State Of The U.S. Economy, Kwik Trip’s Market Domination, Caribbean Cooking For The Modern Kitchen

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kwik trip
Andrew Iverson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A new Labor Department report shows that U.S. employers added jobs last month at the fastest rate since February. We discuss why and check in on the economy as a whole. Then, Kwik Trip has quickly come to dominate the convenience store market across much of Wisconsin, appealing to many with consistent offerings like bananas, bread, potatoes and clean bathrooms. We talk about why the rapidly growing giant really does “see you next time.” We also hear from two Caribbean chefs with generations of great meals behind them.

Featured in this Show

  • An Economic Check-In Following Strong December Jobs Report

    Following a better-than-expected December jobs report, President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser says “there’s no recession in sight.” We take a look at the national employment picture and other indicators and evaluate the American economy.

  • Feel Like Kwik Trips Have Exploded In Number? You're Right.

    Maybe you know them for their clean bathrooms, fee-free ATMs or cheap bananas. Whatever the reason, if you’re from Wisconsin or the surrounding states, you’ve likely been to a Kwik Trip — and watched them explode in number in recent years.

    The Wisconsin company opened its first store in Eau Claire in 1965, opened its first dairy plant in the 1980s and today has vaulted to more than 600 stores in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.

    Their success isn’t by accident, said Hart Posen, professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Business on the UW-Madison campus.

    “They’re a phenomenal Wisconsin success story and they really are doing something quite different than most other firms in their industry,” he said.

    Posen points to Kwik Trips’ well stocked shelves, fresh produce options and clean bathrooms as features that set it apart from competitors.

    “This is a real challenge for most of them (competitors) because even though they might have the sign of a famous oil company up there, these are mostly mom and pop businesses and so they don’t have the scale to do it right,” he said.

    The company’s size works in its favor, Posen said. Employing about 19,000 people, it does about $5 billion in gross sales annually.

    As a backward integrated business they own their own milk production facilities, they do their own distribution with their own trucks and they train their own management.

    That model has helped Kwik Trip keep its prices low and increase efficiency to draw in thousands of customers every day, something small businesses don’t have the scale to compete with.

    “The important thing is that they’re located in this sort of three-state area,” Posen said. “The same 600 stores spread across the U.S. wouldn’t be feasible because they supply it out of one facility in La Crosse.”

    And the company shows no signs of slowing down. Just five years ago, there were 273 stores in Wisconsin. Today, there are 376.

    Naturally, alongside that growth comes concerns of whether it will become too big and force smaller stores — including grocery stores and restaurants — out of business.

    In 2017, Kwik Trip announced a $300 million expansion and will receive a $21 million tax break as a result, conditional on its promise to bring 300 new jobs to the La Crosse area within five years.

    But Posen said that tax break likely isn’t what’s driving performance differences, yet, at least. And at this point, he estimates they control about 15 percent of the convenience store market in Wisconsin.

    “That puts them certainly in the lead by far, but concentration is still very, very low in this business,” he said. “Right now, they’re not beating their rivals because of market power or because of monopoly power, they’re beating them because of efficiency differences.”

  • Kwik Trip's Big Rise To The Top

    You might know Kwik Trip for its clean bathrooms, fee free ATM and cheap bananas. The Wisconsin-based chain has been around since 1965, but seems to have more recently popped in every town, big and small, in the state. We talk to a business professor about how Kwik Trip has mastered the art of convenience and what this could mean for other convenience-store owners.

  • Food Friday: Modern Caribbean Cooking

    From plantain and cheese empanadillas to grilled pineapple upside-down rum cake, our guest chefs take us on a tour of modern Caribbean cooking, and share the stories of the generations of women who made it possible.

Episode Credits

  • Rob Ferrett Host
  • Derrell Connor Host
  • Bill Martens Producer
  • Natalie Guyette Producer
  • Chris Malina Producer
  • Josh Zumbrun Guest
  • Hart Posen Guest
  • Suzanne Rousseau Guest
  • Michelle Rousseau Guest

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