Taking Stock in Kieler

Ashley Cullen doesn’t fancy himself a holy being among retailers, but he does know that dropping an occasional bag of Combos onto a gondola doesn’t make for the crowning achievement in inventory management.

“When I first got here, we were lucky if we got $200 a day in deli,” Cullen said. “Now we’re averaging $450 to $500 a day.”  
Since buying a family member’s Kieler, Wis., store in January, Cullen has socked more than $35,000 into boosting the store’s inventory, adding everything from fresh Wisconsin cheese to fresh sausages and meats.

His approach is a grand revelation from yesteryear, when restocking the shelf at the store meant bumping up the salty snacks section by a few SKUs.

Paired with equipment upgrades and expanded product offerings, as well as renaming the store A&R Convenience (after Cullen and his wife, Rachel), the overhaul has triggered an immediate jump in sales receipts. Three years ago the store was pulling in about $1.5 million a year; it’s now on pace to rake in $2.5 million by year’s end, which could help finance new stores.

The feat gained Cullen attention from Wisconsin’s Small Business Development Center, which chose him as its statewide “Success Story” for the second quarter 2008.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
Cullen started as a manager at the store in 2005, but purchased it in January when family members sold it. He added a cooler chockfull of fresh Wisconsin cheeses and complimented the offering with a billboard off nearby Highway 151, advertising A&R Convenience as the “Last Stop for Wisconsin Cheese.”

He obtained a liquor license and beefed up his alcohol doors, which have been essential in pushing alcohol sales up more than $5,000 a month. He added sausages and meats from a local producer and is now selling fresh subs, made-to-order pizzas, hash browns, muffins and breakfast sandwiches. With all the offerings he manages, he considers himself a multi-unit operator.

“I’ve tried to bring in a little variety,” he said. “You don’t always want the same thing every day.”

Cullen installed eight coolers to increase options for beverages and alcohol and began offering fresh subs from a local supplier to beef up the packaged foods section. He added pizza warmers and a fryer, as well as a mini cooler from Sam’s Club to showcase fruit cups, subs and more. Shelves, gondolas and other display cases were added to expand merchandising opportunities.

“I put all this stuff in and never had to take anything out of the store,” Cullen said. “That’s how empty it was.”
Trescerro, a premium blend of coffee from Reinhart Foodservice, was added to the store’s coffee offering, and the made-to-order pizzas are now available for delivery. “On a busy night we might get four deliveries, but that’s four people who wouldn’t have come in here,” Cullen said.

The deli program has also unleashed a “Taco Tuesday” concept, where two soft tacos sell for $2.50. “It’s a lot of tacos you’re putting out the door,” he said. “I’ve gotten to the point where everyone in the area knows they can come in here to get fresh food.”  

And it’s not a bag of chips on a gondola that they’re looking for.

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