Frank’s Piggly Wiggly started small, beginning in 1981 with 5,000 square feet of space in downtown Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
Within a year, however, the company had moved across the street to a location twice that size, according to owners Stephanie, Steve and Frank Lueptow. By 1991, it had outgrown that location. The company decided to build a 40,000-square-feet location that it still occupies today.
The family opened a second store in 2009, taking over a 30,000-square-foot location just eight miles away in East Troy, Wisconsin, Frank Lueptow said. Customers are known to frequent both stores. Though close in distance and featuring the same layout, the sites differentiate themselves in many ways.
“We’re a small chain, so we don’t have district managers. We have different managers that we really empower,” Steve Leuptow said.
He shared an example of the stores’ specialty items.
“Maybe Amanda in Elkhorn makes something better or different than the way Kevin does in East Troy,” Leuptow continued. “So that customer might shop here one day because they like Amanda’s eggplant better or maybe Kevin has a better salad recipe … we empower our managers, and they sometimes make what they’re passionate about.”
The company works closely with its distributor, Piggly Wiggly Midwest, carrying all the “Pig brands,” Lueptow said. But what sets Frank’s Piggly Wiggly apart from the other PWM members was described by Stephanie Lueptow as being “two stores in one.”
“We say we’re two stores in one. We’re Piggly Wiggly. We’ve got small, cheaper prices and then we’re also a specialty store,” she said.
The stores each offer prepared foods alongside an in-store butcher. All the items come fresh from the deli’s kitchen. The stores even have their own card system that identifies items that might separate them from the average grocer. The card system is like a shelf-tag advertisement.
“But they aren’t really deals. It’s more things that we feel that make us someplace special,” Stephanie Lueptow said. “It’s more meaning the specialty items that we create in the store. Things like the bacon-wrapped-tenderloin, the Al Capone rosé, the stuffed tenderloin with cream cheese and the peppers … they’re the above and beyond stuff that makes us unique.”
While the company saw success with online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic, its use has tapered off.
Elkhorn Store Manager Scott Atwell said most people want to touch and feel their food, something they couldn’t always do during the pandemic.
“There are people trying for a sense of normalcy. They want to come in and they want to look at that ribeye before they put it in their cart. They want to see the different options,” he said.
Personal connection is the most important aspect of the business. That’s why the family says it will never implement self-checkout lanes.
“I feel the customer doesn’t want self-checkouts, even though a lot of chains are going that way,” Steve Leuptow said.
Sarah Hewlett, human resources director, said the company values tradition.
“We want to be the hometown hero where you see the same cashiers or go to Adriana because you know that she can speak Spanish … customers really do love that. That’s the cornerstone of us for our customers,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean the Leuptow family ignores customers’ interests. Stephanie Leuptow acts as the company’s unofficial marketing coordinator.
“She has a brilliant mind for that,” Hewlett explained. “She knows or at least sees what is upcoming. Like we’re doing a lot of keto stuff right now, we’re moving into plant-based, which is what our [customers] are looking at.”
The passion the Leuptows bring to the grocery business is generational – three generations, to be exact. And those generations work across the two stores. In total, nearly a dozen family members hold various roles. Some were born into the business, while others married in. And then some have become unofficial family simply because they love where they work.
Taking care of their employees is one of Steve Leuptow’s highest priorities.
“We try to be competitive, very competitive wages and benefits. That’s very important,” he said. “But it’s also important to have a work-family feeling where people care about each other. You like the person working next to you and your manager cares about you.”
For more information, visit elkhorn.hansensiga.com.
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