Metcalfes Market has beaten the odds. This family business with two stores in Madison and one in Wauwatosa is celebrating its 100th year in business. According to the Family Firm Institute, about 30 percent of family businesses survive into the second generation, 12 percent remain viable into the third generation, and only about 3 percent of all family businesses operate into the fourth generation and beyond. Its the fifth generation of management at Metcalfes, represented by Director of Employee Development Amanda Metcalfe, daughter of CEO and co-owner Tim Metcalfe. Others include COO and co-owner Kevin Metcalfes children, Amandas younger cousins, who are working in the produce department and bakery to learn the grocery business just as their father and grandfather did. But just because they are family doesnt guarantee that these children will become part of Metcalfes Market management.
Nothings a given, says Kevin. They have to earn their way into the business. He would actually like to see them work outside of the grocery sector for a period of time to grow and develop on their own, similar to Amanda. With a degree in psychology and business administration from the University of WisconsinPlatteville, Amanda started outside of the family business before returning five years ago. Working in the cheese department, where she discovered an underground society of foodies, solidified Amandas desire to make a career at Metcalfes Market.
Several members of the Metcalfe familyKevin; Tim; their late father and mother, Tom and Margaret; and a sisterparticipated in an executive leadership program through Cornell University a few years ago. Five other families, all in the grocery business, were part of the course. One aspect of the program was a series of tests they took to understand family dynamics. According to Kevin, the results of the tests helped in the familys deciding that Kevin would be COO, handling the administrative duties of the business, and Tim would be CEO once their dad sold the business to his sons. Amanda has participated in a newer version of the program and is currently working on an MBA through Edgewood College.
As a family business, Metcalfes Market supports other family businesses. Of the nearly 4,000 local products they sell, thousands are produced by hundreds of local family businesses. In many instances, Metcalfes is the first to market the products. We make it easy for local businesses to sell in our stores because we are not a cookie-cutter operation, Kevin says.
Amanda adds, We work with vendors to demonstrate and talk about their products. People like to talk about food; they love to tell or hear the story of how the product came about. Customers knowing where their food comes from builds support for local products.
So does Metcalfes Local Food Miles program. With more and more local products being added to the grocery departments, customers can learn how local their food is. Highway signs show how many miles an item has traveled from the producer to the stores shelves. Up to 150 miles from the store is considered local by Metcalfes Market.
Kevin is proud of having the same touch point with the customers that his great- grandfather had when he started the market in suburban Milwaukee in 1917. He likes when the store is busy because then everyone is called up front and Kevin gets to interact with customers. It makes a difference to be visible to our customers.
Kevin also likes to hear customers say they love what Metcalfes has done, whether it be offering a new product, developing a new program, or expanding a service. We are fairly nimble and can move quickly to make changes that reflect our customers interests.
One of the challenges of running a family business that has grown significantly over the years is having to wear multiple hats. According to Amanda, Everyone is taking on a lot more, and we have to be efficient with what we have. Kevin adds, We dont have the large resources that corporations have.
In 2016, Kevins favorite hat was that of designer when the Wauwatosa store underwent a major remodel. He enjoyed the creative aspect of the project, as well as the innovative services he was able to implement: a coffee shop using locally roasted coffees, a personal pizza program, an Asian stir fry bar that puts together a meal within 90 seconds, and a health and wellness department.
Innovation is a hallmark of Metcalfes Market. For example, rather than having a section dedicated to organic products, the organic applesauce is side-by-side with the conventional applesauce. Customers can choose without having to crisscross the store to a separate department. Kevin finds that Metcalfes is picking up customers who want to make that choice.
Metcalfes sustainability program, Zero Waste Commitment, encompasses several ingenious parts. First, Stop Waste Together is focused on packaged goodsreducing waste that goes to a landfill. A software program tracks inventory and expiration dates, alerting Metcalfes of those items getting close to expiration. Those products are discounted 25 percent, giving customers the choice to purchase a product with an impending expiration date at a reduced price or pay full price for one with an expiration further in the future.
Second, Metcalfes donates bakery and produce items at or near expiration to Middleton Outreach Ministry, which distributes food to those in need from one of the largest food pantries in Dane County.
Third, Metcalfes partners with Purple Cow Organics to collect expired or nonconsumable produce. Instead of sending it to a landfill, the produce is composted and turned into fertilizer or potting soil. Metcalfes actually sells that potting soil in the spring!
No story on Metcalfes Market would be complete without mention of the Worlds Largest Brat Fest. What began as a customer appreciation day by Tom Metcalfe on the sidewalk of the Hilldale store has turned into a four-day free community festival held on Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center. Parade Magazine named Brat Fest one of the top 50 festivals in the country three years ago. Brat Fest has raised more than $1.7 million for local charities since it began in 1983.
This years Brat Fest takes place on Memorial Day weekend, May 26 through 29. It will have something for everyone over the four days: a carnival, multiple genres of music, dog jog, several runs, kids zone, and fireworks. The festival embraces Madison and promotes all that the city has to offer while benefiting more than 100 community organizations. Featured music on the grand stage this year includes George Clinton (Friday), Everclear (Saturday), local favorite Madison County (Sunday), and Joe Diffie (Monday). For a schedule of all events, visit bratfest.com .
Amanda and Kevin agreed that giving back to the community is something in the Metcalfe family DNA. Both are pleased their business can do good for the community and, while they wear that other hat, they have fun too.
Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.