The beginnings of Winco started in 1967, when two local businessmen, Ralph Ward and Bud Williams, had an idea to create a discount warehouse-style grocery store in Boise. Thus, they founded Waremart—a no frills operation complete with flat carts, grease pencils for writing the price on each item, and a consistent focus on low prices. In the 1970s, Ralph Ward bought out Bud Williams’ stake in the company. He grew Waremart into a small chain of supermarkets stretching to other cities in the Pacific Northwest and becoming well-known for their low prices. Things were going well, but when Ralph Ward passed away in 1985, the employees of Waremart were left feeling uncertain about their futures. Because they didn’t want to lose their stores, they decided to band together and purchase controlling interest from the Ward family. Under the direction of Bill Long, the company’s president, an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) was created, and the 17 stores in the chain became employee owned.
In 1998, the company built a distribution center in Woodburn, Oregon, to service their stores and help with cost management. Then, in 1999, a company-wide contest was held to decide on a new name. The name that won was based on a combination of Winning and Company – WinCo. In the 2000s, WinCo expanded into California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and Oklahoma. Today, it is the largest ESOP company in the country and the founder of the organization “Certified Employee Owned”--a group of companies that support the values and benefits of employee ownership. With its invested employees, good customer service, and a continued low-price focus, WinCo is certainly one of the favorite grocery stores of many of Boise shoppers, including me!