Innovation has a long history in Oklahoma business
By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2015, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
As a kid growing up in rural Oklahoma, one of the highlights of my young life was getting to go to “the City” and see my grandparents. Of course my brother and I enjoyed being spoiled by them but we also loved all of the things to see and do in “the City.”
I especially enjoyed going with my grandmother to the Kimberling’s grocery. It had something that no other grocery store I had ever encountered had — a tiny movie theater just for kids.
Grandmother would deposit my brother and me at the door to that little box of a theater, and we would watch cartoons until she came and dragged us out. To borrow a phrase from rural Oklahoma, we thought we were in “tall cotton.”
As an adult with a job that focuses on innovation and turning good ideas into new companies or expanded products and markets for existing companies, I realize now that I was enjoying innovation in the grocery store space. Our local Humpty Dumpty sure didn’t have anything like a movie theater just for kids.
When we were at Grandmother’s house, the only grocery store we would tolerate was Kimberling’s. Our brand loyalty was that strong. Little did I know then the level of innovation of Oklahoma grocers.
Another innovative Oklahoma grocer was Sylvan Goldman from Ardmore. Before Sylvan entered the grocery business, grocery shoppers were forced to cart their groceries around the store in their arms or in small handheld baskets. One day, as Sylvan saw his customers struggling with their groceries, he was hit with the bolt of inspiration that is the foundation of all innovation.
First, the problem. Sylvan knew that shoppers would buy more groceries if they could carry their purchases more easily to the checkout line.
Then, the solution. What if a larger basket was mounted on wheels with a handle allowing shoppers to push it around easily, even when it was loaded with mounds of groceries?
Thus, was born the shopping cart. It revolutionized not only the grocery industry but all sorts of different retail businesses.
When it comes down to it, innovation is that simple. It is coming up with a new way to solve a problem that either encourages buying, saves costs, or both. A solution doesn’t have to be high tech. It can involve, like Sylvan’s grocery cart, a combination of existing things in a new way for a new use. Innovation just needs to be seen by the marketplace as a better solution to a problem.
We need more innovation in Oklahoma, big and small. Because in the final analysis, it is innovation that leads any place to be in “tall cotton.”
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.