Monte Lafayette Bean was born on January 23, 1899, in Richfield, Utah, the third of five children (who survived into adulthood) born to Marquis Lafayette Bean (1865-1910) and Annie Maria Horne Bean (1869-1934). His father died when Bean was 11. This put a considerable strain on the family, and young Bean soon went to work. At age 16 he moved to nearby Marysvale, Utah, and worked in a dry-goods store. It turned out that even as a teenager he had a knack for merchandising.
He signed up for the U.S. Marine Corps in September 1918, just as America's involvement in World War I was reaching its peak. He got as far as boot camp at Mare Island, California, before the war ended that November. By the following February he was back in Utah and ready to resume his education. Bean was a Mormon, so it was only natural for him to attend the Latter-day Saints University (later known as the LDS Business College) in Salt Lake City.
Two weeks before his 1921 graduation, with his future looming in front of him as a big question mark, he was invited to interview for a bookkeeping position with the Skaggs (later Safeway) grocery chain. He was quickly hired. It was the beginning of a superb career, and it couldn't have come at a better time, for it was also the beginning of the Roaring Twenties. As he explained in his 1977 autobiography, These Mortal Years:
"Reverence for free enterprise came close to being an article of faith. The Twenties saw unprecedented success for American business …. I became a convert to the doctrines of business as being in [author Edward] Purinton's words, 'the finest game … the soundest science … the truest art … the fullest education … the fairest opportunity …'"(Bean, 128).
Bean soon concluded that if he wanted to make big money he'd have to do it working in the stores themselves. He transferred to operations late in 1922 and soon was managing his own store. His dedication and efficiency didn't go unnoticed. In 1923 he transferred to Oakland to manage a Skaggs store, but he soon transferred to Ogden, Utah, and became district manager of five stores. It was in Ogden that he had an epiphany that would serve him well for the rest of his life.
The Ogden stores faced tough competition from a local merchant who was determined to shut Skaggs down in the city. In strategizing to meet the challenge, Bean realized that volume merchandizing and aggressive advertising, coupled with the advantage of having multiple stores in a community, gave his operations a huge advantage that was hard to beat. He outsold his competition, and Skaggs rewarded him with an even bigger promotion. In 1925 he transferred to Salt Lake City to manage 26 stores in Utah and southwestern Wyoming.
Over the Top
Bean subsequently worked in Lewiston, Idaho, and Grand Island, Nebraska. Late in 1929 Skaggs -- by this time Safeway -- transferred him to Portland, Oregon, where he would live for most of the next 10 years. By the mid-1930s he was responsible for overseeing more than 200 stores in the West, but the long hours and hard work eventually began to take their toll on the young entrepreneur. In 1933 he had what he later described as a "minor nervous collapse" (Bean, 201), but he had a more serious one in 1937, which took him out for several months. When he recovered and approached management about returning to work, he got a nasty surprise -- but one that ultimately would work out well for him.
Safeway had filled his position in his absence, reasoning that it didn't know when -- or if -- he would return. The company wasn't willing to kick out his replacement now that he had returned. Instead, Safeway offered him a much lower-stress, lower-responsibility job. He turned it down, bought a travel trailer, and spent much of the next 18 months traveling the West with his family. He'd married Birdie Ann Sander (1898-1977) in 1922, and by 1937 they had three children: Beverly (1923-2012), Monte Lamont (1924-2004), and Audrey (1936-1999).
By 1939 Bean was looking for work. According to his autobiography, Fred Meyer (of the superstore chain) contacted him to tell him of an opportunity in Seattle with Eba Mutual Groceries, a chain of 37 stores in the city and in Central Washington. Its current management wasn't doing the job and the owners were looking for someone new.
Bean stepped in and moved to Seattle late in 1939. He renamed the stores Tradewell Modern Food Stores (Tradewell for short) and went to work, closing some stores and reorganizing others. Before long Tradewell was turning a profit and, eventually, adding more stores. Bean was its president for a number of years and then its chairman of the board until 1959. Tradewell itself soldiered on until 1988, when it fell victim to the growing proliferation of large chain grocery stores.
But to many Monte Bean was synonymous with Pay'n Save, which he described in his book as an "opportunity [that] dropped into my lap …. When I assumed responsibility for Pay'n Save, I really didn't think it would take all that much time, but I was mistaken .... We were to grow into a fine, vigorous company which was to exert quite a force on the financial and economic climate in Seattle" (Bean, 260, 268). He wasn't exaggerating.
Bean explained that late in 1946, Payless, a large drugstore at 319 Pike Street in Seattle, was for sale. Its manager, Ed Seydel, approached Seattle banker Joshua Green (1869-1975) for a loan to buy the store. Green told Seydel that he'd loan him the money provided he made Green a half-partner and Bean his management consultant. Seydel agreed. The new business opened in early 1947 as Pay'n Save Drugs, but within a few months Seydel realized it wasn't for him. Bean bought him out and later bought out most of Green's interest as well.
Bean's son, Monte, joined the company a year or so later and rose through the ranks to become president of Pay'n Save Corporation in 1959. By this time the company was beginning to expand. In 1964 it had 16 stores in Western Washington and Oregon, and this growth accelerated in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By 1974 there were 106 stores in Washington and nine other Western states and Western Canada.
Pay'n Save boasted 253 stores at the time of Bean's death in 1982. It grew to 318 stores (with more than 10,000 employees) by 1984, though these store counts included other companies that it had purchased and put under the corporate umbrella, such as Ernst Hardware, Malmo Nursery, Seattle Sporting Goods (later Sportswest), and Lamont's Apparel.
However, Pay'n Save was primarily known for its drugstores, and by the 1960s it had developed an excellent reputation, a distinction it would enjoy for the next 20 years. Pay'n Save spanked its competition with clean, well-run and well-stocked stores, which had good merchandise and reasonable prices. Its blue and green block letter signs were ubiquitous in Western malls and shopping centers. There was even a hydroplane named Miss Pay'n Save which raced for several years and won the 1959 Apple Cup at Lake Chelan.
A Passion For Hunting
Bean wasn't a man who ever sat still -- in his autobiography he remarked that it was almost impossible for him to stay in bed after 6:15 a.m. -- though he did admit to slowing down some in his later years. This activity carried over into community service. He served as a director of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Seattle radio station KIRO, People's Bank of Washington, and the Artificial Kidney Foundation. A religious man, Bean served for several years as stake president for the Seattle area of the Mormon Church. (A stake in the Mormon Church is a unit comprising several congregations.)
He played nearly as hard as he worked. He golfed in his early years, bowled, played handball, and enjoyed gardening, fishing, and traveling. His true passion was hunting, and it shows in his book, which has a separate chapter largely devoted to the topic. He participated in dozens of hunts worldwide, especially in Africa, between the 1930s and the 1970s. He amassed nearly 100 trophies -- caribou, wolf, eland (a large gazelle), rhinoceros, hippopotamus, a Bengal tiger, and others. For a time he displayed some of his trophies in the Seattle Sporting Goods stores, but late in his life that changed.
In the 1970s Bean donated $3.2 million to Brigham Young University (BYU), located in Provo, Utah, for the construction of a natural-science museum. The Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum opened in 1978 on the BYU campus, and it was remodeled and expanded between 2012 and 2014. It has a collection of 2.8 million specimens, including trophies from Bean's collection and from other collections; there are exhibits on birds, plant life, and fish, and the museum offers live animal shows and other youth-friendly programs. It seems remarkable in this day and age, but admission is free.
Bean's wife Birdie died in November 1977. A year later he married Clarice Glade Sloan (1905-1993) of Portland, and they lived in Seattle until Bean's death on October 16, 1982. His obituary in The Seattle Times aptly described him and his businesses:
"The elder Bean, a somewhat private person, was virtually unknown to many Seattleites. But the business empire he built employs thousands and has had enormous impact on the shopping habits of Seattle and other communities throughout the West" ("Seattle Retailer…").Pay'n Save made a sudden U-turn after his death. The company made its first big mistake a year later when it bought Schuck's Auto Supply and paid for it with stock rather than cash. This gave the Schuck investors a voice in Pay'n Save's operations, and Bean's son, Monte, found himself contending with Schuck investors who had their own ideas for the company. After an embarrassing and public fight, Pay'n Save was purchased by Julius and Eddie Trump (no relation to Donald) of New York in October 1984.
Pay'n Save went through a series of contortions over the next few years, spinning off some of its subsidiaries and selling part of the company to another buyer, William Zimmerman, who tried to operate the drugstores as discount stores featuring cheap knickknacks. None of this worked. People watched in shock as Pay'n Save hemorrhaged millions of dollars during the mid-and-late 1980s. It was sold again in 1988 and yet again in 1992 -- ironically to another drugstore named Payless, who renamed the Pay'n Save stores PayLess Drug.
None of this had anything to do with Monte Bean, but one has to wonder what he would have thought had he lived to see it. Perhaps a clue can be found near the end of his book, when he wrote:
"Our earthly existence is, to me, just an interlude in eternity. A tiny fragment of the total time allotted to us as spiritual entities. I feel that we are here on earth to occupy human bodies for a short time in which we can learn the things which will be of use to us, and to the Lord, in the hereafter" (Bean, 414-415).