Burnstad’s Market’s owners, managers and staff all share a single philosophy when it comes to the store’s operation. “We have one belief and focus, and that is exceeding our guests’ expectations,” says Derek Burnstad, vice president and director of retail operations for the Tomah, Wis.-based grocery store.

 This focus – which the family owned company formalized 10 years ago as its official mission statement – influences every single aspect of Burnstad’s from hiring and staff development to recent investments in technology and renovations. Every management and staff meeting begins with a recitation of the mission, and all ongoing employee development programs have guest services as a main objective.

For Burnstad’s Market’s employees, achieving the goal of exceeding guests’ expectations begins with putting themselves in the positions of the people they’re helping. “We try to look through the eyes of guests and see what they see when they walk in one of our stores – are there clean floors, is the produce attractive, and are they going to be greeted as soon as they walk through the door?” Burnstad adds. 

The company’s focus on providing a pleasant shopping experience helps it go head-to-head with several of the nation’s largest retailers. In addition to its Tomah location, Burnstad’s Market also operates stores in Black River Falls, Richland Center and Spencer, Wis., as well as a restaurant, Burnstad’s European Restaurant and Pub, in Tomah.

“Sales come and go, but if we can give our guests a positive experience they’ll never forget, they’ll be a customer of ours for life,” Burnstad says. “We’re not the cheapest grocery store and I don’t want us to be, but I do want to offer the most consistent shopping experience seven days a week.”

The company’s most recent customer-focused initiatives include installing an electronic scale communication system that allows for the consistent pricing of randomly weighted items across its four stores. 

Burnstad’s Market is also in the process of bolstering its weekly ads – which reach 60,000 people in a largely rural region – with an increased social media and online presence. “We’re evolving our digital presence as a way of attracting the attention of Generation Y and others who rely on smartphones and technology to get their information,” Burnstad adds.

A Positive Presence

The Burnstad family’s long-term presence in the communities served by their stores also plays a large role in the markets’ success. Derek Burnstad’s great-grandparents Chester and Edna Burnstad opened their first corner grocery store across the street from their home in Tomah in 1944. They sold the store to their son, Vic, who relocated the store from its original location and expanded its services. 

Today, the market is owned and operated by Vic Burnstad’s son, Kent, and grandson, Derek, who represents the fourth generation of the family in the grocery business. Derek Burnstad credits his father and grandfather with his passion for the grocery business. “I have had the opportunity to learn from the best,” he says. “My father and grandfather are very passionate about this business and have taught me what it takes and the time that is needed to be spent in order to succeed.” 

The company’s family ownership gives it a competitive advantage. “We have the ability to make decisions quickly and can write our own ads and buy from the vendors we choose,” he adds.  

Burnstad’s Market sources many of its products from vendors located within 100 miles of its stores. The company also supports the community through its Christmas in July Foundation, which has raised more than $40,000 in the past four years to buy and distribute toys to local families in need. “We’re not just Burnstad’s Market or Burnstad’s European Restaurant and Pub; we’re a positive influence in our communities,” he adds.

Investing in People

Kent and Derek Burnstad recently completed a significant five-year investment plan that included the purchase of its fourth location in Spencer, Wis., in 2012, and the remodeling of all of its locations. With this $4 million total investment now complete, the two are focusing on strengthening their staff of roughly 350 employees. “We’re now taking a break and focusing on what got us where we are today,” Derek Burnstad says.

For Burnstad, this includes ongoing staff development programs including “midwinter rally” meetings every February. These meetings feature upper management from each location discussing their store’s objectives and accomplishments. The 2012 rally meeting featured keynote speaker Kyle Maynard, a friend of Derek Burnstad. Maynard, who was born without arms and legs, lives by the philosophy of “living each day to the fullest, making the most of every challenge, staying positive and never giving up,” Burnstad says.

“Burnstad’s Market is a very special company, and I was honored with the privilege to get to spend a full day with them telling them about my life and how to make the most out of every situation,” Maynard says. “When I left that day and had the opportunity to walk one of the stores and speak first hand with a few staff members, I was amazed by the culture this company has and the focus they have on their people.  There is a distinct difference with Burnstad’s Market vs any other grocery store – you can feel how much their people care.”  

The company also recently initiated “book trains” that distribute management and business-related texts for discussion. “We want to bring out the positivity in everyone who works for us, and these books helps us create a positive image and reinforce a positive work environment,” Burnstad says. 

Derek Burnstad and his father also believe in “walking the walk” when it comes to management. “We’re true believers in leading by example, and feel that rubs off on our people,” he says. “We’re not just here for eight hours a day, five days a week; employees see us here six days a week, working long hours and going above and beyond.”

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