Dick's Fresh Market celebrates 30 years of existenceArea News
-- When Dick and Carol Rinehart met at Cedarburg High School, they neither knew their future held grocery-store ownership nor realized their first one would be in River Falls.
By: Debbie Griffin, Pierce County Herald
When Dick and Carol Rinehart met at Cedarburg High School, they neither knew their future held grocery-store ownership nor realized their first one would be in River Falls. The Rineharts own Dick’s Fresh Market, as well as two grocery stores in Amery, and this month marks the 30 th anniversary of them buying the local store.
Dick said from the store last week, “This is the acorn from which everything sprung.”
After 52 years of marriage, he and Carol are both semi-retired from the business as the next generation of their family takes the company reins.
He and Carol explain how their son, Doug, operates the stores in Amery. Their daughters Michelle Rinehart and Lisa Weiss, along with Lisa’s husband Brian, are responsible for the River Falls store.
An acorn grows
Four stores and 30 years ago…The Rineharts moved to River Falls and bought into the store called Dale’s IGA, then one of four grocers in River Falls.
"In 1987, we wanted to be on our own,” Dick explained, adding that backing from its warehouse, Gateway Foods, made it possible to buy out their partner.
When they bought the store, it had a staff of seven people, and both of the new owners took on multiple roles not excluding checking, stocking and working in the meat department as well as managing, accounting and general operations.
“We didn’t have a big crew,” said Carol, who’d been in banking until then, “we couldn’t afford it.”
She waves a hand of dismissal as he says it, but Dick calls her “the woman behind the man,” and says she’s been an integral part of the stores’ success. He says she persevered through long hours and a seven-day-a-week job.
The two recall the first five years as especially hard, competing as one of four grocery stores in town. The store also lost about $200,000 in the pre-bypass days of 1985, when the Main Street bridge over the South Fork of the Kinnickinnic River was closed for nine months.
Dick said, “I had a lot of people help me in the business.”
He says that includes the “great staff,” which today numbers about 90 people including part-time workers. Store Manager Tim Engel has been with the store 30 years, as has Nancy Lacek, and Cathy Delong has worked there for 25 years.
Building business, spending to save
Dick said hard work and phenomenal customers enabled the store to achieve many kinds of success through the years. He said since 1987, the grocery store has been among those deemed most energy efficient in the country.
The owner said grocery stores typically consume huge amounts of energy, mainly because they’re big places with tons of food to keep at an exact-right temperature.
He spent money to save it, investing in energy-efficient lighting, compressors and casings; an energy-management system to control loads and temperatures; a system to use warm air expended from compressors to heat water and space in the winter and to dehumidify in the summer; large plastic strip curtains on upright coolers…plus many other measures over the years.
Dick’s Fresh Market earned in 2007, the EPA’s prestigious Energy Star Award. Only about 4,100 buildings of any type had earned the distinction. The EPA said the ranking also placed Dick’s among the nation’s 120 most energy-efficient grocery businesses.
The Wisconsin Grocer’s Association has featured Dick’s Fresh Market several times in its “Wisconsin Grocer” magazine and awarded the business a Grocer of the Year award in 1995.
A part of the IGA family in 1993, it named Dick’s one of its five Retailers of the Year out of a total of 3,000 grocers in the nation.
Dick thinks success is also about taking good care of staff members, “I was the first supermarket in the United States with its own day care,” he said, adding that the concept earned a lieutenant governor’s award for best day care.
The building that used to be a day care center sits just south of the grocery store and now serves as the stores’ corporate office. He said caring about employees has also included arranging for such benefits as insurance, profit sharing and a retirement-savings plan.
The Rineharts agree that none of their years would have been possible without great customers and call them the most important aspect of their business. They have given back during three decades in all ways possible -- supporting kids, churches, businesses, food shelves, and many kinds of youth sports like flag football, special-needs baseball and Special Olympics.
Asked what he most enjoys about the business, Dick says the best things are “fabulous customers and communities, and great staff.”
Asked about the biggest challenge to his profession, he said it is probably competing against big-corporate stores. He calls it tougher now than when they started but said that will only help the store to adapt and do things even more efficiently.
A 1996 “Journal” article tells how dyslexia challenged Dick when he was a boy. He remained determined to work through the little-understood disorder and become a good student.
At age 13, the Milwaukee-born Rinehart started his grocery store career sweeping floors at an IGA store in Mequon. He quickly earned a promotion to meat cutter and continued applying his formula for success: Hard work, common sense and many helping hands along the way.
With a hearty laugh, the 73-year-old Dick says ‘retirement’ for him and Carol is mostly doing what they want when they want. They’ve been traveling and enjoying more time away from the store but still report there regularly because they “care a great deal about the business.”
Dick concludes, “It’s part of our life and something you can’t turn off.”