By Carol Motsinger and James Shea, Asheville Citizen-Times
ASHEVILLE - A visionary and pillar of the Western North Carolina community died Sunday.
Robert P. "Bob" Ingle, founder and CEO of Ingles Markets, was 77.
fresh out of college, took out a mortgage on his mother's house in 1963
and founded the grocery store chain on Hendersonville Road. The store
did $8,500 in sales its first week and grew into a multibillion-dollar
powerhouse with more than 200 locations in Alabama, Georgia, North
Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.
Based in Black Mountain, Ingles Markets is one of the largest employers in WNC.
a leader," MANNA FoodBank Executive Director Kitty Schaller said. "I
think it's a great loss for Western North Carolina. Few people and
companies have made such an impact."
Getting his start
Ingle was a third-generation grocer.
1929, his father started a grocery store on Hendersonville Road, and
Ingle spent a large amount of his free time at the market as a child.
"From the time I was about 4 years old," he had said.
in 1952 from Lee Edwards High School in Asheville and joined the Army,
seeing action in Korea. At age 20, he was discharged and registered at
Asheville-Buncombe Junior College.
In 1956, his father's grocery
was sold. Deciding to finish his college studies, Ingle moved to
Florida, where he attended the University of Miami. He briefly worked
for Kraft Cheese after graduation, but returned home in 1961 to get the
family back into the grocery business.
Ingle, his wife and a
handful of workers staffed his first store, according to the Ingles
website. Other grocery chains like Winn-Dixie, A&P and Colonial
controlling 93 percent of the area's food sales.
But Ingle was an
aggressive businessman. He cut prices, extended store hours to include
Sundays and holidays, advertised specials, expanded the supermarket, set
up mass merchandise displays, offered games, stamps and other
promotional items and generally, ran what he called "a circus" in order
to get people in the door, the chain's website states.
A regional force
saw an opportunity in serving smaller towns and rural communities,
which became the focus of expansions into the Southeast region. Ingles
Markets moved into South Carolina in 1971.
The supermarket chain was an innovator in the industry. It was one of the first chains to be open 24 hours a day.
was not just another big-box retailer," said Kelly Miller, executive
vice president and executive director of Asheville Convention and
Visitors Bureau. "I think he really was trying to provide good services
and good products at an affordable price."
The recent announcement
about plans to expand the Black Mountain distribution center
demonstrated his continued commitment to adding jobs and opportunity in
"It's that forward thinking," Miller said.
was generous with his employees. He offered his workers a profit-sharing
plan and had a self-insured medical plan. He told the Citizen-Times
that he wanted to offer his employees more than just a paycheck.
Ingle took the company public in 1987.
Huskins, president of Ridgetop Associates in Linville Falls and a
longtime economic development professional, called Ingle "a visionary
for the region."
"He was an amazing competitor and brought and
kept a lot of jobs here in Western North Carolina, and he will be sorely
missed," she said. "He certainly has built a legacy."
Giving to local community
1982, Ingles Markets purchased Milkco, a milk processing facility. The
facility was about to be shutdown, "potentially depriving area dairy
farmers of a local market for bulk milk."
Besides benefiting local
dairy producers, the purchase was a good business decision. According
to Ingles, Milkco is now a wholly owned subsidiary and provides the
chain with dairy products, fruit juices and bottled waters. It also
sells two-thirds of its products to other retailers, wholesalers and
food service distributors.
In recent years, Ingle moved the
company into buying local food, seeking to promote the region's farmers
and reacting to the public's demand for locally produced food. The
company worked with Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Product and
other food groups and promoted local farms inside the stores.
has taken an interest in buying local," said Bill Haynes of Flat
Rock-based Blackbird Farms, which sells products to Ingles Markets.
think the intention was to always keeping one step ahead of what the
consumers would want," Miller said, referring to the move to feature
more local and organic products in response to consumer interest.
company's involvement with MANNA FoodBank began in the 1980s. The
relationship was strengthened in the 1990s when Ingles and MANNA started
the Giving Tree, which collects food and money for MANNA at
"Mr. Ingle himself took a complete interest in the Ingles Giving Tree," Schaller said
year, Schaller and her staff made an appointment with Ingle; the
chain's founder required MANNA to pitch the campaign to him directly
Ingle would listen to the pitch and decide if the campaign would happen again, Schaller said.
drove a tough bargain, but he was fair," she said, noted that one year
she recalled Ingle saying, "It wouldn't be Christmas without Ingles
The company also had an impact on numerous other agencies throughout the region.
Markets made a $250,000 pledge to Pack Place in downtown Asheville and
donated money to Meals on Wheels. Eliada Home for Children received
food, and the company sponsored basketball leagues at the YMCA.
was a private man in recent years. He worked with a close-knit group of
top employees. Most of his contacts with the media were in the 1960s,
1970s and 1980s.
Work was his focus.
In a 1977 Citizen-Times
interview, Ingle said he did not have any hobbies: "No, I don't need
anything like that. I don't play golf. This is a way of life with me.
I'll never get tired of it. I'm where I want to be."
however, an avid aviator. Ingle flew himself to Ingles Markets
throughout the Southeast and scouted potential building sites for new
"I like to travel and get to know the towns," he said in a
1987 interview. "I like to go to the store openings and meet people and
let them know we are genuine people."
Ingle served on numerous boards, including as a trustee at the Aston Park Hospital.
Ingle and his wife, Laura, had four children: Laura Lynn, Sheree Ann, Robert Jr. and Maria.
Morris Funeral Home on Merrimon Avenue is handling arrangements, which are pending.