Owner, Knoche's Food Center & Old Fashioned But
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always knew I would work in the family business. I started when I was ten years old stocking shelves for Dad.
I grew up in Madison and graduated from Madison Memorial High School. I started working here fulltime when I was seventeen and I've been here ever since.
Knoche's has been in business seventy-seven years. Tell me a little about how it got started.
My grandparents, Nancy and George Knoche, started the business in 1938. For many years we were a very popular ma and pa grocery store.
Later on, my dad and his two brothers ran the business, and then my wife and I bought the business in 1998. We had a very good grocery business for many years, but over time it's become much harder for "little guys" like us to compete with the big chains.
Tell me about Knoche's today.
We're best known for our meats. People know our name and they know our quality.
Our ground beef is the biggest draw. We have such a great burger because of the way we grind. We use a custom blend that nobody else grinds because it's too expensive. Our burgers are about 87 percent lean.
We sell wholesale to about sixty restaurants and bars in Madison and the surrounding areas, including several golf courses. We have a list of those establishments on our website, knochesbutchershop.com.
Today we're still a family business. We carry a full line of grocery items and wine, beer and liquor.
My sister Nancy is our general manager; she's been working here for forty years. My wife works at Summit Credit Union and takes care of the books, which is a big job. We have eight employees.
What is your competitive advantage?
Our customer service. We're super friendly, we smile and say hi, we really try to make sure everybody feels welcome and has a good shopping experience. We're on a first-name basis with many of our customers.
Another is quality. Out meat is about 80 percent of our business. I have people who live in Minocqua, Janesville . . . I ship meat to customers who spend the winter in Arizona and Florida.
What is the favorite part of your job?
I like talking to the customers - always have. I'm rarely back here in the office; I'm usually in the store making sure everything is running smoothly. I really enjoy handling the meat part of the business. We grind everything for our customers in the morning, so it's really fresh. That's rare in our business, but I think it's important.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a small business?
Probably the cost of everything, our gas and electric bills, taxes, license fees, healthcare - over the past ten years the cost of operating the business has gone up tremendously. I pay 100 percent of the healthcare costs for my full-time employees and that costs a lot of money.
The cost of beef has risen. I used to be able to make a decent margin on the beef, now I'm doing twice the business with half of the profit. We're selling a lot more but we aren't making any money! (laughter).
State and city regulations are a huge burden on us because we're a small business. We don't have the staff that larger companies have to handle this stuff. I've got a binder that is six inches high with all the processes we have to document for the state to sell wholesale.
How has your business evolved over the years?
We've had a lot of changes over the years. We remodeled the store about eight years ago to give it a fresh look, and cut back on the number of grocery items to respond to customer demand. Another change is that we've cut back on our home deliveries. Early on we were the only grocery store in Madison that offered that service - it was really a nice thing for us - but over the years our customers have gotten older and it's hard for us to compete with our large-scale competitors who have several vans a week going all over the city.
You've been running the business for seventeen years now, what is the biggest lesson you've learned?
Be good to your customers. Treat them well. And don't get in the small mom and pop family business. Just kiddin'! I love what I do. But sometimes I do think about the fact that if I would have taken a job with the Madison parks crew or fire department I would have been retired years ago with a good pension. And retirement doesn't sound too bad right now.
What do you do for fun? Do you have a family? Favorite vacation spot?
I live with my wife in Middleton, we have two children and four grandchildren. When I can get some time I like to golf and ride my Harley. For vacation we go out to San Diego every year to see my daughter and her family, our two grandchildren, really look forward to getting away.