Roger Gildehaus has built his business on the tenets espoused by “Mr. Sam”—the legendary Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. Gildehaus, owner of the Pineville, Missouri–based chain Macadoodles, spent 25 years working for Wal-Mart before opening his first liquor store in 1997. He credits the education he received at Wal-Mart as a key building block in establishing his own business.
“I was a sponge—I’d listen to every word Mr. Sam said,” Gildehaus recalls. “He was very passionate about taking care of employees, because if you take care of them, they’re going to take care of your customers. He was also passionate about merchandising—a feeling I shared when I became a buyer for Wal-Mart. His influence on me was huge.”
At first glance, Macadoodles doesn’t look like a retail powerhouse. Located in a sparsely populated area just north of the Missouri-Arkansas border, the 14,000-square-foot Pineville store is a quick turn off the interstate. It sits adjacent to a local Mexican restaurant and across the highway from a competing outlet. Roughly a mile north is a Wal-Mart Superstore, complete with an adjacent beverage alcohol unit.
Despite the headwinds of competition and local changes that have buffeted the business, Macadoodles continues to thrive. In 2006, Gildehaus was named a Market Watch Leader, and he received the Leaders Alumni Award for “Best Merchandising” in 2012. Sales at the Pineville store total around $16 million annually. Six other Macadoodles locations, all operated under franchise agreements by license from Gildehaus, enhance the company presence throughout southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. In Missouri, Macadoodles stores can be found in Republic, Branson, Springfield, Joplin and Columbia, with a second Springfield store slated to open in November. Arkansas boasts just one outlet in Springdale. Together, the seven-unit Macadoodles chain has revenue of $43.9 million annually—$57.5 million including gasoline sales. Recognizing his commitment to excellence, Roger Gildehaus is being honored as the 2016 Market Watch Leaders “Retailer of the Year.”
It’s difficult to overstate the impact Wal-Mart had on Gildehaus’ business philosophies. He started at the retail chain in 1973 as a store manager and worked his way up to senior executive at Wal-Mart International before retiring from his role as vice president of all hardlines for all countries in 1996. Gildehaus says he was fortunate to have the mentorship of “Mr. Sam” and others in the organization. But eventually, the nearly constant travel the role required took its toll. Gildehaus quietly purchased a liquor store that would become Macadoodles and announced his retirement shortly thereafter.
Initially, Gildehaus had planned to take a backseat in running the company, which he founded with Bob McCurry, a graphic artist and Wal-Mart veteran who still owns part of the business, but isn’t actively involved in operations. For Gildehaus, retirement at age 44 wasn’t a good fit. “After sitting around the house reading stuff in the newspapers that I didn’t really care about, I started going down to the store to see what I could do about growing the business,” he recalls.
Gildehaus’ involvement meant a much-expanded focus on wine and the implementation of what he calls “guiding principles” that have allowed the business to thrive amidst a changing landscape. His three rules for operating his store and the stores owned by franchisees have been critical to success. “First, we promise our customers that we will have the best assortment of wine, spirits and beer of any store in the marketplace,” Gildehaus says. “Second, we guarantee our customers very competitive prices. It doesn’t mean we’re going to have the lowest price—it means we’re going to be competitive.”
The third principle involves customer service. “We pledge that at Macadoodles, you’ll get service well beyond your expectations,” Gildehaus says. “When you walk through our doors, you’ll be greeted by friendly associates. From the time we open until the time we close, seven days a week, when you shop at Macadoodles we want you to leave with a smile on your face, thinking what a fun shopping experience it was.”
David Quigley, regional director of sales for the Gateway Division at Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits of Missouri, says Gildehaus is a hands-on retailer who leads by example. “What stands out most about Macadoodles is the company’s dedication to customer service,” Quigley says. “Counter staff greet customers as they enter the store, as well as in each department as they shop. Macadoodles team members are also very knowledgeable about brands and products. They’re always available to point customers in the right direction or answer any questions.”
Gildehaus says sticking to his core principles has allowed Macadoodles to weather a business landscape that’s vastly different than it was during the store’s early years. When Gildehaus launched Macadoodles in 1997, competition was fairly intense, with seven retailers vying for local and cross-border customers. At the time, Benton County, Arkansas, was dry, and residents regularly drove to Missouri to purchase beverage alcohol.
In 2005, the arrival of the Wal-Mart Supercenter, complete with a liquor store that had a separate entrance, turned the local market upside down. Gildehaus had a strategy in place. “I knew we were going to be hurt on margins, but it’s a whole lot cheaper to hold on to your customers and do whatever you’ve got to do versus letting them go,” he says. “Margins dropped like a rock. Consumers were getting one hell of a deal on beer for a long time, and they continue to get a great value. We’ve hung in there. It’s been over 11 years and we’re still going at it.”
That approach doesn’t mean Gildehaus feels the need to match prices, but they must be “in the ballpark,” he says. “One of my pricing philosophies is that I will never gouge customers. If I get savings on an item from vendors, I pass it on to them. I’ve always done that, and I teach our franchise owners to do the same.”
Another major upheaval to Gildehaus’ business in southern Missouri came in 2012, when residents of Benton County, Arkansas, voted to allow package stores to operate within its borders. The legislation meant cross-border stores like Macadoodles were no longer the only option. Against that backdrop, Gildehaus steadily expanded Macadoodles’ reach. The first franchised Macadoodles opened in Joplin, Missouri, in 2009, and more Missouri locations followed, as did a franchised unit in Springdale, Arkansas. The Arkansas store—while loved by the public—wasn’t welcomed by local competitors, whom Gildehaus characterizes as “protectionist.” Further muddying the waters, the Arkansas Liquor Control Board denied Gildehaus a license to open his own non-franchised liquor store in the state—a goal he set when the county went wet—claiming that the franchise agreement counted as his one license. Arkansas state law limits package licenses to one per person, company or entity.
With land already purchased for a location in Bentonville, Gildehaus convinced his wife, Sarah Gildehaus, to apply for a license and open a store. In a bit of thumbing her nose at the authorities, Sarah named the store Guess Who? Gildehaus is still fighting for his own license in Arkansas, hoping that a recent regime change within the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control will work in his favor.
Gildehaus could own more stores in Missouri, but he isn’t actively seeking that route. “Franchising is the direction I chose years ago,” he says. “It goes back to all my travel for Wal-Mart International and wanting to spend more time at home with my wife and daughters. If I opened the stores myself I’d be going there all the time, and I didn’t want that.”
Whiskey And Craft Beer Trends
Meanwhile, in the Pineville headquarters, Gildehaus continues to carve out a niche in a competitive marketplace. Spirits account for 36 percent of total sales at Macadoodles, while beer makes up 29 percent and wine comprises 28 percent. General merchandise makes up the remaining 7 percent. Macadoodles’ wine selection features roughly 4,000 SKUs. The store has around 1,500 spirits SKUs, roughly 850 craft beer SKUs and a wide range of domestic beers.
Gildehaus says the wine business has been hurting recently. “In my store, wine dropped off because a lot of that business shifted to Guess Who? in Bentonville,” he says. “The income levels in northern Arkansas are pretty darn good thanks to both Wal-Mart and their vendor community. People spend quite a bit of money on wine, and they buy a lot of the high-end offerings.”
Much of the current focus at Macadoodles is on craft beer, as well as small-batch Bourbons and whiskies. “Right now, our craft beer business is growing like crazy,” Gildehaus says, lamenting the lack of space available for the burgeoning category. Hard-to-find and specialty whiskies are also in high demand. “Small-batch Bourbon has been a fast-growing segment for a while,” he notes. “We continue to rework space in our stores to expand those assortments. When we get highly allocated Bourbons and single malt Scotches, we don’t just put them out on the shelves all at once. I want to serve as many people as I can, so we feed them out to the counter a bottle at a time.”
Gildehaus says the company posts on its Facebook page when hard-to-find items arrive. “There are lots of reasons why I merchandise the way I do,” he says. “I know I could probably triple the price of every bottle of Pappy Van Winkle I get. I’d make a bunch of money on it, but that’s not part of our merchandising program because I don’t believe in taking advantage of customers. We put the Pappy out with about the same margins as all the other Bourbons. It’s $53 for the Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year-old. I want my customers to trust me—to know they can go to Macadoodles and always get a fair price.”
With whisk(e)y at the forefront of consumers’ minds, Gildehaus is planning a new tasting event for autumn. Attendees will purchase a glass at a set price, allowing them to sample a broad range of whiskies on display throughout the store. The tasting will be held at the flagship store this fall, with plans to roll it out to the other Missouri units beginning next year. Proceeds from the glass sales will go to Lifeline of Northwest Arkansas, a group that provides medical alert systems to seniors. The event will mimic Macadoodles’ twice-yearly wine tastings and Mactoberfest beer tastings, which operate in the same format. The Pineville Macadoodles has raised more than $100,000 for Lifeline in the past 13 years.
Despite retiring from his first retail career 19 years ago, Gildehaus has no immediate plans to repeat that move. “My wife believes I’m never going to retire,” he says. Sarah is involved in the business with Guess Who?, while Gildehaus’ brother, John Gildehaus, runs operations and liaises with franchise owners. Gildehaus says he’s always looking for new franchise opportunities, noting that he wants to expand further in Missouri. He’s also considering possibilities in Oklahoma. “I don’t want to stop,” Gildehaus says. “I’m very passionate about this business and what I do.”