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Indie Closeup: Wheeling and Dealing and Convenience-Store Retailing

Woody’s Pump n Munch is reaping sustained benefits propelled by an ambitious store remodeling project
woody's pump n munch
Photography courtesy of Woody's Pump n Munch

Long-time car dealership entrepreneurs, Woody and Tammy Affolter decided to kick the tires on a new business venture in 2005: that’s when they joined the ranks of convenience-store retailing. It was viewed as a second business to complement their car dealership competencies.

But business priorities shifted to emphasize convenience over car-selling—a pivot point that’s paid impressive dividends. Serving the small community of Randolph, Minnesota, about 30 minutes south of the Twin Cities, the Cenex-branded Woody’s Pump n Munch/Liquor Box has always been the go-retailer in this community of about 800.

The Affolters, however, increased sales and foot traffic upwards of 40% following an ambitious 2021 store remodeling effort.

The project included opening the adjoining Liquor Box, which sells full-strength beer since it’s classified as a standalone entity and not located within the confines of the store (Minnesota law requires that gas stations and grocery stores sell beer not stronger than 3.2% ABV).

The project—essentially funded by the couple’s 15-year run of accumulating solid store profits—included an exterior makeover that now exudes a more rustic and country-like look, complete with a stone and cedar wood combination plus new sidewalks, landscaping and more.

“We were opened the entire time: the store kept shrinking as we lost selling space due to all the work in progress,” said Tammy Affolter, adding that the remodel meant gutting the entire building inside and out to essentially double the footprint to 3,000 square feet. “We were nervous to spend a ton of money [north of $100,000], but we did not miss a beat in operating a successful store.”

Located on the property is the couple’s once-prosperous car dealership that now has been reduced to a part-time business. “We’d been in the automobile business our entire lives. I was in finance, Woody managed them,” said Affolter. “Auto dealerships were the business we truly loved, but each year we faced additional challenges. We knew nothing about the c-store business. I’m not going to lie—it was tough at the start [back in 2005], but we both had sales experience—I think this helped lay the foundation for providing great customer service.”

It’s full speed ahead for Woody’s Pump n Munch/Liquor Box, a brand name inspired years before the store was acquired. “When Woody was younger, he had a premonition that if he ever bought a gas station it would be known as Woody’s Pump n Munch—and here we are.”

Tammy Affolter spoke to CSP, addressing five questions encompassing the couple’s journey from selling autos to selling convenience.

Q: You seemed to “stumble” into the c-store business—how did it all fall into place?

A: At the start, the idea was to acquire this property and put a car dealership there—and perhaps tear down the store, which had been known as Ray’s. The property was for sale after the owner died, and we were in perfect spot to acquire it. We opted to keep the store going. It was a perfect location on the outskirts of town off a busy road with no competition nearby. We performed remodeling in 2005 and re-opened that September—spending $150,000 to remodel it and install new gas pumps. It had been unbranded fuel and we re-opened branded as Cenex.

Q: What’s your management team’s approach to finding and retaining solid workers?

A: We don’t look to just hire ‘bodies.’ I would rather work 24/7 before I would just settle and hire a marginal worker. We search for quality workers—plus we also have a family-centric staff, where our son and his wife and our daughter work at Woody’s. All total, we have five full-time workers and a part-timer.

Q: How would you describe the clientele at the store?

A: This is a big farming community that also has some construction businesses. We also have a high school nearby, which means a lot of business comes from teachers and students. There’s also a lake across the street, so we bring in campers in the summer and ice fishermen during the winter—plus snowmobilers.

Q: How does the store differentiate itself in the local market?

A: Since we did the 2021 remodeling job, we have upped our daily sales and foot traffic even more—probably about 40%. We’re a one-stop shop for everything—bait and tackle to filling propane tanks. We’re a draw based on our reputation and the consistency we provide. You can go seven, eight miles in any direction before you find the nearest retail competitor.

Q: You were once skeptical about investing in pizza franchising—what changed your mind?

A: We had another pizza brand before we were approached by Hunt Brothers in 2015. The original program didn’t meet our expectations, but Hunt Brothers encouraged us to reconsider the investment. The company gave us the entire equipment package for nine days all free. It was insane as the program just took off. Now we sell an average of 350 pizzas a week across all dayparts, including breakfast. Pizza is 95% of our foodservice business, with 60% of it slices and 40% full pies. In the year since the renovation, we sell 100 more pizzas a week than previously. This year, we’re mulling introducing a chicken program.

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