The Pioneer Shoppe opened its “brick and mortar store” in December, 1986 in the lobby of the new 42-story SBC headquarters building at 10th and Pine Streets in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. This building, One Bell Center (later renamed to One AT&T Center after the acquisition of AT&T in November, 2006), consolidated a majority of AT&T employees in leased buildings in downtown St. Louis into one location.
Gene Loseto became the first manager of the Pioneer Shoppe after being asked by then George F. Durant Chapter Pioneer Administrator, Rita Ziaja. Gene’s first responsibility was to make phone calls to retirees and ask if they would be interested in working some volunteer hours. Retirees would earn funding for their Pioneer Life Member Club community service projects based upon the number of hours that they volunteered at the Shoppe and profits that the Shoppe made. It would take about five years until the Shoppe made it first profit distribution.
Some of the first to volunteer to work in the shoppe were Lew Johnson, Gene Loseto, Neil Scheibel and Ken Neathery. Only Lew still volunteers down in the Shoppe today almost 24 years later. A few weeks after Gene began the recruiting process, the Pioneer organization decided to ask a full-time active employee to manage the Shoppe since it would be easier to manage with someone on-site every day. Bob McVey agreed and assumed the day to day responsibilities for the Shoppe along with his regular job. Gene Loseto retired on 11/15/1986 but continued to work closely with Bob McVey recruiting retirees. Gene asked to be relieved of his duties so Rita Ziaja took over until she retired as Pioneer Administrator in early 1990. Shirley Cunningham replaced Rita and Lee Stoppelman accepted the responsibility of scheduling the volunteer/retirees monthly as well as recruiting new volunteers. Bob McVey retired from SWB in 1989 and P. David Stephens took over as store manager. Lee Stoppelman along with Bob Osterhout began volunteering as a team in the Pioneer Shoppe from February, 1987 to February, 2002.
Joanne Yates began volunteering down in the Shoppe during the lunch hours in 1990 and became the Shoppe Treasurer in 1996 when Rhonda Skinner left the company because of a job transfer affecting her husband. Joanne remains the Shoppe Treasurer today. Joanne took on the additional duties of scheduling the retiree volunteers from Lee Stoppelman in 1998. Ken Schaper, the current store manager, started volunteering during the lunch hours in the late 1980’s and assumed the manager responsibilities sometime in 1991 by default from P. David Stephens as he was asked to take an instructor position in the Marketing Department and had to travel quite a bit. Dave later relocated to Oklahoma and has since retired. Ken continues to operate today even as he juggles the daily operations along with his job as a Senior Analyst in Information Technology Services. As Ken puts it, he’s the grease that keeps the gears lubed so things run as smoothly as possible each day.
The Shoppe becomes a “real retail operation”
Bill Demzik, our current E-Commerce Manager, stopped by the Shoppe one day in early 1993 and inquired if we would be interested in him volunteering. Bill was taking some graduate Marketing Communications courses in Retailing and Merchandising at Webster University in the evenings and wanted to put what he was learning to use in the Shoppe. Ken Schaper called Bill and told him we would very much like for him to help in any way he could. Bill became the Merchandising Manager and worked first on developing new in-store merchandising, rearranging the store, and improving how the products were displayed in the store. Not only did Bill and Ken work on the store layout, they worked together to successfully convince the Durant Chapter Pioneer Board of Directors to spend $10,000 to implement a computer-based IBM Point of Sale/inventory control system in the Shoppe. At the time Bill became involved, Ken managed the store inventory, ordering and stock replenishment manually. With a full-time job, ordering and inventory management was simply too much for Ken. Bill and Ken worked to create an item inventory database for every item stocked. Once the inventory system was operational, ordering and inventory management was much easier with the mechanized system.
The two worked together along with Lee Stoppelman to refocus the merchandise selection to AT&T logo merchandise and away from non-logo items. Pioneer collectibles, new telephones and telephone accessories (such as cordless batteries) were also added. As we implemented the new IBM POS system, the Shoppe was able to begin accepting credit cards for the first time ever. In addition, Bill worked to partner with AT&T product marketing to sell new Caller ID telephones and adjunct equipment to help roll out Caller ID in Missouri to employees. As we introduced new branded products to the store, promotions and company e-mail advertising helped to dramatically increase store traffic in the first six weeks. In fact, in the first year with Bill and Ken working together, gross revenues for the Shoppe increased 28.3 percent. Bill and Ken worked together to partner with Southwestern Bell Wireless (now Cingular Wireless) to help make it easier for employees to sign up for cellular service and earn additional sign up revenues for the Shoppe. Bill and Ken didn’t stop there, in 1995 the two orchestrated a complete remodeling of the Shoppe with new fixtures (obtained from a closing AT&T Phone Center store), new carpeting, new colors and more on-site storage. Bill and Ken continued to run the shoppe together until October 1997 when Bill relocated to San Antonio with his job in Product Management.
SBC merges with several other RBOC’s
With the mergers of Pacific Bell and Nevada Bell in 1997, SNET in 1998 and Ameritech in 1999; it became abundantly clear that employees traveling to St. Louis on business were very eager to purchase AT&T Corporate branded apparel and miscellaneous items. We expanded our line of caps, shirts, jackets, and trinket items to keep up with the demand for this merchandise. Because of all the mergers and long distance reporting to folks in other parts of the country, groups began to buy shirts and jackets to thank employees who worked so hard to consolidate operations between companies. This really helped our business grow.
Changes at One Bell Center…
Because of all the moves by the Corporation and Marketing in late 1997, One AT&T Center had several floors vacated and the push was on to move folks from leased building into One Bell Center. In July, 1998, it was decided that 700+ folks from Yellow Pages located in West County would be re-located to One Bell Center downtown. The Pioneer Shoppe really felt the pinch when Marketing left St. Louis as this department had probably some of our best customers. Always wanting to proudly display the latest and greatest wearables available. We were pleasantly surprised to hear we would be getting the Yellow Pages employees downtown because that would more than likely help boost sales once again.
The Shoppe goes online…
Although Bill moved to San Antonio, he never lost contact with Ken and they both talked periodically about the Shoppe. In 2000, Bill moved from Consumer Marketing into e-Business (now SBC Online) working on the online ordering for the SBC websites. He returned to school to study in e-Commerce Management and once again looked for a way to practice what he learned. As part of the coursework, he needed to develop an e-commerce website. So he contacted Ken to see if was interested in an on-line store for the Pioneer Shoppe. As SBC expanded throughout the country, Ken was getting more and more inquiries from employees about an on-line store. Linda Kingsley, a volunteer, had already created the Pioneer Shoppe Intranet website on a Kansas City server, but the site was informational and could not take orders.
Not only was Ken getting inquiries about a website, but the Shoppe was feeling the impact of the corporate decision to cut costs by ending most if not all business travel in 2002. The majority of local employees already owned various SBC branded items and we stopped getting the out-of-town business from the visiting employees in the Shoppe who needed SBC branded items. As a result, the Shoppe noticed a dramatic decrease in overall sales. This drop in sales made the push for an online Shoppe even more important. Potentially 170,000+ employees and retirees across the United States will have access to our web site. This is a very powerful possibility and something we’re excited about since most employees never had many opportunities to travel to St. Louis.
With the interest there, Bill developed a prototype website in 2001 for a class and then begin developing a Sitebuilder (build your own) website on the SBC Intranet. Unfortunately, the Sitebuilder software does not allow any e-commerce functionality so Bill was forced to look elsewhere for a way to build an e-commerce website. While working with Yahoo! on some projects in early 2002, Bill came across the Yahoo! Store e-commerce web hosting service. Yahoo! Store provided a way to create an e-commerce site with very little cash outlay and it was with one of SBC’s partners. Bill talked with Ken. Ken presented the idea to Sharon Fee, the Missouri Pioneer Administrator, who agreed that the Yahoo! Store route would be a good test for our on-line efforts. After working on the Yahoo! Store site for over four months in his spare time, Bill launched the SBC Pioneer eShoppe website on April 15, 2003. The Pioneer Shoppe/eShoppe is now a “bricks and clicks” operation.
And let’s not forget…
Others who deserve extra recognition include Mary Anne Garcia and Mike Herbert. When Joanne Yates retired in February 2001, Mary Anne offered to take over the daily balancing/reporting of the Shoppe books. Mary Anne decided to transfer to Chicago in 2001 to be close to family. When Mary Anne left, Mike Herbert offered to take over Mary Anne’s financial duties and has taken on additional responsibilities as well.
As you can see from the above, the Pioneer Shoppe is a HUGE team effort and would not even be possible without our 60+ volunteers which include both retired and active SWB/SBC/AT&T employees and our loyal customers. Only a dozen company stores exist across the Country and the Pioneer Shoppe in St. Louis has by far, the largest line of AT&T branded apparel and miscellaneous AT&T branded items in stock.
What we are all about…
The Pioneer Shoppe is located in the lobby of One AT&T Center (OATTC) and is fully staffed with approximately 60+ volunteers. Retirees from the AT&T family of companies along with in some cases, their spouses, man the Pioneer Shoppe during normal hours. Active employees of AT&T come down each week and volunteer during the lunch hours from 11:30am-12:15pm and 12:15pm-12:45pm so the retirees can meet with old friends and co-workers and go have lunch with them.
100% of the proceeds from the Pioneer Shoppe are used for the many AT&T Pioneers Community Service projects in the AT&T Missouri region. The Shoppe has distributed over $ 500,000+ for community service projects in the past 27+ years.