Casas Pernambucanas, a 105-year old chain of departments stores, is one of the biggest and most traditional retail businesses in Brazil. It’s the 13th largest retail chain in Brazil today, though at its peak in the 1970s it consisted of 800 stores. Today, however, there’s less than 300.
Like various other big Brazilian retail stores — Casas Bahia and Lojas Americanas being the best examples — the Casas Pernambucanas were founded by an immigrant. Herman Theodor Lundgren came from Sweden and landed in Rio de Janeiro in 1855, but settled in Recife (because he thought he’d have less business competition there). Being a polyglot, he began working as a foreign interpreter at the port but ended up as an importer and, after seeing the high prices of imported powder, created the Pernambuco Powder Factory. His new business made him a rich man.
In 1904, with his new riches, Herman bought a cloth factory but he died three years later. In 1908, his family turned the factory into Lojas Paulista (the precursor to Casas Pernambucanas), located in a district of Olinda called Paulista. Years later, with the defeat of São Paulo in the Constitutional Revolution of 1932, Herman’s family decided to change the name to Casas Pernambucanas.
Around the 1920s, the stores created an innovative marketing strategy, in a time when the concept (of marketing) wasn’t even fully formed. The strategy consisted of sending its employees out to write ads on stones, sheds, gates, trees and anywhere else they could do it. Phrases like “Tecidos / Casas Pernambucanas / Onde todos compram” (Cloths / Casas Pernambucanas / Where everyone goes to buy) and “Tecidos bons e baratos, Casas Pernambucanas” (Good and cheap cloths, Casas Pernambucanas) were used in the ad campaign. A few years prior to 1920, a Bahian businessman in charge of a few stores decided to ride a donkey through town with a sign saying “I’m the only one who doesn’t make purchases at the Casas Pernambucanas”. His strategy was a hit as it made everyone curious about the store.
Casas Pernambucanas has 295 stores in seven Brazilian states: Goiás, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Paraná, Santa Catarina and São Paulo. Curiously, the state of Pernambuco, birthplace of the chain and the origin of the name, doesn’t have a store due to a dispute among the heirs.
(sources: brunotorres.net, Wikipedia, and iBahia)