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Since the early 1980s when I moved to McKenzie, I’ve heard stories about Keco Milling Company along with the Chandler King family who owned Southern Biological and the Everett family plus bits …
Since the early 1980s when I moved to McKenzie, I’ve heard stories about Keco Milling Company along with the Chandler King family who owned Southern Biological and the Everett family plus bits and pieces about U-Tote-’Em. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago the pieces of the puzzle fell together when Al Everett called me about doing a story of his grandfather, Ben T. Everett, Sr.
Al gave me a copy of a story about U-Tote-’Em from the May 18, 1956 edition of The McKenzie Banner. After reading it and asking Al a few questions, I was in total amazement at what took place in McKenzie in those years along with the success of the Everett and King family. I even learned that Judge John Everett Williams’ grandfather John Chandler Everett was the brother and business partner to Al’s grandfather Ben, McKenzie Banking Company’s first president. So below is the first portion of the U-Tote-’Em story from 1956.
Growth of the
U-Tote-’Em Chain Stores
The rise of U-Tote-’Em stores is a remarkable story which should stand out in the development of American industrial successes.
The year was 1918. The stores got their start when a one-time book and Bible salesman and a bookkeeper from Missouri went into partnership in a country store at Jarrell, Tennessee, a flagstop on the L&N Railroad six miles south of McKenzie. The Bible salesman was John Chandler Everett of Carroll County, Tennessee. The bookkeeper was Mr. Everett’s son-in-law, Glen A. King from Missouri.
The operation of the country store venture lasted only a year; however three years later, in 1921, the two men bought a corner grocery store in McKenzie, Tennessee. On an operating capital of $3,000, this became the forerunner of the cash and carry stores which are located in West Kentucky and West Tennessee with the central warehouse in McKenzie, Tennessee.
By 1923, the proprietors of the McKenzie Cash Grocery had added three more stores and another partner, John C. Everett’s brother Ben Travis Everett, Sr., and a new store name.
John C. Everett, who died in 1928, suggested the name of “You-Tote-Em,” later simplified to |U-Tote-’Em.” Mr. Everett habitability used the verb “to tote” for “to carry,” because he thought it imparted a friendliness to their enterprise which he hoped would overcome a certain sales resistance from customers.
A slogan which the Everetts and King used extensively in the first few years of their partnership was to “pay cash, carry your own, and pocket the difference.” They used the slogan to educate the customers in their method of merchandising.
The method caught on. Two more stores were opened and a central purchasing division as established for the six branches. This was the beginning of the Cash Economy Wholesale Grocery Company. As the number of stores in the chain increased from four in 1923 to 10 times that number, the wholesale buying and warehousing division has had to move to larger quarters three times.
The fast-growing chain required most of the stores’ profits. The partners at first withdrew only $40 apiece each month for their living expenses. This salary gradually advanced.
Seventy-four years old, Ben Travis Everett retired from active partnership about 20 years ago. He built a very pretty brick home on 365 acres near McKenzie, turned the farm into a model of soil conservation, and raised Black Angus cattle.
Glen King lives in a 11-room modernistic house that is one of McKenzie’s showplaces. He designed it himself. Unlike his partner, he was five times elected McKenzie’s mayor.
The central warehouse is the nerve center of the network of stores, and McKenzie remains the U-Tote-’Em “home town.” The present building was built in 1945 after a fire destroyed its predecessor. The blaze broke out about 4 p.m. on an October afternoon in 1942, and in less than an hour had laid waste $100,000 worth of building and stock. Until the new warehouse was constructed, U-Tote-’Em had to store its stock in available lofts and attics around town. The present operating capital of the warehouse is approximately $250,000.
This wasn’t the only obstacle which the uprising company had to overcome. The Depression of the 1930s tested the ingenuity and willingness of the Everetts and King to take a chance on weathering the ensuing conditions. The bank holiday of 1933 was enough to discourage any businessman. However, they did not halt their operations. Regardless of the bank holiday, merchandise had to be bought and paid for. Collectors were sent out daily to each store. They brought the receipts to the central office. Checks could not be cashed, so they had to send the money to suppliers as quickly as possible. The cash, in amounts from $100 to $15,000, was expressed to the suppliers. Even though the idea was impracticable, the kept their bills paid and supplies for their customers.
When the two McKenzie banks failed at about this time U-Tote-’Em helped organize the present McKenzie Banking Co., became a charter stockholder, and contributed a president to the new bank – Ben Everett, Sr.
West Tennessee corn was being sold to northern companies and the finished corn products were being shipped back. This was a bad situation, so the U-Tote-’Em officials decided to do something about it...
The rest of this story will be available in the next edition along with additional history and notes tied to the U-Tote-’Em stores.
Jason R. Martin
B.S. • M.A.Ed • MLS
Councilman, Ward II
Executive Chairman, McKenzie 150th Celebration
E: firstname.lastname@example.org P: 731.352.3323
Jason Martin is a life-long resident of McKenzie. He graduated from McKenzie High School in 2000; earned a Bachelor of Science in History from Bethel College in 2004; a Masters in Education from Bethel University in 2009 and a Masters in History and Humanities from Fort Hays State University in 2011.