When Bob and Linda Feuling opened Westside Liquor in Little Falls in 1986, there were fewer choices of beverages in the store and their daughter Sarah Hollenkamp was only 8 years old.
Thirty-one years later, there are now seven other Westside Liquor stores across Central Minnesota, the choice of drinks has skyrocketed and Hollenkamp now manages the Baxter store and human resources for the chain.
The Feulings have also won a number of awards, from the St. Cloud area Entrepreneurial Success Award in 2007, to the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association Board Member of the Year, for Bob, in 2014. Most recently, Westside Liquor was named as the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year.
Little Falls store manager Tricia Brausen said they found out they received the award when one of the Chamber members who shops at the store regularly, and who brings candy with her for other patrons and the staff during the holidays, brought in the paperwork.
Hollenkamp said the store in Little Falls has many customers who do that sort of thing. To her, that kind of loyalty and friendship is amazing.
“It’s really fun, really neat and really wonderful,” Hollenkamp said.
She said the relationship with the customers is something her parents have tried to form since the beginning.
If the store didn’t have a product the customer wanted, the Feulings made sure to add it to their inventory, Hollenkamp said.
They have also stressed doing things like carrying a customer’s items to their car, and providing other great pieces of customer service.
Most importantly, the employees have tried to form relationships with their customers, Hollenkamp said.
Over the years, Brausen said she’s seen the same customers come in again and again, whether they were locals or seasonal visitors who made their stop at the store as they traveled to their cabins. She’s seen customers bring in their kids once they’ve become old enough to buy from the store and those customers know her children.
“We just want to do everything we can to make our customers happy,” Hollenkamp said.
This emphasis on customer service and relationships, Hollenkamp said, is a big reason that Westside Liquor can compete with bigger, corporate stores.
Hollenkamp said they might not be always able to price product lower than those bigger stores, but they can offer better service and more specialty products, rather than just the biggest brands.
There is also an emphasis on building relationships with the employees. Hollenkamp said her parents treat the employees like family.
Brausen, who’s worked at the store for 14 years, said one of the reasons she’s stayed for so long is how family-oriented the store is.
Employees have celebrated birthdays and holidays with the Feulings, Hollenkamp said, and her father tries to make sure employees know he is there for them.
Brausen said all of the employees have been at the store for at least 10 years. Both she and Hollenkamp said they wanted to thank the employees, Joyce Bolts, Bev Kempenick, Troy Bellefeuille and Sheena DeZurik for all of their hard work, because it is a major part of the success of the business.
Hollenkamp said in the future, she hopes all of those employees stay to continue to take care of the store’s loyal customers.
Both said they were honored by, and grateful for, the award from the Chamber.