Even large companies benefit from a local focus.

You could call them cheese heads. Simon’s Specialty Cheese has over 70 years of experience selling quality cheese and related items into the crowded Wisconsin marketplace. Here, store manager Mary McCauley and vice president of technical services Mike Sipple discuss survival through a local focus and how to create an in-store shopping experience.

Simon's Specialty Cheese benefits from its established, longstanding brand in a sea of small, new farmstead-style operations.

Simon’s Specialty Cheese dates back to the 1940s, when Art Simon purchased a previously existing plant. Art’s son Dave took over from him, and right now, Dave’s sons, Doug and Chris, are involved in the business—Doug is the president of the US operation. So it’s still Simon-family led. Mike

We relaunched the retail end in 2000. Prior to the reopening, we did quite a bit of advertising in the local community, and a local radio personality was at the store via live remote for the grand opening. The talk-up for the new retail store was good. There was so much buzz. We’re in a small community here, and people were excited to see the larger store, that it was no longer just an extension of the plant. Since the store relaunch, we’ve consistently averaged over five percent annual growth. Mary

We are mainly a retail business. Less than 10 percent of that is Internet based. We’ve had a website since 2003, and revamped it towards the end of 2010. Our online business is continuing to grow; it’s a convenience that people can access 24 hours a day. A good proportion of our cheese we get from our plants. We also have a variety of other domestic as well as some imported cheeses, and we carry wine, beer, and gift items. Mary

Key to survival in this marketplace is offering good-value, quality cheese. We’re lucky to make many of our own cheeses, which differentiates us from other stores in the area. Also, we have a willingness to try new products, and when we get those new products in, we’re sampling them out to our guests. We offer samples every day in the store, and we also do the same with our own homemade fudge. We also help customers pair the cheese with wine and beer. Mary

5-YEAR PLAN

• Make shopping an
in-store experience,
to better stand out
from the grocery store
or ordering online

• Tap into the marketing potential offered by new media trends

• Stay relevant and remain what people are looking for in a cheese store

Our wine selection ranges from $9 up to $20. Mainly featuring Wisconsin wines. Wisconsin is known more for its cheese than its wine, but we try to keep a Wisconsin focus whenever we can. Seems to work. Mary

There are two answers to the question of how many plants we have. Our whole organization was purchased by Canada-based Agropur in 2008, and in total, we have 27 plants now as an organization. But within Wisconsin, we have three plants that we’re most closely associated with. Mike

We’re not ashamed that we’re part of a large organization, but in the gourmet-food marketplace, big is sometimes considered bad, so we focus more on our local ties. There have been some larger, mail-order-type cheese houses that have tried to dominate the Wisconsin cheese marketplace. But recently, smaller companies connected to the cheese maker type of operations seem to be what people are looking for. We provide that. Mike