A 10-cent idea

Here is an interesting anecdote about an entrepreneur who built his fortunes by boldly pursuing an innovative idea.

When young FW Woolworth was a store clerk, he tried to convince his boss to have a 10-cent sale to reduce inventory. The boss agreed, and the idea was a resounding success.

This inspired Woolworth to open his own store and price items at a nickel and a dime. He needed capital for such a venture, so he asked his boss to supply the capital for part interest in the store. His boss turned him down flat. “The idea is too risky,” he told Woolworth. “There are not enough items to sell for five and ten cents.”

Woolworth went ahead without his boss’s backing, and he was not only successful in his first store, but eventually owned a chain of FW Woolworth stores across the nation.

Later, his former boss was heard to remark, “As far as I can figure out, every word I used to turn Woolworth down cost me about a million dollars.”

Frank Winfield Woolworth (1852-1919) was an American entrepreneur and founder of FW Woolworth Company and the operator of variety stores known as ‘Five-and-Dimes’ (5- and 10-cent stores) or dimestores, which featured a low-priced selection of merchandise. He pioneered the now-common practices of buying merchandise directly from the manufacturers and fixing the selling prices on items, rather than haggling. He was also the first to use self-service display cases, so customers could examine what they wanted to buy without the help of a sales clerk.