Henry Johnson Jr., the former president of W. Lee Flowers & Co., recently received the J. Frank Grimes Award, the highest honor granted by the Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA).
IGA Chairman Mark Batenic and IGA CEO John Ross presented the honor, which often is referred to as the Chairman’s Award, to Johnson at the FMI Midwinter Conference in Marco Island, Florida.
Intended to be presented in 2020, the recognition was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson retired in 2019.
In business since 1922, W. Lee Flowers & Co. is a wholesale and retail grocery company serving the Carolinas and Georgia. Johnson and Heyward King Jr. took over company leadership from their fathers in the 1980s, growing the business by increasing the warehouse size by five-fold, the owned store count from a handful to more than 60, and their offerings from dry goods to meat, produce, dairy, frozen and health and beauty products.
By the 2000s, W. Lee Flowers was the only South Carolina-owned grocery wholesaler in the state, down from a peak of more than 100.
Seeing new opportunities, Johnson created a new brand, KJ’s Market IGA, which served as the company’s introduction into larger cities and has since become the foundation of the retail business.
By 2019, Johnson and King had led W. Lee Flowers for more than 80 years combined. It was time to retire, and they decided that Alex Lee Inc. would acquire the business.
“When Henry and his partner Heyward King Jr. decided to sell, they only talked to one company – Alex Lee,” Batenic said.
“They wanted the business they built up to stay within the IGA family and with a family-owned business. At the time of the sale, Henry and Heyward owned 50 of the 120 IGA stores they served.”
This move not only showcased their dedication to the community but also solidified the continuity of their legacy within the familial IGA network.
“Henry Johnson is the ultimate gentleman. He has positively impacted the industry with his leadership for many years, and I have been fortunate to learn from him,” said Brian George, Alex Lee’s president, chairman and CEO.
“He welcomed me into the industry and willingly shared his knowledge. I am honored to be able to continue to grow the business he devoted his career to with W. Lee Flowers and the retail stores.”
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