By Sam Gazdziak

With its 500-square-foot retail store, Ralph's Packing could provide customers with a variety of fresh red meat cuts and deli items. After expanding the Perkins, Okla., facility to accommodate a 1,600-square-foot store, the company can now offer an even greater amount of products in a more open, customer-friendly store.

“We saw that our customer base continually grew, and our volume was increasing, and we were just outgrowing the space that we had,” says Wes Beane. He adds that on busier days, customers would have to wait in lines to get product or check out, and they weren't always able to see the product displays.

“It was such an inconvenience, but they were willing to overlook that so they could obtain our products, because they knew the quality and service they received,” he says.

Ralph's, founded in 1959 by Ralph Crane and currently run by his son, Gary, had operated a separate retail shop in nearby Stillwater for nine years. Beane oversaw that operation until it closed in 1992 and has run the retail area attached to the Ralph's processing facility. When the two men decided to expand the retail area, Crane — a draftsman — and Beane planned the layout for the expansion, using existing equipment from the company's Stillwater and Perkins locations and some new pieces.

Ralph's new facility, opened in late October, is large enough to carry more than 320 different items. Previously, Ralph's employees had to stock the coolers from the front, interfering with shoppers as they made their purchases. Now, there are long walk-in freezers and coolers that allow workers to restock the shelves from the back without getting in the way of the shoppers.

“We've purchased two new deli cases,” Beane adds. “One is going to be totally dedicated to red meat, and the other is going to be dedicated totally to cheeses and lunch meat items.” Those items previously shared space in one deli case. The extra space allows Ralph's to show off more of its beef and pork cuts, as well as specialty items like bacon burger patties (with ground bacon in the ground beef).

The checkout counter has been converted into a U-shaped space, allowing three people to be checked out at once, an improvement in efficiency over the old set-up.

Taking stock

Along with the products that Ralph's makes, the company also stocks a number of complementary items from the company's wholesale business. The company's smoked items, like its hams, bacon and turkey breasts are featured prominently, but there is also a line of deli meats available for purchase.

“If you're going to sell lunch meats, you're going to need a variety of cheeses,” Beane explains. Ralph's also sells French fries, fried okra and mushrooms and several types of fish. “We sell a wide variety of items people can either pair a meal with or enhance a meal,” he explains.

With Beane's experience in the shops in Perkins and Stillwater, he recommends that a processor looking to start up a retail division start small, with a refrigerated case or a reach-in freezer at first. If that proves to be popular, they can consider the costs of the refrigeration equipment and retail space.

Maintaining and attracting a customer base requires a combination of fair prices, outstanding quality and superior service.

“You could overprice yourself,” Beane explains, “but if you offer a quality product at a fair price and have the service to go with it, I think you will be successful.”