“We had to close the doors at 10:30 this morning and let people in as other people left.” It was the kind of problem every store manager dreams of, especially on opening day. The first No Frills prototype store had swung open its doors in East York, near Toronto. The reaction on the part of shoppers was enthusiastic, to say the least. “The rush never stopped,” explained Loblaws manager Robert St. Jean, back in July 1978. “We’re really excited about it… really excited!”
The original No Frills store was just that, no frills. No product advertising, no store displays, no meat counter, no clerks to bag your groceries, and you had to bring your own bags or pay 3 cents for each. “It doesn’t bother me a bit,” replied first day customer Frank Atlas when asked about bagging his own groceries. “I’ve saved a couple dollars with this order.”
No Frills introduced some highly innovative retailing concepts to Canadian consumers. While most grocery stores carried thousands of items, that first No Frills featured only 500. And many of the products where themselves no frills, namely no name, the line of generic products launched by Loblaws just months earlier. With their distinctive yellow packaging, bold lettering, and low prices, no name, was proving a big hit with consumers. “They’re a lot cheaper than name brands, most of them are just as good and some of them are even better,” commented one Toronto shopper.
No Frills was able to pass on even more savings by leaving products on display in their cardboard shipping cartons, with the sides cut away. Produce, normally washed by hand and carefully arranged, was left in its original box.
At a time when consumers were feeling the pinch of high inflation, many were only too happy to give up the frills to save money at the checkout counter. Loblaws quickly converted two dozen of its stores to No Frills outlets. Business boomed, but became increasingly competitive throught the 1980s. Then, in 1987, Loblaws decided to harness the entrepreneurial spirit of local ownership, changing the stores into franchise operations. Today, those owners proudly put their names out front, from Kyle’s No Frills in Kitimat, British Columbia to Kris’ No Frills in Peace River, Alberta, to Kevin’s No Frills in Paradise, Newfoundland.
A lot has changed over three decades. That first prototype store has grown into more than 250 franchise locations across Canada. While the first stores had only a few hundred items, today’s No Frills has thousands to choose from, including fresh produce, meat and the very popular President’s Choice, as well as no name line of products. But with all that has changed over the years, the No Frills concept remains the same. focusing on great meat and produce, commitment to community and trusted low prices.