In the 50 years since Leo and Rosemary Hansen took over a small grocery store in the little town of Bangor, Wisconsin, a lot has changed in the grocery retail landscape. For instance, the town of 1,500 residents used to have three grocery stores. As seen across the country, consolidation and corporate mega-stores have increasingly put independents out of business. Luckily for the Hansens, they managed to find a niche and thrive.
Born and raised on a dairy farm in Bangor, Leo Hansen started out in agriculture science, earning a master’s degree in cow genetics and going on to work for the University of Wisconsin at Madison. By the late 1960s, he was looking for a change, so the Hansens sold their house and invested the $5,000 dollars they made at the original Hansen’s IGA in Leo’s hometown. Over the years, the couple grew the business to five stores and expanded their family to include five children—two sons and three daughters.
Now in the second generation of ownership, Leo and Rosemary stepped back to retire about five years ago, and their sons Nick and Greg, along with Greg’s wife Kari, have taken over running Hansen’s IGA, which now covers 11 stores in communities surrounding LaCrosse and Eau Claire. Greg started working for the family business in 1993, his wife Kari joined in 1997, and Nick in 2008. Among their many day-to-day tasks, the three have their own specialized roles: Nick, a CPA, handles all the accounting and finances, while Greg oversees the operational aspects. Kari is in charge of marketing, advertising, and seasonal purchasing.
Nick Hansen attributes the family’s success and growth to finding their own unique niche, particularly with high-quality fresh meats and the smokehouse they started 20 years ago to make and cure specialty meats like hot dogs, bratwurst and other sausages, snack sticks and jerky, and other meats.
“The idea is to produce products that you can only find from us,” he said, which have developed a strong following. And it seems rightfully so, as the smokehouse meats have consistently picked up awards in an annual statewide competition.
In addition to quality products, Hansen’s has been recognized for quality service, winning the Excellence in Operations award for 2018 from the Wisconsin Grocers’ Association. According to the WGA, the award was given for its efforts to provide for team members across all locations, including staff training, utilizing the IGA Coca-Cola Institute to provide online training, web-based certification, and classroom training programs. Bonus programs reward store managers for meeting labor and supply goals and incentives are given to cashiers for exceptional customer service.
This month, the Hansens are marking their milestone with different promotions and anniversary ads. As for goals for the next 50 years? “Stay relevant,” Nick said with a laugh.
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