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The Tom Thumb Tradition

By D Magazine |

Since its inception, 50 years ago, generations of Dallas families have counted on Tom Thumb to provide the freshest produce, largest selection, and best grocery values in town. It is the store’s commitment to quality and service that has enabled a small, family-owned operation to blossom into a dynamic community leader with more than 50 stores throughout Dallas/Fort Worth.

In 1948, a gallon of milk was 16 cents, a loaf of bread was about 14 cents, the President of the United States was Harry S. Truman, and the board game Scrabble was invented. It was also the year two brothers, Charles and Bob Cullum, and their friend, J JR. Bost took a chance and purchased a chain of five struggling supermarkets.

From the beginning, Tom Thumb stores pioneered many new concepts in the grocery industry. For instance, in 1952, the first on-site bakery was installed at the Tom Thumb on Mockingbird Lane and Central Expressway. At the same time, Tom Thumb introduced an innovative concept at the Caruth Park Cities Shopping Village, A children’s area, complete with reading tables, chairs and stacks of comic books, was located at the front of the store.

It was also in the early 1950s that Tom Thumb moved its headquarters to a new mechanized warehouse on Hawes Street near Love Field. Forklifts and computers were starting to add to the speed and efficiency on which Tom Thumb has built its reputation.

Tom Thumb continued to grow and in 1955 the company acquired four more stores in Tyler, Texas. While the expansion pointed to the continued success of the company, members of the Cullum family worked even harder to maintain Tom Thumb’s reputation for excellence. The Cullum brothers traveled across the country looking for store styles and designs. They found what they were looking for in a 25,000-square-foot dome-roofed store without columns in the middle to obstruct the view. The result of their search was a new store at Preston and Royal in Dallas, known as the “whale mouth” because it looks like a fish with its mouth open.

By 1962, Tom Thumb had increased its store family to 38 with the addition of 10 new stores. Store sizes grew and the quality of merchandise got better as well. The Cullums took on a new venture and purchased the Simon David specialty store on In wood Road in 1963. Famous for providing unusual and exotic items to the discriminating shopper, Simon David even had a private label for liquors. Through the years, Tom Thumb’s Simon David store has grown to serve a unique niche in the Dallas market.

Jack W. Evans, who later became mayor of Dallas, joined the lorn 1’humb management team in 1966, Evans was an inspiring leader who brought a personal touch to an industry developed to serve the individual needs of its customers.

The company continued to expand throughout the 60s with the purchase of four Page Drugs in Oak Cliff. The stores were later joined to form combination food and pharmacy stores. Other acquisitions and investments positioned Tom Thumb for the next stage of growth.

As people were becoming more health conscious, Tom Thumb started placing more emphasis on produce. The chain had always been recognized as a place to shop for the finest meats, but now the focus was also on fruits and vegetables.

Never willing to rely on previous successes, Tom Thumb continued to flourish with new incentives and innovative discount programs. Between 1976 and 1980, each year broke the previous year’s record in sales volume and profits. “We Stand Behind Everything We Sell and That’s a Promise” was more than a slogan-it was a way of doing business that consumers expected and counted on.

Bob and Charles Cullum’s little grocery chain soared to new heights in 1976 with half a billion dollars in sales. Jack Evans ’ “bottom-up” management style continued to build employee morale and produced independent-minded store managers noted for their creativity and productivity Evans was often heard encouraging store managers to run the stores as if they were their own.

The early ’80s had a profound effect on the growth of Tom Thumb. A $90 million expansion plan was announced in 1980 and by 1983, Tom Thumb had moved ahead of Safeway in terms of market share in the Metroplex.

Though Bob Cullum died in 1981, with the help of loyal and experienced associates the company was able to continue strategic acquisitions and innovations. The tremendously successful President’s Choice program was introduced in 1986. This unique program involved selling more than 150 products superior to national brands at lower prices.

Early this year, Tom Thumb introduced a new concept store, Simon David II in Preston Center East, The specialty market store offers an extensive array of gourmet items, a sandwich shop, deluxe bakery, sidewalk cafe, and coffee bar. Tom Thumb is scheduled to open its second Simon David this summer.

A third Simon David is scheduled to open in late spring, 1999. “We believe this newest store further confirms Tom Thumbs commitment to growth in Dallas, providing our customers with the finest shopping experience available,” says Mark Prestidge, president of Tom Thumb.

Four new Tom Thumb stores, in Flower Mound, Grapevine, the Oak Cliff area of Dallas, and Fort Worth are currently under construction. Patterned after the traditional farmers’ market, the new stores will also feature ready- to- serve meals, a full-service pharmacy, and a Wells Fargo bank, In addition to these locations, more than 15 stores are scheduled to open in the next two years.

Tom’s Thumb’s goal of providing quality, convenience, and value to its customers has never been sacrificed. In 1996, the company was the first area grocer to offer a frequent shopper card. The Reward Card provides substantial savings on specially designated products each week and automatically enters shoppers in any contests which Tom Thumb may be sponsoring.

One of Tom Thumb’s newest and most popular features is its interactive on-line grocery shopping and delivery service provided through Peapod LP. Peapod allows users to view a picture of more than 25,000 different items, with corresponding nutritional labels and prices.

As an important leader in the community, Tom Thumb has never shied away from its civic responsibilities. In an effort to keep holiday contributions localized, each Tom Thumb store selects a neighborhood agency to be the recipient of the food and toys collected at that particular store during the holiday season every year.

Another annual fund-raising campaign is Tom Thumb’s Kindness for Kids which benefits area children’s hospitals. The purchase of specially marked products automatically triggers a donation or customers may make separate donations. “Last year, through the generosity of our customers, associates, and promotional partners, we were able to donate $187,000 to help provide for area kids with cancer,” says Prestidge.

As official sponsor of the Boy Scouts food drive, Tom Thumb helps distribute more than 500,000 cans of food collected by the scouts to area food banks each year. The Good Neighbor Program through the Reward Card is one more way that Tom Thumb gives back to the community. The program allows customers to designate charitable organizations which receive credit for their purchases. Tom Thumb keeps a running total of each group’s account and reimburses a percentage of the purchases directly to the organization. In 1997, Tom Thumb donated $2.3 million to local charities through this program.

When disaster strikes, Tom Thumb is ready. In just two weeks, through the generosity of individuals in the Dallas-Fort Worth community, $175,000 was raised to benefit the survivors of the tornado which swept through Jarrell, Texas in 1997. As part of NBC Channel 5’s Dare to Care program, individuals were encouraged to make contributions to The Salvation Army at local Tom Thumb stores.

Tom Thumb is planning to celebrate its golden anniversary all year with in-store promotions and special events. It has planned an elaborate concert celebration on June 24 at Reunion Arena for all its associates as a way to say “thank you” for 50 years of loyal service. The company is also producing a special commemorative publication on the history of Tom Thumb as a gift for its associates offering an inside look at significant events, people and contributions to the community.

Much of Tom Thumb’s success is due to its ability to anticipate trends and react to them appropriately. Store designs are constantly improved and new technologies, such as vegetable misting systems, are incorpo-rated to better serve ever-changing consumer needs and expectations. By continuing to evolve, Tom Thumb has been able to stay on top lor more than 50 years but it is the dedication to civic endeavors that makes the grocery store one of our finest corporate leaders.