Retailer's Reindeer Games

Wadsworth, Ill., station's seven mascots help deliver on sales

Samantha Strong Murphey, Freelance writer

Rich Rosko

WADSWORTH, Ill. -- Customers appreciate Rich Rosko's Wadsworth, Ill., convenience store for its family staff: Daughter Danielle manages the store and wife Karen works there occasionally. But it's most famous for the seven live reindeer--Canaan, White Pine, Norway, Noble, Angelina, Balsam and Clarice--that serve as the store's mascots.

Rosko and his son, John, are caretakers to two male "bulls" and five female "cows," which cause quite a stir in the rural village between Chicago and Milwaukee.

"People absolutely love them," Rosko says.

During mating season, the reindeer live in a dairy barn on Rosko's six-acre property, but several times a year he keeps the animals in a pen at the store--in August, when the animals' antlers are at their fullest growth, and in December, for Christmas.

"We put signs up so customers know when they're coming, and literally hundreds of people show up on those days to see them and take photos," Rosko says.

For more details on Rosko's Reindeer Mart, watch for the January issue of CSP magazine.

And, on those days, business gets better. Rosko says he sees a 30% increase in sales when the reindeer are at the store.

Many of the reindeer were named by contest winners. "We ask customers to submit names, and we give gas gift cards to the ones whose names we choose," says Rosko, who is currently looking for input from customers for a new slogan for the store. "'Fly On In' is what we've got now, but it needs some work."

Previously, Rosko worked in the grocery industry and managed a Christmas tree farm. And what's a good Christmas tree farm without a few reindeer? "When we bought the gas station three years ago, we thought, 'What a perfect complement to it all'," he says.

Being relatively new to the industry, Rosko says his supplier, State Oil Co., has been a wonderful resource: "They really have been excellent in guiding us through decisions and helping us grow."

What Rosko doesn't know about gasoline, he makes up for inside the store.

As a grocer, Rosko knows the importance of making sure everything, especially dairy and deli items, looks fresh and "bountiful." "When you walk into a store and the cooler and shelves aren't full, you start thinking, 'How long has this can been here?' " Rosko says.

He makes sure his shelves are full and everything is in stock. He's always open to stocking products requested by customers and offering the newest items on the market. He sells automotive products, and does a good job with lottery ticket sales, but his bread and butter is beer, wine and liquor.