In 1954, just a few days before Christmas, Jack Smith's mother sent him to the local supermarket to buy some groceries. Almost 45 years later, Smith, now Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc. Abingdon, VA, recalls that day as one that would change his life forever.
Prior to that day in the local A&P store, Smith had absolutely no intention of becoming involved in the retail grocery business, much less making it his lifelong trade. During high school, Smith received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy. Following his graduation from the academy with an engineering degree in 1947, Smith served seven years in the United States Navy before his discharge in April 1954.
After completing his Naval service, Smith packed his bags and moved from California with his wife and two young daughters back to his Virginia home to raise his family. Shortly thereafter, he took that fateful trip to the grocery store. The rest is history.
In 1955, Smith formed a partnership with three family members: his father, an uncle, and a cousin, all of whom agreed to enter the grocery store business. That year, the Smith family franchised a new 8,000 square foot Piggly Wiggly store more than twice the size of the nearby A&P-TN in their hometown of Grundy, Virginia.
It is his cousin Ernest Smith whom Smith credits with teaching him many valuable lessons both in business and in life, that he would employ throughout his career.
Today, K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc., which reported over $770 million in retail sales in 1998, operates 81 supermarkets in Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.
In addition to working with good people, Smith relies on ingenuity to keep him one step ahead of the competition. K-VA-T/Food City's distribution center was one of the first to use UPC codes for stock numbers, allowing more accurate inventory management.
What makes K-VA-T/Food City unique is the ever-important x-factor: location, location, and location. And with his company's headquarters situated just a stone's throw from a number of natural and man-made amenities, including several nearby TVA lakes, ski slopes, and The State Theatre of Virginia, Smith makes a strong case for why he will likely remain right where he is.
Like all good stewards, Smith insists on giving back to the communities that have supported his business. Such projects include ‘Apples for Students' in which students return Food City register tapes in exchange for valuable educational equipment for their schools. To date, nearly $5 million worth of equipment has been purchased via the program. There is also Food City's annual sponsorship of the NASCAR Food City 500 and Food City 250 races at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Surrounding the popular events, Food City hosts Family Race Nights, where fans meet and greet NASCAR personalities. Proceeds from these events have enabled Food City to donate more than $80,000 to local charities.
Smith remains realistic about the challenges that lie ahead. He recognizes the competition is always on the horizon, and he understands the importance of remaining a few paces ahead of the pack.
As for what he would like to be remembered for, Smith gracious as always, pays homage to those who have paved the way for one of the country's pre-eminent food retailers.
" I think I've built my monument in K-VA-T Food Stores," Smith says. "And I'd like for it to continue to operate and for all the people who made that possible to continue to prosper."