Ed Tietgens began his career in the grocery business at the ripe age of fourteen in Fargo, North Dakota where he would ride his bike to Piggly Wiggly to help unload the truck three early mornings a week, before attending school. After school, Ed would return to the store to stock the shelves and bag groceries.
In 1959, Ed married his high school sweetheart, Ilo, three years after graduating together in Fargo, North Dakota. Ed began working for Super Valu wholesale in 1961 and soon after their three boys were born, Todd, Mark and Jeff. Ed receiving promotions, entailed moving the family to Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and then in 1973 to Anniston, Alabama.
Giving up the corporate world, Ed resigned from his job at Super Valu to pursue his desire to own his own grocery store. In 1977, Ed stepped out in faith and bought their ﬁrst retail store, Ed’s Super Valu, in Rainsville, Alabama. It took long hours seven days a week for Ed, Ilo and their boys to make it succeed. The effort paid off as they paid for the store in the first year.
The Tietgens sought much help from their young sons, Todd, 16, Mark, 14 and Jeff 12 who would bag groceries, stock shelves and help out with odds and ends around the store. “At first when we opened the store, the boys were not getting paid and worked for free,” said Ed “Then when we took our inventory and confirmed that the store was profitable, they began receiving wages like other employees.” Ed and Ilo taught their boys, to ultimately be successful they must start at the bottom and work their way to the top. Like their father, Ed’s sons also grew up working in the grocery store where they gained the work ethic that drives Tietgens Enterprises, Inc. today.
Despite the hard work, the Tietgens found creative ways to enjoy their hours in the store. Using their store as an outlet, Ed and Ilo involved the community in creative ways to enjoy grocery shopping. To promote a sale, the Tietgens would create a theme, decorate their store and have all employees dress accordingly. Ed remembers one promotion where each department in the store was represented by a different country and they invited customers on a trip around the world. Ed wore a captain’s hat as he cruised customers around the store. Ilo made the decorations and costumes for employees to wear. In 1980, they won first place out of Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama for their innovative promotions. The Tietgens even convinced the whole town of Rainsville to dress up for their western day’s promotion. During a Disney World promotion, the Tietgens generously rented the local movie theater and gave away free tickets to The Jungle Book in their store. “Our customers couldn’t believe we were giving free movie tickets,” said Ed. “They were really excited!”
In 1980, the Tietgens bought a store in Columbia, Tennessee. The following year Ed took a job with C.B. Ragland as Executive Vice President moving his family to Nashville. Todd, a recent graduate of Jacksonville State University soon followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the family business. In 1983, Ed purchased a store in Rockwood. Todd found once again that his father’s outlook on life would ring true; he would have to start from the bottom and work his way up. Tietgens Enterprises, Inc. under the management of Todd and Ed began to grow; in 1984 they purchased a store in Livingston and a year later another store in McMinnville.
In 1988, Jeff graduated from Middle Tennessee State University and ran the McMinnville store. A year later, he moved to Mount Pleasant where the Tietgen’s would develop their first new shopping center. Jeff was instrumental in developing the shopping center which grew to include Rite-Aid, Subway, Garden Center, Movie Gallery and Star Therapy.
After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University in 1986, Mark pursued a successful career in investments and insurance until 1992, when he decided to invest in the family business. Mark was made an equal partner in Tietgens Enterprises Inc. and began running the store in Lawrenceburg. Mark plays a crucial role in the business through research and development and their most recent endeavors.
In 1999, Todd was named Grocer of the Year by the Tennessee Grocers Association for his success and dedication in the Tennessee grocery industry.
Now with the help of the entire Tietgens family, Ed, Ilo, Todd, Mark and Jeff along with their respective spouses and families, the company has grown to include stores in Columbia, McMinnville, Mount Pleasant, Lewisburg, Lawrenceburg, Loretto and Summertown. The Tietgens family owns all their store’s real estate and leases the other buildings to tenants.
Todd, Mark and Jeff are vice-presidents in the company sharing ownership and management responsibilities alongside their father and mentor, Ed who remains president of the business.
The family is close knit in every aspect of their lives, from a board meeting to discuss the business to a family get together to simply enjoy one another’s company. Their support for each other, time, skill and ambition combined with strong faith and prayers have put them where they are today.
Ed describes their employees as an extended family to the Tietgens. “They are treated like equals,” Ed said. “We are in the business to be the best we can, together.”
Striving to satisfy customers, keeping competitive prices, friendly service and communicating to customers their appreciation are the standards Tietgens Enterprises, Inc. live by in day to day business. The Tietgens also strive to keep their stores updated by remodeling the interiors and exteriors as well as implementing current technology to ensure business runs smoothly.
The Tietgens still employ creative ideas in their stores to better serve the community, as they did back in Alabama at their first store. They have been known to hold a free pancake breakfast for the community right inside their store. “If the customer did not want pancakes, we would walk down to the dairy department and grab a carton of eggs if that’s what they would rather have,” said Ed.
Several years ago in Lawrenceburg, a flood destroyed the local water department leaving the entire town without water. The Tietgens brought in a truckload of water and gave the residents water to take home to their families. The Tietgens truly take pride in their communities and are always there to lend a hand in a time of need.
Ed served on the Tennessee Grocers Association board of directors from 1994- 2000. Knowing both sides of the industry, Ed was instrumental in the merge of the Tennessee Wholesalers Association and the Tennessee Grocers Association in 1993.
Ed retired from C.B. Ragland in 1995 but sits on the board of directors for the company. Ed merits his biggest success to his family, which now consists of three sons, their wives and seven grandchildren. Ed and Ilo say that they were truly blessed when Todd, Mark and Jeff each chose to join them in the business. “Starting a company is one thing, but growing a company is another,” said Ed. “Our sons have grown the company and continue to do so.”
In addition to looking for new opportunities in the grocery business, the Tietgens sons have diversified by building a touchless car wash and will be building another larger car wash within the next year. They have also started construction on two spec homes this month in a new subdivision they are currently developing.
Ed says people often tell him how lucky he is and he always answers “ Yep, but isn’t it strange how the harder you work the luckier you get.”
Ed lives by the Charles Lindbergh quote “What kind of man would live where there is no daring? I don’t believe in taking foolish chances, but nothing can be accomplished without taking any chance at all.”
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