Customer loyalty and niche sales are two of the top reasons three area independent grocery store owners say they will continue despite grocery chains moving into many area markets.
Owners at Robbe’s Family Market in Strum, Shadick’s Price Rite Foods in Bloomer and Kyle’s Market in Colfax all say the movement of Gordy’s Market and Hansen’s IGA into area communities has them a bit concerned.
But Joyce Schmidt, granddaughter of Nels Robbe, one of the founders of Robbe’s in the mid-1890s, isn’t overly worried about Gordy’s moving into neighboring Osseo and Whitehall.
“I don’t worry about it, but it is something to think about,” said the 87-year-old who still works part time at the checkout line. “We just like our customers, I guess, so they must like us. It’s worked great that way for more than 100 years, and I think it will go on.”
Schmidt has worked since age 6 in the Robbe business, including very early when she helped select candy from the candy salesman.
“We have a long history in Strum, and I like to think it will continue for a long time,” she said.
Paul and Brian Gullicksrud, Schmidt’s son and grandson, respectively, now co-own Robbe’s and have no intention of exiting the business.
“There is a little bit of concern, but the grocery market is not too much different than the dairy industry, where they are getting bigger, stronger and faster,” Brian said. “You do get a bit concerned about being pushed around a little bit in terms of prices, but it’s not that much different than what we dealt with in the mid-’90s, with the super Walmarts, Targets and things.”
While Brian said the proximity of the Gordy’s stores in Osseo and Whitehall are a concern “because they are in our back door,” he emphasized personal service and interaction with customers is a staple of Robbe’s.
“Taking care of your customers is important, and here we know the vast majority of our customers and care about them,” Brian said. “I think they are aware of the value of a locally owned store.
“In a large part, we are kind of the heartbeat of the community from the standpoint of information that flows in and out,” Brian said. “Our family is the face of this business and people see us here every day and know us.”
Robbe’s has several “signature items,” Brian said, referring to bulk lutefisk and a popular meatball mix at Christmastime.
“We also do some smoking, but essentially, we offer great personal service and keep prices as low as possible,” he said. “It’s worked for us for generations, and we hope that continues.”
Kyle Kressin, who managed the grocery store in Colfax for 16 years before buying it and renaming it Kyle’s Market in 2007, said he plans to keep the store in the family for a long time.
“My son (Nick, store manager) has an interest in it, so we’d certainly like to keep it going for family reasons,” Kressin said Friday.
“The biggest thing in small towns is customer service,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t compete on price with the big box store on some things, but because of cooperative group buying, we are pretty close.”
Kressin said he also has created “our own kind of niche” with custom homemade meats, deer processing and other services.
“You do what you have to do,” he said, adding that larger stores and discount businesses “all have taken a slice of the pie.”
“We offer the best we can with the best service we can,” he said. "Our customer loyalty is a big reason we are here and will continue to be here. We are part of this community and do what we can to help our customers and with civic events, and they help us. We are so thankful for them."
Pat Shadick, who with his wife, Sandy, owns and operates the grocery store, a gas station and hardware/sporting goods store in Bloomer.
“We couldn't do this without a lot of work and a lot of support from the people who live in and around Bloomer,” Pat Shadick said Friday, mentioning that he believes he is the last independent grocer in Chippewa County.
“It’s scary, the few number of independents left,” he said, adding that he doesn’t call chain stores independent. “Independent is the husband/wife, the family-run store. Independent is where I can call pretty much every customer by name. We know them, and they know us.”
That’s the case for the Shadick’s, where daughter Jacki Fetting does bookkeeping and sons Josh and Matt serve as a meat cutter and hardware store operator, respectively.
“We have the whole family involved, and when I say involved, it’s our livelihood. We're pretty much married to the business,” Pat said. “But we don't do this without the community support, which we appreciate. We give a lot back to the community, and they know that, which I don’t think you always get from the chain places.”
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