Richard Warner, D.D.S.
Warner Family Dentistry in Council Bluffs
Richard Warner, D.D.S. Family Dentistry in Council Bluffs, Iowa
(Story by Dr. Richard Warner)
Trading Stamps- The Housewife's Friend
Rewards points and other loyalty programs are ubiquitous at stores today, but the concept isn’t at all new. Decades before store computers tracked your business there were sticky little coupons that housewives of the 50s and 60s just couldn’t get enough of.
Trading stamps were a way to get the silverware, small appliances, jewelry and gadgets housewives wanted but were too practical to buy. It was OK to be a bit extravagant in redeeming the stamps-- those dream items were now theirs for free.
Trading stamps began in the 1890s as a way to reward customers who paid cash. The golden age arrived in the 1950s after a Denver supermarket chain began giving S&H Green Stamps. Other grocers followed; those who initially resisted like Safeway and A&P were almost destroyed until they too joined the movement. Chain gasoline stations signed on to the revolution as well. By the 1960s S&H boasted it issued three times more stamps annually than the post office and its redemption catalog was the largest publication in the United States. As the stamp revolution grew drug stores, dry cleaners, and at least one mortuary signed on.
In Council Bluffs the Hinky Dinky stores led the stamp innovation. Hinky Dinky was founded in Omaha by brothers Jule, Henry, and Albert Newman along with cousin Ben Silver. National chain Kroger’s embarked on a plan to create their own trading stamp rather than have to dilute profits by contracting with a third party like Sperry and Hutchinson, which operated S&H Green Stamps. To help offset the costs of developing such an operation they invited a dozen non-competing regional chains, like Hinky Dinky, to participate in their new Top Value stamps.
Safeway president Lingen Warren continued to resist the stamps. He was finally ousted as president and the stores began giving Gold Bond stamps. Council Bluffs based Super Valu food stores likewise gave Gold Bond stamps.
The Bluffs redemption center for Top Value couldn’t have had a better location; at 220 West Broadway it was directly across the street from Hinky Dinky. Gold Bond savers could trade their stamps for goods at 25 North Main Street.
Neil Shaver was particularly influential in bringing the era of grocery store trading stamps to an end in Council Bluffs and Omaha. Shaver, son of the founder of Shavers Food Stores, was an excellent amateur actor and used his talent to challenge the stamp mentality. Shavers sponsored late night movies on local television, and Neil Shaver developed a following as the personality who introduced the movies. He used the rapport he earned with viewers to explain how much the stamps cost the stores, and how Shavers, by not giving stamps, could undersell the stamp stores on all items, not just a hand full of loss leaders. That it’s “the tape total that counts” resonated with shoppers, and other stores were able to wean their customers off of the stamps with the promise of overall lower costs. By this time discount stores like Skagway, GEM, and K-Mart had entered the market, making traditional store prices appear high.
Gasoline chains continued to be strong stamp backers, particularly for S&H. This came to an end in May, 1973. An oil embargo made gasoline difficult to obtain. Stations that didn’t have it couldn’t make sales, stamps or not; the stations that did have gas had customers lined up from blocks. Incentives were no longer needed, and stamps, along with free maps and window washing attendants, largely vanished from the landscape.
A&P grocery stores initially resisted trading stamps but later offered Plaid Stamps. Council Bluffs had an A&P grocery on West Broadway at 7th Street.
Demolition of the Woodward Candy factory in downtown Council Bluffs was underway when Hinky Dinky offered to buy the partially demolished building. The top two floors had already been removed. Hinky Dinky made what was left of the second floor into a rooftop parking lot. Shoppers could redeem the Top Value stamps earned at the Hinky Dinky store at a redemption center directly across the street.
Local Safeway stores gave Gold Bond stamps. The store pictured was on East Broadway at Oak Street until razed to make way for the rerouting of US Highway 6 in the mid 1960s.