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Keep it Cheap

Ruti Kepler

They started out selling milk and bread out of a truck. Who would have thought the company that sprang up from that early-morning venture would net them 140 million shekels? But Aryeh Baum has no desire to retire. Instead, he’s creating more and more stores for budget-conscious shoppers to fill up their carts and get out in a hurry.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Aryeh Baum, joint owner of the Osher Ad chain and a trailblazer in Israel’s retail supermarket industry, asks to see the list of questions. He reads rapidly: “ ‘What’s my background?’ Not interesting. ‘How did I go from being an avreich in Ashdod to the owner of a huge supermarket chain?’ Not interesting. ‘What did I do before that?’ Not interesting. So tell me again, why did you want to interview me?” Baum — enthusing, evading, explaining, smoking, drinking coffee, accelerating from zero to a hundred in a fraction of a second — is the visionary half of the two-man team that changed the way chareidim (and all other budget-conscious families) shop. He praises his partner, Avrum Moishe Margulis, as the one who focuses on the day-to-day details of the business. “He’s one of those men of action who knows how to turn the wildest dreams into reality. He’s a cannonball,” Baum effuses of his partner and long-time friend. That’s the combination that got them started one day in 1995. Baum, then a 26-year-old Gerrer kollel yungerman living in Ashdod, turned to his beis medrash colleague, 25-year-old Avrum Moishe, with an idea: “What do you say we open up a little business, selling bread and milk early in the mornings — making life easier for our neighbors and making some cash on the side?” Baum envisioned the truck; Margulis ordered it. The next morning, Margulis rose at five to accept the order of bread and milk and the sale began. Baum and Margulis continued to operate their joint venture, but Reb Aryeh — who easily talks about his ADHD diagnosis and how he manages it — soon realized that the technical end wasn’t his forte. When he worked the cash register, he could never remember how much milk cost or how much to charge for the bread. “Ask your mother how much milk costs,” he said to one girl. “Tell me, how much did you pay Avrum Moishe yesterday for the bread?” he tried to verify with another customer. “Aryeh,” friends tell him, “take a little Ritalin and you’ll settle down.” Thanks but no thanks, he says. “Why should I take it? It destroys my creativity and limits my imagination.”  He’s still not good with prices or other small, annoying details, but that hasn’t stopped him from creating a multimillion dollar business. “Even when I’m in an Osher Ad store, I’m never sure what’s a cucumber and what’s a zucchini,” he admits. Back to the bread-and-milk sale, which soon morphed into a neighborhood mini-market, followed by a grocery in nearby Kiryat Malachi — which sucked in their investment and left the young avreichim in the red.  “When you fail, there are two options,” saysBaum “The first is to throw up your hands in despair and close up shop. But then you waste your ‘tuition’ — your payment in the university of life. And so we chose the second option, to analyze and understand what had happened, why we’d gone under, and try again. 

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