To stay profitable over the course of eight decades, Weigel’s Convenience Stores has had to change alongside the ever-evolving definition of the term “convenience.” When it first opened in 1931, customers sought Weigel’s for its home delivery of dairy products. The ensuing decades found Weigel’s leaving its home-delivery business model to build its own brick-and-mortar locations that allowed customers to pick up their dairy products along with grocery items like food, soft drinks, snacks and cigarettes.
After that, Weigel’s morphed into a one-stop store that added its own egg nog, brewed iced tea, and “Monkey Ice,” a frozen slush drink that is available in six flavors.
Today’s generation of convenience store consumer demands more sustenance in easily transportable packaging for the millennials. These consumers also demand low prices and the ability to share what they “like” through media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and digital forums, which Weigel’s is beginning to fully embrace.
“Millennials do things differently than our generation,” Chairman and CEO Bill Weigel says. “We’re trying to attract the 18-to-24-year-olds, and that’s challenging.
“They’re traditionally different than our generation, and what turns them on is something our age group is working to understand,” Weigel adds. “We’re examining that every day and trying to move toward that generation as best we can by finding out what their thought process is.”
This is a far cry from how the market worked when Weigel’s entered the dairy business at the height of the Great Depression. Back then, it owned four cows, selling raw milk for 9 cents a gallon. In 1958, the company opened its first store, a 500-square-foot location in Knoxville, Tenn., as a drive-through drop off store for its returnable gallon milk jugs. The company’s first walk-in store – its 12th overall – opened in June 1964.
In early 1967, Weigel’s introduced the Knoxville market to the ICEE frozen soft drink, installing the first 10 ICEE machines east of the Mississippi River. The company would serve as the lone ICEE distributor in Tennessee for the next 43 years until ICEE was sold to a national company. Weigel’s introduced Monkey Ice as its own frozen option in 2009.
Today, Weigel’s Inc. operates 61 dairy and convenience stores within a 50-mile radius of corporate headquarters in Powell, Tenn. The company plans to add four new stores by the end of 2012, with another four in the works for 2013. Each new location will feature convenience retailing, pay-at-the-pump gasoline, competitive pricing and no-surcharge ATMs.
Meeting New Demands
With its food offerings, Weigel says it is constantly looking for portable, edible items for consumers on the go.
“Everything we try to do is based around [the idea] that it is either edible in the car or capable of taking to the office to eat,” Weigel says. “Anything that’s portable really attracts us because there is no established breakfast, lunch and dinner like there used to be.”
The company’s latest additions to this product line include Weigel’s Kitchens, which is its own brand of fresh sandwiches delivered daily to its locations. Weigel’s pasteurizes and bottles its own orange juice, iced tea, lemonade and fruit punch.
Weigel’s remains true to its origins with a line of its own dairy products, including chocolate milk, whole milk, 2 percent milk, and its proprietary non-fat skim milk branded, Skim D’Lite, as well as buttermilk in half gallons. During the holiday season, Weigel’s offers eggnog, as well. In the future, Weigel’s plans to address the growing demand for healthy products like breakfast bars and sugar-free candy, as well.
As of February 2011, Weigel’s launched its no-surcharge ATM program. “We pride ourselves in offering the freshest milk, and the best cup of coffee in town,” the company says. “It’s always been our goal to provide friendly service and clean stores. And now, as a special thanks to [customers], we’re offering no-surcharge ATMs.”
Weigel’s also manages to meet the needs of those who aren’t fortunate enough to provide for themselves. For instance, the company regulary donates to the Milk Fund, which has been raising money for those in need of a nutritional diet for the last 16 years.
Additionally, Weigel’s supports Step Out, which is an event in conjunction with the American Diabetes Association. In October 2012, the event took place in Knoxville, Tenn., in World’s Fair Park.
As the first convenience store in the Knoxville area, Weigel’s has served generations of families since 1931. Weigel foresees this tradition continuing for another 80 years.
“We’re now serving the kids of the kids we started with,” he says. “We hope to keep it in the family and keep it going.”