Throwback Thursday: John Drum remembered

[Editor's note: Respected industry veteran and longtime Wickes President John Drum died peacefully in his sleep last week. Below is an historical article previously published in May of 2018 and highlighting some of his business principles.] 

John Drum

The March 22, 1976 issue of National Home Center News, the forerunner of HBSDealer, reported on a presentation from John Drum, the Wickes Corporation president, who described merchandising and sales promotion as the lifeblood of the retail business.

“Merchandising and promotion is the whole ball game,” he said, “You’re not in business without it.” He added: “Promotion is where you can let it all hang out. Every single day is Super Bowl day for the merchant.”

Now 97 years old, Drum lives a retired yet relatively active life in Arkansas. He says he keeps an eye on the growth of the big guys in the building supply industry, but he's more interested these days in the local performing arts scene. Asked about Wickes Corporation's strengths during the 1970s, Drum said: "I think we were known for two things. We were the largest lumber and building material supply people at the time, and we were very active in Europe. And another important part of the company was edible beans. That was the era of diversification, and we also had a machine tool business and several other businesses."

(Wickes sold its agricultural business to Pillsbury Co. around 1982.)

Back in 1976 in front of a crowd of 800 or so retailers and manufacturers in attendance at the 1976 Home Center Show in Chicago, Drum shared the Wickes seven-point merchandise plan. Here’s a recap:

1) Don’t delegate everything to the merchant. “Executives must approve all lines. In this way, top management stays in close contact with all items in the store inventory,” he said.

2) The merchandising department should be tailored to satisfy the mass market of the individual store area.

3) Exploit maximum sales of stocked merchandise, as opposed to customized service.

4) Helping customers determine what is right for them is a prime policy at Wickes.

5) Prices should be at or below competitive levels.

6) Shelves should be In-stock. “Nothing turns a customer off faster than an out-of-business look,” he said.

7) Promotion works best when combined with precision planning.

He added, when it comes to sales, “Let the merchandise work for you, too.”

From his Arkansas home, Drum told HBSDealer that he doesn't remember many details from the 1976 Home Center Show. "That was a long time ago," he said. But when presented with the quotes above, he added: "that sounds like something I might have said."

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Do you have memories of working with John Drum, or the glory days of Wickes Corporation? Share them with us at [email protected].