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Hometown Foods Serving Waterloo, Tiny Town Of Traer

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Jill and Doug Eilderts both had backgrounds in the grocery industry before deciding to buy their first Hometown Foods store in Waterloo, Iowa, in May 2019. In September 2020, they acquired a second store in nearby Traer.

Jill Eilderts has worked at the Waterloo store for 35 years, starting off as a cashier when she was in college. She was the office manager for about 15 years and then the store manager for about 11 years before she and her husband had the opportunity to purchase the store. 

Her husband also has a grocery store background from high school, then serving as the bakery/deli manager in the Waterloo store for several years in the early 1990s.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Eilderts said the Waterloo store was extremely busy.

“Customers were eating at home and their habits changed,” she said.

The couple bought the Traer store duing the pandemic.

“That is a smaller town and the people [there] seem happy that they don’t have to leave town to go grocery shopping and they can still get what they need and want,” she said.

According to Eilderts, things are slowly returning to normal but they still face supply chain issues and have trouble finding employees. 

“It seems like when one product or category starts shipping again, another one is then gone for a while,” she said. “I have noticed that our shelves in both stores seem to have more product than some of the bigger chains and our competition. Labor shortages and inflation are still an issue as well.”

Eilderts added that they have been using social media to reach out to customers and have been boosting their ads to try and attract new customers, as well. Hometown Foods soon will launch a loyalty program.

“We post our ads on Facebook and on our website,” she said. “We do get engagement from the community with our posts.”

Currently, Hometown Foods does not offer online shopping at either store.

“We do home delivery the old-fashioned way, with customers calling the store with their orders,” she said. “We have done some curbside pickup the same way.”

The stores use RSSG to manage TPR programs to bring value to their customers. They recently installed Opsense to monitor refrigeration in both stores. This allows them to see the temperature of each case and “the trends to better manage it and reduce breakdown and loss,” she said.

While there are no current plans for growth, Eilderts said they have tried to brighten up both stores to make them more welcoming. About a year ago, they updated the dairy cases that were old and inefficient at the Traer store.

Eilderts said Hometown Foods gives back to the Waterloo and Traer communities by supporting the schools and donating to community events.

Her favorite thing about being an independent grocer is the people. “It is our employees and the customers that I get to meet that make this worthwhile for me.”

For more information, visit hometownfoodswaterloo.com.

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About the author

Treva Bennett

Senior Content Creator

After 32 years in the newspaper industry, she is enjoying her new career exploring the world of groceries at The Shelby Report.

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