Hartland, Wisconsin-based Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly was founded in 1988 by Pat and Bob Fox. Now employee-owned, the retailer added its 10th location in September 2022.
Mike Olwig, president of Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly, has been with the company for nearly 17 years. When he came aboard as store director in Hartland, there were just two locations. As the company grew, Olwig worked his way up to director of operations, VP and was named president in 2021.
As is the case for many independent grocers across the country, Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly is facing workforce issues.
“I think probably one of the biggest challenges post-pandemic has been team members, whether it be recruitment, retention, development – all those have become extremely important to our business,” Olwig said.
He added that being an ESOP gives the company an advantage in recruiting and retaining employees.
“It’s such a unique thing in our industry. In Southeast Wisconsin, there’s no other 100-percent employee-owned grocery stores. Essentially, people can reap the benefits of the work that they put in and have that extra benefit that can actually generate wealth over time for them toward their retirement.
“That’s one of those things that has given us a little bit of a leg up in terms of employee attraction, recruitment, as well as retention.”
Olwig said the company also has added the role of a director of professional development and offers training programs.
“We’ve implemented servant leadership training throughout all of our stores, as well as other topics, even financial literacy, to help our team members.”
The company has been named a top workplace in southeastern Wisconsin for seven consecutive years.
Inflation has posed another challenge for Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly. Olwig noted that customers are looking more closely at how they spend their dollars.
“We want to offer the highest quality products at fair prices … I think people see value in that and will make their purchasing decisions based on some of those values.”
Being a strong community partner is one of Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly’s principal values.
“I’d say that in over half of our stores, the store director lives within 15 minutes of the store,” Olwig said. “Those people are super involved in those communities. They volunteer their time; they know their communities.”
Olwig said when requests for donations come in, “we’re able to support them, give them what they need and not just say, ‘Oh well, here’s a few gift cards.’ We can tailor what they need, whether it’s the local soccer club needs stuff for their concession stand or whatever it may be, we can get really specific as to fulfilling their needs.”
Each location has a Brat Shack outside the store that is available to local nonprofits for fundraisers. They purchase brats, hamburgers, hot dogs and other items from the store.
“We sell to them at a discount, and then they’re able to raise funds through selling brats and hot dogs out of that shack every weekend,” Olwig said. “That’s a pretty popular thing.”
The company is “extremely proud” of its line of brats. It has a state-of-the-art meat processing facility inside its Hartford location. It produces more than 30 varieties and flavors of its award-winning Fox Bros. Bratwurst, which is distributed to all 10 locations. Founder Pat Fox was the driving force behind investing in bratwurst and creating the signature product.
Olwig said between the awards and customers’ love for the product, they believe Fox Bros. brats are among the best in the state.
Being so community focused and service-oriented helps differentiate Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly from its competitors.
“We really try to pride ourselves on the service aspect,” Olwig said. “You can get Cheerios at any location. We truly believe that when people base their decisions for shopping, they base it on where they feel welcome, where they feel at home. And that’s what we try to do is be that really super local, super community-focused, super customer-service-driven experience.”
Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly also offers a charity of the month program, where customers can donate at the register to help a nonprofit.
“All of the proceeds from our customers go to those specific charities. The money rounded up and raised by customers in those stores stays directly in those communities. By doing that, we’ve been able to raise over $250,000 a year for very local, nonprofit charity groups in our communities.”
The program allows Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly to touch several different charities in the communities it serves.
“The customers appreciate it, too, because it literally stays very local,” Olwig said.
Being an independent matters
Olwig, who came to Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly from a large corporate grocer, enjoys being able to immediately make decisions to take care of customers based on their needs.
“Too many times, you don’t have that ability in a more corporate setting to do it right then and there and take care of those customers,” he said. “That has been the best part of this, and it’s what’s inspired me to continue to push our stores to continue to have that independent spirit.”
The company empowers not only its store directors but team members to take care of the customers. “That’s the best part about being an independent,” Olwig said.
Read more market profiles from The Shelby Report.