Dollar General Company Founder Passes Away at 85
Dollar General Corporation has announced the death of company founder Cal Turner, Sr., age 85, who with his father, J.L. Turner, founded in 1939 what is today known as Dollar General Corporation.
Born Hurley Calister Turner on May 28, 1915, in Macon County, Tennessee, the discount-retail innovator was surrounded by the world of commerce and trade from the beginning. His father, J.L. Turner, a resourceful businessman in his own right, began buying and liquidating bankrupt general stores during the Depression. Cal Turner, Sr.'s indoctrination to the world of retail began early, accompanying his father to these close-outs. He quickly became more a partner than a curious spectator, as J.L. Turner relied on his then 11-year-old son to "pencil" the stock at the various sales.
In October of 1939, Turner and his father opened J.L. Turner and Son Wholesale with an initial investment of $5,000 each. Wholesaling quickly gave way to retailing as the Turners surveyed the state of the mark at the time. "We realized you had to go directly to the consumer. We decided we had to have an outlet to get rid of our mistakes," Cal Turner, Sr. recalled in an interview for the company's 50th anniversary in 1989. The switch to retailing proved to be a wise move, providing the Turners with annual sales above $2 million by the early 1950s.
In 1955, Cal Turner, Sr. would share an idea with his staff that would transform a local enterprise into a nationally respected and industry leading discount retailer. Observing the success of major department stores' occasional "Dollar Days" sales, turner wondered aloud to his staff if it made sense to have a store where every day was dollar day. Despite widespread skepticism, he forged ahead with his instinct and on June 1, 1955, Turner's Department Store in Springfield, KY, was converted to the first Dollar General Store.
The concept was simple and novel - no item in the store would cost more than a dollar. Cal Turner, Sr. reflected on the simplicity of this shrewd retail move in 1989 saying, "Value is what it's all about. Getting what you pay for, knowing what you're buying, and finding what you're looking for." The transition proved a huge success and other stores were quickly converted. By 1957, annual sales had jumped to $5 million from 29 Dollar General Stores.
In 1968, with annual sales of more than $40 million and net income in excess of $1.5 million, the company went public as Dollar General Corporation. Turner led the company as chairman and president as it grew to be a formidable discount retailer. In 1977, Cal Turner, Jr., who had joined the company in 1965, succeeded his father as president of Dollar General. In 1989, Dollar General's 50th anniversary, Cal Turner, Sr. retired as chairman. He was one of very few retailers to have had the distinction of having worked with the company he founded for over half a century. In 1994, Cal Turner, Sr. was named to the Discounting Hall of Fame, by Discount Store News, an honor given to only one person each year.
Today, the company Cal Turner, Sr. founded and led from infancy to maturity is a leading discount retailer with more than 4,800 stores in 25 states. The company is diligent about remaining true to the humble ethic of hard work and friendly customer service embodied by its founder. Cal Turner was known by those who encountered him as a genuinely humble, self-effacing individual driven by the value of hard work. He often admitted that it didn't really feel he had ever had any truly original retailing ideas. Rather, he confessed that his success could be attributed to learning from others and faithfully implementing their successful ideas.
"We've always identified the folks in small towns as those who could recognize the real value of merchandise," Cal Turner, Jr. stated during a retrospective look at the company's first 50 years. "Small town America contributes to a better life. I think you have to make an effort to be a better person (in a small town) because people know your habits, there is a closeness, and an accountability and there is a priceless spirit."
It is the embodiment of that priceless spirit that challenges Cal Turner, Sr.'s living legacy, Dollar General Corporation, to continue to carry a little bit of small town America's friendly, neighborhood atmosphere into each of the markets it serves.
Though born in Tennessee, home for Cal Turner, Sr. was Scottsville, Kentucky, where his philanthropic love for this community is expressed in many ways.
In addition to Dollar General, the other passion in Cal Turner, Sr.'s life was his family. His wife, Laura Katherine Goad Turner, preceded Mr. Turner in death. He is survived by his children, Laura Turner Dugas, Cal Turner, Jr., Betty Turner Campbell and Steve Turner, eight grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.