Mark, Ed, and Brett Stinebrink opened their first grocery store in 1974 with the help of a silent partner. Located in Lake Geneva, Wis., the 10,400-square-foot facility operated as a branch of the Super Valu chain.

Open 24 hours a day, the operating duties were divided evenly among the three Stinebrinks. Ed and his wife Ellie ran the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift, Mark and his wife Mary ran the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, and Brett and his wife Debbie were responsible for the midnight to 8 a.m. shift.

Prior to this investment, each of the three men had several years of experience in the food industry. The eldest, Ed, worked for A&P for 22 years and spent two years with an independently owned Super Valu. Mark was a former employee of both A&P and Copps, and Brett worked at Copps for two years.

In 1981, the Stinebrinks relocated to a new store in the same city, a Pick ’n Save. At 36,000 square feet, the new facility was three times the size of the family’s first. A decade later, the family bought another store, a Pick ’n Save in Delevan, Wis., that was similar in size to the second.

Late last year, the Stinebrinks converted their Lake Geneva Pick ’n Save into a Piggly Wiggly, closed the Delevan Pick ’n Save, and took over the operation of a second Piggly Wiggly in Delevan. “Today, we own and operate two locations,” said Mark, president of Stinebrink’s Piggly Wiggly.

The plan to re-brand arose in 2002, when the Stinebrinks were in the process of remodeling one of their stores. An Illinois-based investment group bought out Roundy’s, the company that serves as the supplier for the Pick ’n Save brand. A new management team with a different business strategy was brought in, and the 27-year-old partnership between the Stinebrinks and Roundy’s came to an end.

“Their thrust was aimed toward corporate-owned stores,” Mark said. “As an independently owned store, we knew we were in the minority, and we didn’t want to become a secondary concern. The Piggly Wiggly brand is more comfortable working with independent retailers, so we knew it would be a perfect fit for us.”

According to Mark, the Stinebrinks took four wholesalers into consideration before choosing to work with Fresh Brands, Piggly Wiggly’s supplier.

The change in brand forced the Stinebrinks to perform minor renovations to their two stores, but Mark said little has changed otherwise. “Since re-branding, the only difference in our stores, aside from the signs outside, is that we carry Food Club products instead of Roundy’s. Because we’re an independently owned store, the brand doesn’t wholly effect our daily operations.”

A Strong Community

As independent business owners, the Stinebrinks actively contribute to the communities in which they reside. “We donate to many local charities and organizations in need of support,” Mark said.

In 2007, Mark and his wife were named co-grand marshals of the county’s annual fair, an honor they shared with another local couple. “The county fair is an event the whole community gets excited about each year,” Mark said. “We’ve been partnering with the people who run it since 1982, helping out in any way we can.”

And because the Stinebrinks grew up in the community they live in today, they invest a lot of time and money into its youth groups, such as the YMCA and the Jaycees. In addition to donating money and food for events, the Stinebrinks allow these groups to hold fundraisers, like bake sales and car washes, at their stores.

During the holiday season, the Stinebrinks are especially focused on charity. Every December, the family sets up a giving tree in each of their stores. Customers interested in donating gifts pick a star off the tree and buy clothes, toys, or food, as listed on the back of the star. Through the program, the organization delivers approximately 500 items to Walworth County Human Services each year.

“Our customers are aware of our strong family values and our commitment to this community,” Mark said. “Both are visible as a result of the charity work we take part in. We’re fortunate because the people in this community are interested in supporting local businesses, whether it’s gas, hardware, or grocery. We support them and they support us.”

According to Mark, the reciprocally supportive relationship between the Stinebrinks and their community will help make 2009 a successful year despite the country’s pressing financial situation.

“The economy will cut into the bottom lines of our business,” Mark said. “Wholesale prices are increasing, and fuel surcharges are being added to products. To some degree, we have no choice but to pass these costs on to consumers. Because we’re a locally owned business, we know most of our customers, and we don’t want to raise prices drastically.”

Whether he wants to or not, Mark knows he’ll have to increase some products’ pricing. As a result of price increases, Mark expects customers will stray from high-end brands, but he’s not worried about sales. After all, during a tough economic time, people still need to eat.

“People tend to buy more groceries during these stages because cooking at home is less expensive than eating at a restaurant,” he continued. “Because of this, keeping sales up isn’t a concern—dealing with the variable costs is.”

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