There’s only one boss: the customer.
That was the philosophy of legendary entrepreneur Sam Walton, who founded both the Walmart and Sam’s Club retail chains. Walton’s customer-centric approach to business is something he passed along to everyone who worked for him, and it’s a motto that Roger Gildehaus (pictured atop, second from left) took to heart during his 26 years as a Walmart employee. In fact, Gildehaus credits Walton and his Walmart education with giving him the knowledge and skills needed to launch his own liquor store business.
Gildehaus owns the flagship Macadoodles store in Pineville, Missouri, and has franchised seven additional locations across Missouri and Arkansas. His wife, Sarah, owns another liquor store in Bentonville, Arkansas. Each location operates by a strict set of principles that have helped the business succeed beyond Gildehaus’ wildest expectations.
Retail Executive to Entrepreneur
Gildehaus’s tenure in retail began in 1973 when he accepted an assistant store manager position at Walmart. At that time, the retail chain only consisted of a handful of stores, and Gildehaus soon moved into the role of store manager, followed by an invitation to take a role at the company’s corporate office. He began working as a toy buyer in 1980, and after many more promotions eventually assumed the role of Vice President of General Merchandising, International. Gildehaus credits his corporate success to Walton himself, along with longtime Walmart executive Al Johnson, who both took Gildehaus under their wings and helped push his career forward.
Reflecting on his early years with Walmart, Gildehaus recalls how Benton County, Arkansas, was a dry county for many years. If he wanted to stop and pick up something to drink after work, he needed to cross the state line into Missouri, which is where Gildehaus ultimately chose to open the first Macadoodles location.
“I remember driving up there for years after I’d get off my shift at Walmart,” Gildehaus says. “There were plenty of stores in that area and they all had awful aesthetics and terrible customer service. But they all did good business because of their close proximity to the border. Every time I made that drive, I’d tell myself that one day I’d open my own liquor store and I’d do it the way Sam Walton taught me to do business.”
That dream of opening his own store was on hold for a long time as Gildehaus continued his Walmart career. His executive position required extensive overseas travel, and eventually Gildehaus started feeling burned out. He was tired of being away from his family for long periods at a time, so he started thinking about the future and ultimately partnered with colleague Bob McMurry to open the first Macadoodles location in Pineville. Gildehaus’s brother, John, initially took on the role of store manager, and every night after leaving the Walmart corporate office, Gildehaus would head over to Macadoodles. After pulling double-duty with both businesses for a year, Gildehaus decided he’d had enough. He retired from his position at Walmart at the age of 44 and devoted himself to Macadoodles full-time.
From the very beginning, Gildehaus was determined that Macadoodles would offer customers the type of positive shopping experience he never had when he crossed the border to visit those Missouri liquor stores for so many years. To that end, he developed three guiding principles for his business:
- Provide customer service that goes beyond the customer’s expectations.
- Offer the best assortment of wine, beer and spirits on the market.
- Have very competitive prices.
These principles were the backbone of the Macadoodles brand from the very beginning, starting with that first location and continuing with expansions that were yet to come.
The Macadoodles Distinction
So what makes Macadoodles so unique? It appears to be a combination of Gildehaus’s unfailing commitment to the principles he outlined for success, along with his attention to detail and thoughtful process of constantly evaluating operations to identify new opportunities for improvement.
“There are two things that really set us apart,” says Polk Craig, store manager of the Pineville location and another former Walmart employee (He and Gildehaus have known each other for 35 years, and when Macadoodles launched, Craig was eager to be part of his friend’s new venture). “We’re 100% committed to customer service, and we carry products that no one else does. A lot of people make it a point to drive long distances to see us because they want the kind of experience they can only get at Macadoodles.”
Customers are instantly greeted when they enter the store, and they’re also approached individually on the floor by an employee asking how they can be of assistance. If Macadoodles doesn’t have a certain product in stock, special orders are fulfilled at no additional cost to the customer. After customers check out, employees help them carry purchases to their cars. To keep customer service consistent across locations, all employees participate in in-depth training designed to emphasize customer friendliness and helpfulness.
The stores themselves have a very distinctive look and feel. When the first Macadoodles location opened, the store’s design was based on a drawing that Gildehaus had sketched out himself. It emitted an airy, rustic motif that was incorporated into the store’s initial build-out and is still used at all locations today.
Each store features hardwood floors, drop-down dome lighting and a lot of open space. Interior color schemes are warm and inviting, and Gildehaus even creates customized music playlists to play in each store. Music played in the beer/spirit area is always upbeat and lively, while the separate wine rooms have softer background music to account for more one-on-one interactions with customers.
An example of how Gildehaus always reassesses aspects of the business that could be improved is the Pineville store’s famous underground wine cellar. After fully immersing himself into the business post-retirement, Gildehaus realized that the store was not living up to its full potential – particularly the way the wine room was organized. Despite the fact that the store was less than two years old, Gildehaus began extensive renovations, resulting in a 5,000-square-foot underground facility boasting thousands of international wine varietals. This location remains the largest Madadoodles store to date, at approximately 14,000 square feet (the average store size is 10,000 square feet).
“People loved the wine cellar, and it helped us give customers the largest assortment of wine in the area,” Gildehaus says. “After being in business for only three years, we ended up being one of the top stores in all of Missouri.”
Wine continues to be the main product focus area of all Macadoodles stores, making up more than a third of all sales—in fact, the company has the largest wine selection in each of its markets. The spirit category is a close second place, followed by craft beer and other miscellaneous items. Gildehaus aims for his business to serve as a “one-stop shop” for all customer party needs, so items such as mixed drink components, meats and cheeses, fresh fruit for garnishes, drink accessories, gift bags and tobacco products displayed in walk-in humidors are available for sale at all locations. The general merchandise accounts for approximately 10% of all retail sales.
Macadoodles is also known for its unique events. Each Missouri store hosts two large wine-themed events per year (state law in Arkansas doesn’t permit the event to take place at that store location). A large portion of the profits from those events are donated to Lifeline of Northwest Arkansas, an organization that supports independent living for senior citizens, which Gildehaus designated as Macadoodles’ primary charity recipient 19 years ago.
Additionally, each store is required to host two other wine tasting events per year in conjunction with fundraising for another local charity. Mactober Fest is an annual fall event that draws thousands of people and features tents, food and hundreds of craft beers available for tasting. Other events are regularly scheduled throughout the year too. When the Pineville store recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, the event featured a special appearance by Budweiser’s Clydesdale horses.
Each Macadoodles store is equipped with a tasting station and wine tasting bar, both of which are regularly open featuring drink specials and new products. Wine tastings are generally offered seven days per week, and Macadoodles has a “try it before you buy it” philosophy, allowing customers to sample virtually any item in the store prior to purchasing it (with the exception of expensive speciality items).
All events are promoted extensively via each store location’s website and social media channels. Gildehaus, who oversees all store marketing himself, reports that Facebook is a huge traffic driver for in-store events, limiting the need for him to do much radio or television advertising (although he has experimented with some of that, mostly with local cable stations).
An innovative new program at the Pineville location is the Whiskey Tasting Club, which is made up of Macadoodles customers who are whiskey aficionados and share their opinions on new products.
The store recruited ten customers who are regular consumers of high-end whiskeys to rate new products. The ratings are displayed on in-store signage, along with photos of the products and the names of the Whiskey Tasting Club reviewers—many of whom are familiar faces to other local shoppers.
“It’s a great program because it’s managed by a group of people who regularly come in to talk with us about whiskey, and they’re invested in the products and the community,” Craig says.
The Whiskey Tasting Club has met for the past two months, and customer response to the rankings display has been overwhelmingly positive. Plans are in process to start similar clubs at other locations and launch a Wine Club at the Pineville store.
Focusing on Expansion
Despite the success of his business, Gildehaus was hesitant to expand at first, even with vendors pushing him to branch out into additional markets.
“I knew this was a business model that could do well and serve more customers elsewhere, but I realized if I opened additional locations, I’d get right back into what I’d just retired from – working excessive hours and not spending enough quality time with my family,” Gildehaus recalls. “Eventually I realized that the best way to build the business was to develop a franchise program and teach people how to do things the Macadoodles way.”
It took several years for Gildehaus and his attorneys to develop a franchise agreement, and the first franchised Macadoodles location opened in Joplin, Missouri in 2009. One year later, a second franchised store opened in Springdale, Arkansas. To date, seven franchised Macadoodles locations are currently operational across Arkansas and Missouri. Gildehaus is very involved in the development of each new franchise location, personally setting up the stores and providing training to the franchisees before handing over the reins.
Despite the large amount of interest in franchising, Gildehaus says he’s never developed any marketing or recruiting plan for franchise opportunities: interested franchisers have always approached him after having positive in-store experiences or just by traditional word of mouth. While no new franchises are currently in development, Gildehaus is interested in exploring other local markets and also the Kansas City area, as he sees a large opportunity for growth there.
Although Gildehaus’s only expansion opportunities currently revolve around franchising, the Pineville Macadoodles location isn’t the only liquor store owned and operated by his immediate family. Another store exists, and there’s an interesting story behind it.
“Basically, when Benton County finally went wet, I wanted to open a liquor store in Bentonville, Arkansas, which was my lifelong dream,” Gildehaus explains.
However, when Gildehaus applied for a liquor permit in Bentonville, he was denied. Arkansas state law only allows one permit per licensee, and Gildehaus was already president of Gild Holdings (the corporation that owns Macadoodles). Gildehaus’s response to that hurdle was to encourage his wife, Sarah, to apply for the permit instead. She did so, and a store very similar to Macadoodles opened in Bentonville in 2014, although that location is appropriately named “Guess Who?” Gildehaus stresses that his wife is the owner and operator of Guess Who?, and that he merely provides her with occasional business advice.
Gildehaus’s business savvy has undoubtedly paid off, not only in the form of Macadoodles’ overwhelming success, but also in terms of the chains’ local and national recognition. For many years, the store has swept the Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s “Best of the Best” competition, which ranks businesses by categories and is voted on by community members. Macadoodles is known for regularly winning the Best Wine Selection, Best Wine Shop and Best Packaged Liquor Store categories. Gildehaus is especially proud of winning several national awards, including Best Merchandising in 2012 and Retailer of the Year in 2016 by Market Watch Magazine.
“It’s pretty amazing to have been recognized at this level across the whole country,” he says.
Gildehaus shows no signs of slowing down. He continues to enjoy the work he does and is especially fulfilled knowing that he truly makes a positive impact in the communities that he serves.
“I enjoy working, setting the right example for my staff and showing my customers that this business owner is really involved and truly cares,” Gildehaus says. “Working with the customers is the highlight of this business. It’s why I got into the business in the first place and why I continue working to make Macadoodles the best it can be.”