Red Owl, Family History, and Company Relationships

Red Owl, Family History, and Company Relationships

by Kerry Scott on 21 October 2009


My older kid wants me to dress up for Halloween.

Specifically, she wants me to wear what she calls the “owl shirt.”  It’s a red grocery clerk’s smock with the logo of the Red Owl Food Stores on one side, and a Red Owl name tag on the other.  I wear it when we play grocery store.

Red Owl was a grocery store chain in the upper Midwest.  My grandma worked in the advertising department at their corporate headquarters in Hopkins, Minnesota for nearly 30 years.  When I was little, we  got to visit her at work a couple of times, which my five-year-old self thought was the coolest thing ever.  That big red owl’s face was intimately associated with my grandma in my mind, and although they’ve been out of business for nearly 30 years now, you can still find their stuff in antique stores and on eBay (and there’s a lock of hair from my first haircut in my baby book…in a Red Owl envelope).  You don’t even want to know what I’ve spent on various Red Owl items…signs, clocks, key chains, spice tins, rubber stamps, and more.  I even have Red Owl metal inventory control tags on the file cabinets in my office.  They’re really cool.

We also have a bunch of stuff from my husband’s great-grandfather’s lumberyard in Glenbeulah, Wisconsin.  I have an apron, a fly swatter, and a pair of tongs with “W.D. Scott Company” etched in the side.  The lumberyard is long gone, but we’ve still got a lot of stuff to show our kids when we tell them about their great-great-grandpa and his history in their daddy’s hometown.

Interestingly, although I’ve worked for a large number of companies and received lots of logo gear over the years, I’m not particularly attached to any of it.  I still have the desktop aircraft models from my airline job, but that’s it. I’m way more into the stuff from companies that figure into my family history than my own (partly because I’m really into family history, I’m sure).

So I’m curious.  Do you keep the logowear from the jobs you’ve had?  From companies your family has had a relationship with?  Do any particular signs or logos trigger an emotional reaction for you?

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Sabrina October 21, 2009 at 9:07 am

My brother works for a big internet company that likes to put it’s name on EVERYTHING so he has a ton of stuff and I have a few things including a slinky and a yo-yo. From my old companies I have an umbrella from my first “real” job. From the job I had for 10 years I have a bunch of stuff including a CD case, a duster, another yo-yo, and several cups. No idea why I’m keeping it other than there’s no reason to get rid of it.

Roberta Balder October 21, 2009 at 9:08 am

A former employer rewards its employees with a blue fleece embroidered with the company logo when they have completed a year of service. Employees wear it with a sense of pride because it symbolizes survival and a sense of being accepted as part of the team. It was also exceptionally cold in the converted warehouse, so we were glad to have a little extra comfort. But, it had no pockets

When the economic downturn hit the company hard, many of us were let go. When I received my “personal effects” the blue fleece was at the top of the box. I was tempted to throw it away, “I worked for this company and all I got was a fleece with no pockets.,” I joked. My husband encouraged me to keep it, and I did. I wear it to rake leaves; who needs a pocket when you’re raking leaves?

The truth is I do always think about that company when I put on that fleece. I think how lucky I am to have the time to go outside and rake leaves!

Amy Boland October 21, 2009 at 9:21 am

I hate company swag, even that from current company, and wear it in the garden where it is bound to get trashed. I WAS touched, though, when one of our clients was so pleased that they sent a bunch of swag for the project team. I love the baseball shirt I got from them.
But, Kerry, I just suffered the biggest surge of nostalgia from seeing that Red Owl logo. That’s where my small-town Northern Minnesota family shopped every weekend when I was five. I would proudly wear a Red Owl shirt if I had one, and not just at Halloween.
.-= Amy Boland´s last blog ..Yes! You CAN Make Sauerkraut! =-.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 21, 2009 at 10:02 am

Amy—when I was writing this, I decided to go on eBay and run my “saved search” for Red Owl stuff (something I’d resisted doing for a few months, because I told myself I had enough). There are Red Owl t-shirts for sale right now. Mine should be here in a few days. I’m pretty sure they still have more.

It’s funny how you can tell the Minnesotans in any crown by their reaction to that logo though.

Class—it always drives me nuts that you can’t get that stuff in women’s sizes. I used to have to wear polo shirts for job fairs, and they were halfway down my thighs. It was ridiculous.

laurie ruettimann October 21, 2009 at 9:27 am

I have a mug from every company I’ve worked for. It’s a more accurate recounting of my career than my resume!
.-= laurie ruettimann´s last blog ..Baby Names, Careers, and CEOs =-.

class factotum October 21, 2009 at 9:36 am

Yes, there is an emotional reaction. Every time my husband wears one of his company-logo shirts (why? WHY? he has really NICE clothes), I think about having to wear my company-logo shirt when I worked the booth at trade shows. If I couldn’t cut off the bottom half of the shirt, my butt looked a mile wide from all the extra material stuffed into my pants. Why? Because I had to wear a men’s small, which was still too big, and people, I am not petite. I asked the guy who ordered the shirts to get me a women’s shirt and he told me that the vendor did not make women’s sizes.

Those shirts are now used for washing my bathroom floor.
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Tuesday =-.

Bev October 21, 2009 at 9:43 am

I’m from a small MN town, too, and have fond memories of going to Red Owl with my grandpa whenever we went back for a visit. The big logo you posted put Grandpa front and center for the day!

Like Laurie, I have mugs from all of my jobs that had mugs. One of my former companies sponsored a NASCAR race car and I have a couple of die cast models of our car. I also have a few pens, which I use and then throw out, and that’s it for me.

Mark Pyk October 21, 2009 at 11:47 am

the key to keeping company swag is how long have you been with the company and how kick ass the logo is. My father worked for the same farming and construction equipment manufacturer for his whole career so he always had the best swag from die cast models of the tractors, retro coats and winter hats with fuzzy balls on the top all with company logo. Unfortunately he did not end up keeping all of the clothes but they were still cool (especially in hindsight), and I can definitely see myself to begin collecting memorabilia from said company down the road. In my career the longest I have been with a company is 3 years and none of the company logos were or are particularly cool looking, and as soon as I leave a job the logo shirts end up going to donation.
.-= Mark Pyk´s last blog ..Lack of Foresight =-.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 21, 2009 at 11:54 am

Mark—my grandpa worked for Minneapolis Moline. He was one of the workers who lost his pension, just before he was set to retire (that whole thing lead to the passage of ERISA, although it was too late for him). There is absolutely, positively NO Minneapolis Moline stuff in my house.

Dan October 21, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Kerry, when I worked for the airlines, most of us rampers thought that the company logo stuff was dorky. (We wore it at work, didn’t need to be seen in it when we weren’t getting paid.)

Do you have any cool Midwest Express stuff, maybe a pilot uniform, or perhaps the chocolate chip cookie recipe? Surely you have a model airplane or two… the Dornier 328 Jet is the best. RJ. evah.

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 21, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Dan—I have a Skyway 328 model that is one of my favorite things in my office. Then I have a Midwest 717, and Midwest Express MD-80. It’s sad to think that none of them are flying now (at least not for Skyway/Midwest). My kids still look for the “blue airplanes” overhead, because those were Mama’s (and also, those were the ones with the cookies). Now there aren’t any blue airplanes over Milwaukee.

I also have various other things (keychains, a “Save the Cookie” button, a Skyway clock), but the aircraft models are my favorite. I don’t have the cookie recipe (and to be honest, I always though the cookies were just okay, although when you’re at 30,000 feet, they’re a whole lot better than stale pretzels).

We carpetland folks thought the company logo stuff was dorky too…although you appreciate that stuff much more once the company is gone. My grandma would probably laugh at all the Red Owl stuff I have, because she didn’t collect any of it. It was just where she worked. I think the meaning changes depending on your relationship with the company, the circumstances under which you left, etc.

Suz October 21, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Funny how many here have the MN Red Owl connection. My grandpa owned the Red Owl in my hometown. I never scored any Red Owl swag though.

Em-Dash October 21, 2009 at 1:39 pm

I still have a stapler with my former (finance) company’s logo and a pad of paper from the floor of the NYSE. That stapler is the most reliable stapler I have ever had.

I’m afraid that’s all the company swag that I have ever kept. Unless you count the wire UW dairy milk crates that could be bought for $1 when I was in grad school. Those are priceless and have been made into shelving units that I still love.
.-= Em-Dash´s last blog ..Siberia’s own deep throat =-.

Jessica October 21, 2009 at 2:29 pm

My Grandad had a company called Patterson Creamery long before I was around so my family has a view cool vintage pieces from that- the big old wall clock is the best.
As far a current stuff is concerned in my job we get all sorts of terribly boring swag. One year I gathered up a huge box of it for a White Elephant Christmas Party gift- coffee mugs, totes, pens, pads, Empire Carpet Bobblehead guy. We auction our “gifts” off and give the money to charity and that box raised $100!
.-= Jessica´s last blog ..Social Media – Does Free Advertising Really Exist? =-.

Steph McDonald October 21, 2009 at 2:52 pm

I still remember my grandma calling the Supermarket Harris Teeter “Teeter Harris”. I shop there because of that, despite how silly that may sound. And yes, I proudly call it Teeter Harris to honor her. She worked at Sanger Harris in Dallas, but never called it Hanger Sarris, which I’ve done while telling the story.

Memories. Thanks for bringing me back.

Jill October 21, 2009 at 4:57 pm

I worked for a big baby food company (starts with a G) – and received my fair share of swag from them – blankets, shirts, etc. The most used was a cooler with “leading the way into Y2K” emblazened on the top. The oldest piece of swag I have is a charm bracelet from Archway cookies – every year, they would give the employees a new charm for it. Mine doesn’t have that many, but it is so unique that I can bear to get rid of it.

Dan October 21, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Kerry, a couple of times you’ve said that there aren’t any blue planes flying over Milwaukee… how is that so? I flew a blue 717 (painted in Midwest colors) from DC back there in September — had the cookies, too. SkyWest even serves them on the Midwest branded CRJ-200′s.

You ever try hooking up a fuel hose to the 328 Jet? The connection is on the underside of the right wing. That hose isn’t light, and it’s a long trip up the ladder… (hate to say it, but that was probably my least favorite thing about that jet. Even cleaning the toilets was easier.)

Kerry Sandberg Scott October 21, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Dan—they’re technically blue, but they’re not Midwest. Midwest was bought by Republic earlier this year. They’ve just finished furloughing the last of the Midwest flight crews…so the “Midwest” flights you fly are now flown by either Republic or Skywest (although I think Skywest is either done or almost done by now). I’m not sure whether the last of the 717s is out of service (it might be November instead of October), but it will be soon. The MD80s have been gone for quite a while, and Skyway stopped flying in April 2008, when Skywest took over the flying. Skywest was obviously out when Republic took over.

Midwest is essentially a brand now, operated by Republic. So while there are, technically, blue airplanes overhead, they’re not our hometown airline anymore.

My understanding is that they do intend to keep the cookies though.

lloyddabbler October 21, 2009 at 7:06 pm

For a while, I was keeping everything. I worked for some legacy brands that I was really proud of, sort of a culmination of childhood dreams kind of thing. But at some point, I just had too much and weeded down to what had risen to the top of the importance hierarchy… the credentials you wear around your neck to access events that say your name and company. They were smaller to hold onto and reminded me of parties and cool things I got to do. Plus, they associated my name with those brands which still wows me when I stop to think. For the same reasons, I kept a door nameplate–beautiful with the logo etched in glass and my name over it. I’ll never do anything with it, but I heart it.

Julie October 21, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I used to work for a office furniture dealership, and the toy semi-trucks with our main vendor’s logo were highly prized. Since being laid off in March, they’re not that charming to me & will probably be passed onto someone’s child. I also worked for The Bombay Company as a PT 2nd job for 10 years, and get quite nostalgic when I see the furniture/decor in someone’s house. When the chain closed I took my apron with me & now like to wear it for housework. Reminds me of the many friends I made working there.
And I’m ALL about the Red Owl, my parents are from Shawano County & the only grocery store in town was a Red Owl.
.-= Julie´s last blog Tuesday #5: Jeff Han demos his breakthrough touchscreen =-.

George Pollock October 21, 2009 at 9:51 pm

I have many items with the logos of the newspapers I’ve worked at. I have T-shirts, keyrings, a tape measure, badge retractors, pens, pencils, promo buttons … I have a lot of stuff from the paper I was laid off from in April. :( It was kind of fun using in public the stuff from “THE PAPER” of the area — when I worked at “THE PAPER.” Made me feel like something of an “insider,” even if tons of the the stuff were given away. :) The “layoff paper” stuff doesn’t make me bitter, BTW. I suppose that’s a good sign. :)

HR Mark October 22, 2009 at 7:58 am

During the open house of a client’s expanded machine shop all visitors were presented with an aluminum coaster. An area for the cup was machined out and a plain cork insert was glued in the bottom, the client’s name was engraved around the top of the cup circle, my name was engraved across the bottom, and four cork feet glued to the bottom. It has travelled with me from office to office over the past 15+ years and will continue to follow me.

I agree with some of the others that logo wear is great for yard work and painting!!

class factotum October 22, 2009 at 10:07 am

Kerry, re the shirts. I can see why vendors don’t make women’s sizes. After all, there are hardly any women in the workplace.

RE Midwest. My husband and I were on a Midwest flight a couple of years ago. Right before we landed, the pilot announced that this was the crew’s last flight — they had all been laid off. It was horrible: the flight attendants were crying and I wanted to cry with them, knowing how demoralizing, horrible and scary it is to be laid off. I was so impressed at how professional they had been during the flight, even though they knew it was their last. I hate what has happened to Midwest.
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..The Right Thing To Do =-.

Robert LaGow October 22, 2009 at 3:22 pm

My dad worked for the Border Patrol and Immigration Service (pre-DHS, thankyewverymuch) for 30 someodd years. Needless to say, we didn’t really wear much of the branded merchandise from his work — not without mom taking the patches off first. “I don’t want you wandering by a construction site and getting hit with a shovel” was her reasoning.

jeff October 22, 2009 at 3:34 pm

I once made a lot of room in my closet when I purged about 2 dozen logo shirts from the company I got laid off from. They were seriously shirt happy – new product launch – shirt; tradeshow – shirt; company event/party – shirt. So much so that a newly hired VP of marketing made a video to introduce himself at a company meeting and riffed on the shirts (everyone he met gave him a shirt). Didn’t feel I needed them after I got laid off. But I kept the t-shirts – good for sleeping, working out, etc.

When I was a recruiter for a software company I went to a university job fair for The Society of Minority Engineering Students. The event was held 2 weeks after the main campus job fair for all students and it wasn’t advertised. My 3 engineers and I stood there along with the teams from about 30 other companies with virtually no attendance. Everyone spent the day trying to give away all our logo stuff (I had T-shirts and was very popular) so we didn’t have to ship it all home.

Leslie October 23, 2009 at 7:28 am

The only company swag I’ve kept is from my Planters Peanuts days – there’s something about Mr. Peanut that I liked even as a child, and my kids love him even though they weren’t even born when I worked there. The company I work for now…can’t wear their logo, because there’s an advertizing ban on our products. I do have some swag with branding (vintage) but don’t wear it publicly.
.-= Leslie´s last blog ..Monogrammed fun! =-.

PrincessTG October 25, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Many family members on my father’s side worked in the paint business, some even owning and operating their own stores. My father worked for Mautz Paint (Madison, WI) for 25 years before they were bought out. There was a mascot known as Benny the Painter and my father still has many items with both the mascot and logo. I have a sort of verbal dyslexia and routinely switch letters around in words when I talk. I used to walk around as a child saying Pautz Maint, Pautz Maint. My dad works at Pautz Maint. I hate the company and the president is a prick and coward. But the logo reminds me of dad with paint smeared on his clothes and black fingernails after a hard day out on the sales floor.

business services October 26, 2009 at 1:17 am

I hate company swag, even that from current company, and wear it in the garden where it is bound to get trashed.

Jeff, former Senior Bag Boy at Red Owl November 18, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Kerrie et al:

First, the Red Owl confession — I too have a Red Owl Vest, nametag AND snappy bright blue clip-on bow-tie that I’ve had for over 30 years. The Owl was my first job and got me through high school and college in the Twin Cities. I also still have my “5 year anniversary” key fob and a “We’re the Meat People” button. Not sure why I have the button, but, the other stuff is important for the same reason that I have my original copy of Sgt Pepper and set of LPs from the Minnesota band Gypsy. This is “formative years stuff.” People like the memories that the stuff generates.

As to the general issue of keeping/wearing company swag — for me it’s really still tied to the emotional connection. I kept a couple of things from my first years with IBM — my first real job. The weirdest thing I have is a core sample from the floor of the plant where I worked. It’s all that’s left now that the building has been razed!

I was laid off earlier this year after nearly 7 years with a major computer company. I had lots of shirts and a few other items. All gone — there is no emotional attachment from that experience. I kept the winter coat I got when I worked maintenance duty during ice storms — am too cheap to replace that so far.

P.S. I still have the employee purchase program computers though — gotta have something to use to get to this wonderful blog!

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