Throughout the 20th century, wholesale businesses devised ways to order products, store them, take orders and deliver goods to retailers efficiently enough to satisfy price-conscious shoppers and keep their stores profitable.
Business pioneers, like the Skaggs family of Safeway and Payless Drug Stores fame, understood that a streamlined, dependable supply chain was critical to success and could be used to supply a chain of stores or restaurants if scaled up in size.
But a group of independent Spokane-area store owners worked on this problem from another angle. Five stores formed United Retail Merchants in 1921 to pool their buying resources. The co-op, owned by its members, was designed to take the workload of sourcing and ordering off the shoulders of the local store manager and give smaller stores the purchasing clout to compete with growing chains like George Christensen’s Piggly Wiggly chain and Charles Marr’s MacMarr stores.
Through the 20th century, many independents and small chains have been absorbed into large national chains or forced out of business, but wholesalers like United Retail Merchants, now called URM Stores, have kept supplying locally owned grocers and servicing hotels, restaurants, hospitals and schools.
In 1968, URM became a distributor for Western Family, giving independents access to a large line of private-label products.
In addition to supplying grocery products, URM Stores has added a finance company to help its members, a land holding company, an insurance company and, according to its website, is the seventh-largest private employer in Washington. URM bought the Rosauers Supermarkets group from the founders, Mert and Jessie Rosauer, in 1984. The stores were sold to its employees in 1990. URM bought the entire chain back again in 2000. The company also operates six Cash and Carry retail stores that are open to the public. URM purchased Peirone Produce Co. in 1986.
“We are celebrating our 95th year in business,” said URM Stores Chief Executive Officer Ray Sprinkle. “And we’re still operating on the same principles our founding retailers put together.”
– Jesse Tinsley
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