In 1947, Scott Richter’s grandfather, George started a grocery store in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. Today, Scott’s father, Larry, and uncle Norm own and operate that store as well as another in Burlington, Wisconsin. This legacy continues, with Scott being the store manager in Burlington, his sister Sue the assistant manager there, and his brother Joel the grocery manager in Twin Lakes.
I helped out in the store when I was 14, started out as a bagger, which is where most people start out in the grocery business. Being a bagger I would say was good, but everybody wants to be a stocker. Obviously, you need to be older; you need to have more training, and that kind of stuff. But overall, I enjoyed my job and what I did. As I got older, [I] went to another location in Delavan—as they had a Sentry—started bagging there when I was in high school. I got promoted to stocker there, and then when I graduated, I started working back at our Twin Lakes location on a full-time basis, in the produce department.
My favorite memory is when my grandpa would help me bag groceries. I mean at the time, I was probably more embarrassed than anything else, but that’s definitely one of the memories that always sticks with me. I was very lucky that I got to work with him and he was a very hands-on type of person, so that I did like.
I really enjoyed working in a grocery store because it’s in my blood. It’s something that I found out I was good at and that I knew I could excel at, so that’s why I decided to keep up with it and see it all the way through. Saw a chance for me to grow in the business and hopefully grow up the ranks and become manager. I was assistant manager and grocery manager and moved up along the way and enjoyed all facets of the business.
Everything’s harder when you’re an owner’s child. People think it’s given to you. I take pride in the fact that I’ve earned everything I’ve gotten and there’s nothing in the store I can’t do. I started as a bagger, so I know every part of the business. I did learn a lot from my grandpa, from my father, from my uncle. I paid attention and learned everything I possibly could from them. They were good people to learn stuff from as far as what to do and what not to do. I took it and made it my own and worked my way to where I am now.
When I heard that Burlington was for sale, I approached my dad and uncle and told them that it would be a good investment. It was a growing community and there was place for expansion for our family and it would be a nice addition. In 2003, we purchased Burlington—we decided to grow our business.
There’s a lot of competition, it’s one of the more challenging parts of being in the business in the Burlington area that we’re in. In our community of 10,000, we’re sitting with five grocery stores, including us. There’s Menards that has a full set of groceries, two Kwik Trips on both sides of town, they actually came from a grocery background and they know the ins and outs of groceries. It sounds silly, but people will go there for milk—anything they get there is one less thing they’ll get with us. Our location is in the crossroads of Burlington so I mean everybody’s always driving past, whether it be to get to the high school or grade school—we’re in a good location. We have had a Super Wal-Mart in our town for 10 years now, and we’re still here. In a lot of towns, you’re lucky if you’ll last 6 months.
We look at their ads on a constant basis; we look at what everyone else in the industry is doing. The best ideas are usually stolen, which is what we do. We’ll take a look at somebody’s ad or their social media and try to outdo them that way. From our supplier, Affiliated Food Midwest, we have people that come in and talk to us about things we can do to stay relevant in the current grocery world.
As far as big box relevancy, we more so pride ourselves on quality, value, and service. You’re never going to beat them by price; it’s just not going to happen, unfortunately. They have more buying power than we do. We take great pride in our perishables: meat, deli, bakery, produce, and we feel like that’s where we can go up against the big box store and actually compete against them.
We do a lot of charity work. We have Funds for Friends, which donates 1% of the customer’s purchases back into the community. Between our two stores, in the last year we’ve donated $27,000 back to nonprofit organizations—a lot of churches, nonprofits in town, and schools. We do a food drive every year for the local food pantry, last year we raised $10,000. Anything we can do to get involved and get our name out there in the community and help anybody we can, we do.
I mean we all live in our communities, we do shop with local businesses and they shop with us. It’s something good where like I said, in the chain stores maybe you don’t get that independently owned and operated aspect of it. We can put a face and name on our business and everybody knows who we are and what we do for the community.
Social media definitely does play a big role nowadays. We text our customers, we have a Facebook page, we have a Twitter page, we also have email blasts. It’s been a huge change. I think we’re right on with what we’re doing. The most difficult part is how you get them to pay attention to what you’re doing social media wise. Trying to stay relevant as far as Facebook and in all of that, I mean it’s a full time job in itself.
My typical day would be: I usually start at 9am. I get in the store, make a round, look at everything, stop and see most of my department heads and you know, see if there’s anything that needs to be done for the day. My job has a lot to do with advertising. We do a custom ad that we build ourselves, and that’s pretty much my job, which has changed for me in the last two years. But, it’s also helped me grow and look at my business in a way that I’ve never looked at it before. So yeah, I mean I usually start my day—you know—building or proofing ads. I’m always working on about three different ads at a time and emailing people or talking to them on the phone for deals and pricing, that kind of stuff. Then obviously, there’s the running the business side where if we’re busy on the front end, maybe I’m checking, maybe I’m helping stock stuff, putting loads away, or putting displays out. I mean each day varies, but my main purpose and goal is advertising and that’s what I try to stick to the most.
Favorite part about my day is—honestly would be interacting with the people. I do spend a lot of time in the office, but I do enjoy getting out of the office and seeing—whether it’s customers, workers—talking to them and seeing where I can help them as far as employees but also anything I can do to help a customer. I would never turn the other way and not help them.
One of my most challenging parts of the job is being independent and trying to watch wherever you can save money. We do a lot of things ourselves. I am the resident electrician—there has been plenty of times where I have been, maybe sparks have been flying and I’ve been electrocuted a bit. So that’s always different and challenging, but fun. I’m a very hands-on person and if I can fix something myself without having to spend money, we’re definitely going to do that ourselves—anyway we can cut costs.
Retail theft is another very challenging part. It’s a big problem in our industry: the number one shrinkage. The more people steal, the more money we lose, the more our prices go up and so on and so forth to cover that cost. Stopping the shoplifter can always be—you never know what you’re gonna get. Every single person I’ve ever met in the grocery industry has had a swing taken at them and that’s part of the dangerous side of the business. I’ve had to do some running, I’ve had to do some tackling, some holding people down—there’s been plenty of that kind of stuff.
Obviously there’s never enough time in the day as far as getting everything done. I know I’m a little bit of a control freak when it comes to some stuff but learning to give responsibility to other people has really helped, and surrounding yourself with good people. I can’t do my job by myself, so luckily I have people around me that help me with that, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get it done.
There’s some people that probably see me as their boss, which I am. Just trying to get them to understand that not only am I—my mantra has always been my door’s always open. If someone needs to come in my office and they want to talk or need a favor, they can always come in and talk to me. They also know that I would never ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do. If anybody needs something: if I need to help them put stuff on the shelf, if I need to cut stuff up, if I need to package cookies, whatever it might be, they know that I would jump in and help them in a heartbeat.
My sister is my assistant, so we see each other everyday. We get along—it’s great—we work well with each other. Obviously there’s time where there’s disagreements and there’s been plenty of shouting/screaming matches in our office. At the end of the day, we love each other and it’s a good thing to get it out and talk about it rather than keep it inside. My dad and uncle are taking less of a role, I don’t see them as often but they’ll come around every once in a while. They still are technically the owners, so we do have to bounce things off of them and talk to them about things we’re trying to accomplish.
I’ve definitely enjoyed working with my daughters at the grocery store. They are all good workers and pitch in where they can. They’ve all worked in different aspects of the grocery business and it’s nice to know that they have that, some people wouldn’t. When they come in there I get to see them and spend more time with them, it’s definitely a plus. Going on lunch with your daughters is probably one of the highlights of your day. Getting that one-on-one time with them that you probably don’t get with them anywhere else.
For myself, I would enjoy to someday takeover the family business. I would like to grow the family business, would like to get more stores and operate and grow our business the best I can. I know we’ll grow, I know we’ll only get better moving forward. It’s something I’m very passionate about: I do love my work, I do love my job, I love the people I work with, I love every aspect of it. I would never trade it for anything.