Come for the Fries, Stay for the Fashion

At Wagner’s C-store in Wittenberg, Wisconsin, convenience extends past candy and cigarettes to high end women’s clothing and accessories.

Wittenberg Shell Boutique

It isn’t often that you come across a McDonald’s, a quality C-store, and a high-end woman’s boutique under one roof, but you’ll find all that and more at Wagner’s Convenience Store, part of Wittenberg Shell in Wittenberg, Wisconsin, an SSCS customer

Wittenberg Shell Fine JewelryThe business, one of over a dozen gas station/C-stores that are part of the oil company owned by Howard Wagner, is strategically located on exit 95 at the junction of highways 29 and 45, a nexus on a busy corridor that cuts across the face of the state.

Operated by manager Julie Stewart, the Wittenberg location, which first opened in 2000, was re-built and re-opened in December to accommodate the tremendous amount of store traffic generated by its prime location and pristine local reputation (there was no disruption in business as the original store remained active until the new structure, just north of it on the same lot, opened its doors).

Julie, who has worked at Wagner’s since she was thirteen (including through her college years), obviously was excited to have the chance to stock a new store based on her past experience and personal preferences. In her case, however, the possibilities represented something more significant: the opportunity to fulfill a long-time dream—running a high-end woman’s clothing and accessories boutique.

“My sister, Melissa

[who is married to Howard] and I would alwayBoutique Stands talk about the obscene amounts of money we’d spend in these kinds of specialty clothing shops and how it would be so cool one day to have our own,” says Julie. “We saw it as the kind of business we could leave behind for our daughters, but there was a practical side to it, too. The margins on these items were big, especially when compared to the items usually sold in a C-store. I mean, it takes an awful lot of cases of candy bars to make what you can make on a fashionable purse.”

But, still—putting a boutique in a C-store? Turns out the idea wasn’t that outrageous after all.

“We owned land right across from Wittenberg Shell, so Melissa and I considered that we might put together a
standalone store,” Julie reveals, “but then we thought about it a little bit more and talked to Howard. He pointed out that many standalone boutiques were closing because, among other things, people were just too busy to go out of their way to find them and take the time to shop in them. The new C-store we were building had a lot of space, so we decided the best way to try our dream concept out was to devote a small corner to it. We figured we’d stock quality women’s clothing, handbags, jewelry, and other accessories. We saw it as the perfect opportunity for people in a hurry to buy a nice gift while they were filling their tank.”

Accessories TableAdditionally, Julie believed that a successful boutique might help address a long-standing issue that had affected the Wittenberg store since it had originally opened. While the location’s fuel sales had always been high when compared to other gas stations, in-store sales lagged behind in comparison. While the existence of the McDonalds on the premises undoubtedly explained the relatively low sales volume of roller grill items or chips, Julie believed that giving visitors another reason to wander in through the doors, such as the kind of distinctive merchandise she envisioned carrying, might boost the purchase of other C-store items.

Howard, no stranger to the idea his wife and sister-in-law constantly discussed, agreed to give the boutique a chance. A parade of delivery people soon materialized, carrying boxes of all sizes and shapes, mannequins, jewelry cases, shelving, and other esoteric items in preparation for the opening. “I think Howard was kind of puzzled by what was going on, but at the same time he couldn’t look away,” says Julie. “He kept asking, ‘What’s that for? What’s that for?’ But you could tell he was really engaged.”

Continue on to Part 2 by clicking here.