General Store Inc., Ankeny
Don Lamberti had perfect timing. In an era when small towns were losing their general stores, because an improved transportation system made it easy for local residents to go to the big cities for shopping, and losing their local service stations, because of fuel shortages and new environmental regulations, his Casey’s General Stores filled a very important need and, in the process, changed the face of Iowa and the Midwest.
Born in 1937, Don Lamberti grew up on the north side of Des Moines. He learned retailing while working in the family grocery store. At 21, when his father’s health failed, he became the sole owner of the business. Kurwin C. Fish, a gasoline salesman, liked the bustle of Lamberti’s store and wanted to duplicate its mom and pop atmosphere in other communities. He provided the idea and Lamberti provided the vision and management skills for their new venture, Casey’s. They spent $38,000 to transform a service station in Boone into their first store, opening in summer of 1968. A few months later they opened their second store in Creston. In the 1970s they grew from 4 stores to 300. Rapid growth continued through the 1980s, with Casey’s going public in 1983, two years after Fish retired and sold his interest in the company.
Lamberti would head Casey’s for thirty-five years. In 1998 he stepped down as CEO but remained Chairman of the Board. When he retired in 2003, Casey’s had grown from a single store in Boone Iowa to a chain of over 1,300 stores in nine states with 14,550 employees and sales of more than $2 billion a year. But the company remained true to its original plan with 63% of the stores still in areas with fewer than 5,000 residents and only 11% in towns with a population over 20,000.