email