May 28, 2007

LP's Prairie Market for sale

Owners consolidating their operation in southern Minnesota

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

When Dan and Shari Wagner of Wells, Minn. and their son, Chris, purchased the Prairie Market in Feb. 2006, they saw it as a good opportunity for their business.

Now, after remodelling the store, upgrading the equipment, and refining the inventory, the Wagners say owning the downtown Lester Prairie grocery store will be a good opportunity for someone else.

Recently, the Wagners had a chance to purchase a store in Pine Island, Minn., just north of Rochester, and decided this would be a better fit for them than Lester Prairie, and they have put Prairie Market up for sale.

“It was time for us to get into the correct geographic area for our chain,” Dan said.

The decision was based on time and distance, not on the performance of the store, he explained.

The Pine Island store is 54 miles from home, compared to 140 miles to Lester Prairie, a trip they have been making about once a week.

“There were a lot of days when we left the house at 6 a.m. and didn’t get home until 11 p.m.,” Dan commented.

The Wagners owned a chain of grocery stores prior to purchasing the Lester Prairie store.

Their other locations are grouped in southern Minnesota, with stores in Wells, New Richland, and Adams, Minn., and Britt, Iowa, and the new store in Pine Island.

The Wagners closed on the Pine Island store last week, and they have already begun to make improvements.

Chris Wagner moved to Lester Prairie to manage Prairie Market when the Wagners purchased it, and he will continue to do so until it is sold.

“We would like to have Chris here to experience this (the opening of the Pine Island store) with us, but we won’t abandon the Lester Prairie store to do that,” Dan said.

The Wagners have plenty of experience renovating stores. They like things fresh and clean, and they implement their system in each of their stores.

They made many improvements to Prairie Market while they owned it, and Dan says this will make it a good opportunity for prospective buyers.

“The biggest problems I saw when we came to Lester Prairie were the freezers and the scanners, and now, they have the best of both,” Dan said.

He said freezers and scanners are key elements to any grocery store operation, and the fact that these things have already been upgraded is a benefit potential buyers.

He added that another problem faced by many store owners is equipment breakdowns, and noted that there has only been one service call in the 15 months they owned Prairie Market.

He attributes this to the fact that they purchased good equipment and upgraded the plumbing and electric service when they bought the business.

“Things were done right,” Dan said.

The cost to operate the store is another plus, according to Dan.

“It is unbelievable how reasonable it is. It will be good opportunity for someone, and, at that price, it could be someone local,” he commented.

Dan said his vendor, Affiliate Foods, will help him get the word about the sale out, and it is possible he will find a buyer that way, but he noted that because of the low rent and the fact that Prairie Market is a comparatively small store, it is more affordable, and this could be an opportunity for a local person who has considered getting into the grocery business.

While it is impossible to predict how soon a buyer will be found, Dan said he is optimistic that something will happen within the next month or two.

For now, the Wagners are busy making improvements to the Pine Island store, from the parking lot up.

Dan said apart from being a good fit geographically, the Pine Island store was attractive because the city encouraged him to locate there.

“They have a very active city developer and city administrator, and they get an A plus grade for the programs they have to attract businesses,” Dan said.

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