Happy 90th Birthday Ralph W. Ketner!
September 17, 2010;
Ralph W. Ketner, founder and chairman emeritus of Food Lion, Inc., marks his 90th birthday on Sept. 20 and the faculty, staff and students of Catawba College plan to help him celebrate.
Mr. Ketner, who keeps daily office hours in the building on Catawba's campus named for him and built through his generosity, has a tradition of bringing Krispy Kreme Doughnuts into the office each Monday. On his special day, Catawba will supply both the doughnuts and a show of affection and support for this entrepreneurial man who has helped shape both Catawba College and the Salisbury-Rowan community over a half dozen decades.
A native of Salisbury, Mr. Ketner was one of three men who founded Food Town Stores in 1957. Since his retirement from Food Lion in 1991, he has served as chairman emeritus of that grocery store chain which has evolved from Food Town into Food Lion, Inc. with more than 1,200 stores, mostly in the Southeast. A member of the Catawba Board of Trustees since 1984, Mr. Ketner was recently recognized as one of the people in North Carolina who had made a significant difference in the state during the 20th century with his founding of Food Lion.
When his company's sales were lagging in the 1960s, Mr. Ketner came up with a novel approach to lower prices and increase sales, thereby propelling the chain to its current success. Mr. Ketner's concept was LFPINC, an acronym which stands for the Lowest Food Prices in North Carolina He determined that it would better for the chain to make "five fast pennies rather than one slow nickel," building its success on volume sales, rather than on per item profits. His autobiography, "Five Fast Pennies," expounds on this concept and many others.
Although orphaned at age 11 when his grocer father, George Robert "Bob" Ketner died, Mr. Ketner learned early on lessons that served him well in business. He learned the value of thrift and hard work, that it is wrong to charge a price that is unfair or to shortchange a customer, and that if you give real value to customers and save them money, they will reward you with their business.
He attended Tri-State University (now Trine University) in Angola, Indiana, studying accounting for three years. He was awarded an honorary bachelor of science degree and an honorary doctorate in business administration in 1982 from Trine University. Catawba College awarded him an honorary doctorate in business administration in 1981.
He worked as an accountant for Cannon Mills for several years before joining the Army and serving in Italy and Africa during World War II. After the war, he worked as an IRS agent, a N.C. Revenue agent, and later as a buyer for Winn-Dixie before launching his own grocery venture.
While business has been Mr. Ketner's professional focus, he has found many ways to share his success with his community and has been active in professional and civic organizations, including N.C. 4-H, the Lions Club and Rotary Club. He is a generous supporter of Nazareth Children's Home, Habitat for Humanity, Rowan Helping Ministries, and Catawba College. Ralph W. Ketner Hall houses the Ketner School of Business on Catawba's campus and Ketner Scholarships offered to Catawba students from the immediate area are the direct results of his financial support and shared vision about the importance of education.
Of the many honors he has received, the two he values most are his 1990 National Entrepreneur of the Year Award and in 2002 when he was chosen as "1 of 50 Visionaries in U.S. Supermarket Industry". In addition, thanks to his generosity, there are two Ralph W. Ketner Schools of Business: one at Catawba College and one at Trine University in Angola, Indiana.
Known for his sharp wit and mathematical acumen, Mr. Ketner is the father of two adult children, Robert and Linda.