Those meat processors who choose to operate a retail store enjoy a direct link to their consumers. Regardless of other distribution opportunities they might have, their meat market is a guaranteed point of sales. On the downside, they also get all the responsibilities of running a retail store along with all the responsibilities of a processing plant. While many of the requirements are the same — a plant and a store must be clean, and employees must practice good hygiene — there are noteworthy differences. Who ever heard of making a plant floor “pretty,” for instance?

A retail space must serve the practical purpose of selling sausages, chicken breasts or fresh cuts of meat, but it must do so in an appealing way. Darla Kiesel of Dewig Meats (Haubstadt, Ind.) and Mike Sloan of Hermann Wurst Haus (Hermann, Mo.) talked about their retail strategies in an educational session at the recent American Association of Meat Processors Convention in Kansas City, Mo. The name of the session was “Putting Lipstick on a Pig.”

The phrase “putting lipstick on a pig” refers to someone attempting to make an ugly thing slightly less ugly by making a superficial change to it. In the case of Dewig Meats and Hermann Wurst Haus, there is nothing superficial about the work that has gone into creating enticing consumer spaces. For example, the Wurst Haus building was formerly an abandoned auto parts store before it was rebuilt into a restaurant/store/husband day-care center in historic Hermann.

Dewig Meats has a 12,000-square-foot retail space, and exacting care has been taken to create an appealing retail environment. The store was decorated in a “country modern” theme, with oak pillars and flower pots on the exterior. The lighting is LED, which is more expensive but is better on the food products than fluorescent lighting. The ceiling is painted black in order to be nondescript, so shoppers spend more time looking down at the products for sale. Even the paper under the fresh steaks is black instead of white, so the purge isn’t as noticeable. Shelves are always stocked, and sales are clearly marked. Through all of those fine details, Darla Dewig pointed out the obvious guidelines for retail that can be overlooked.

“If you cannot be clean, don’t have retail,” she said. A clean floor and a dust-free store help create the perception that the meat is tastier. On the other hand, dusty store shelves and flies buzzing around the store will turn off any customer, regardless of the quality of the meat.

Kiesel also advised that processors should visit other stores for ideas. She says that she has visited many of her fellow AAMP members’ stores for inspiration that she can apply to Dewig’s location.

“The one way you’re going to make your retail area look better is to look at what other companies are doing well,” she said.
Sloan, during his presentation, said that his fellow processors should focus on bringing value to customers in order to survive and thrive in today’s market.

“What do customers want?” he asked. “What do they need? What do they need but don’t know yet?”

Sloan’s shop features more than 40 bratwursts, and he does samplings multiple times a day as customers come into the store. He’s perfected his spiel to a little over 2:00 in length, and in that time, customers try several different bratwursts, are shown the coolers of available varieties and learn about the discounts the Wurst Haus offers for buying multiple packages. Sloan estimates that 51 percent of sales are products that are coming off the shelf, driven by what’s in the hot sample area.

As Hermann celebrates its German heritage, the Wurst Haus ties in many of its marketing activities to Octoberfest, including having employees dress in traditional German costumes and a giant sausage mascot, named Herman. The interior of the store, from dried sausages hanging down to the exposed brick walls creates the feeling of a traditional, long-standing retail space — a welcoming environment for visitors at any time of year.