John Francis Geisse

John Francis Geisse
Retail Pioneer & Leader: Founder of Target Stores, Venture Stores, & The Wholesale Club
(September 1, 1920-February 21, 1992)

While his father pursued a career designed to make aviation more widespread and safer, John Francis Geisse was firmly grounded in retail marketing and merchandising, launching three successful retail chains designed to bring upscale products to more people at lower costs. Geisse was born in Madison, Wisconsin. After serving in the Navy during World War II in the Pacific and Atlantic theaters, including the Normandy invasion, he retired from the Navy in 1947 as a Lieutenant Commander of the USS Tuscaloosa before moving to Minneapolis.

In 1962, Geisse founded and launched the chain Target Stores for the Dayton Company (now Target Corporation). Geisse is the author of The Better Quality Upscale Discount Store Concept in America.

He left Dayton in 1968 and soon joined the May Company and headed up the launching of their own upscale discount division, Venture Stores. He left May Co. in 1975, moved to Indianapolis, and was the chairman and CEO of Ayr-Way Stores from 1976 to 1977. Geisse turned the regional chain around and returned it to profitability. Ayr-Way was later acquired by Target, long after the Geisse years. In 1982, he founded The Wholesale Club, the first of the huge membership warehouse clubs. It grew from six associates to over 2,500 in 22 warehouses before being acquired by Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Clubs, led by his long-time friend, Samuel Walton. Walton has said of Geisse, “[He was] a pioneer in innovative retailing concepts, creating concepts new and different from anything else in the industry at that time. He was years ahead of everyone else. I have never known anyone else that I respected more for many things, including integrity, morality, and the way he cared for his associates.”

In 1984, Geisse was inducted into the Discount Store News Discount Hall of Fame. At the time of his death in 1992, he was survived by his wife, Mary (whom he always described as the most beautiful woman in the room), their 10 children, and 15 grandchildren. His daughter Amy recalls that he loved to sing, whether in his church choir, Indianapolis Opera productions or around the house, trying to get the family to join in. “You could always hear him in the house because he was usually singing,” she said. “Always happy and joyful.”

In addition to his huge impact on retail shopping, the family legacy lives on locally as well. If you visit Eagle Creek Park, you may be familiar with the large “Mary and John Geisse Soccer Complex” located outside the park and next to the Indianapolis Colts headquarters on West 56th Street.

Visit and the “John F. Geisse” Facebook page for more information.

Father and son, and their wives, are buried in Section 13, Lot 20; GPS (39.8197388,-86.1761540) which is almost directly behind the mausoleum of Col. Eli Lilly.

Image Credit: Geisse Family, Facebook