Roger Gildehaus didn’t go to college, at least not in the conventional sense, but he has found more success in business than he ever could have imagined.
As founder and owner of Macadoodles, a fine wine, spirits and beer retailer based in Pineville, Mo., Gildehaus, a 1972 graduate of Union High School who lives in Bentonville, Ark., has received numerous industry awards, including Retailer of the Year (2016) and Merchandiser of the Year (2012) from Market Watch, an industry publication.
Earlier this year, he was featured on the cover of the January/February issue of Beverage Dynamics, another industry magazine, in a story titled “A Champion for Customer Service.”
Gildehaus is quick to credit Sam Walton for teaching him everything he knows about merchandising and the retail business. He spent 25 years with Walmart, working his way up from assistant manager to a vice president by the time he was 26 — a sort of “Sam Walton University.”
But the foundation for all of that success was laid early, in the work ethic Gildehaus learned from his parents, Walter and Velma (Klenke) Gildehaus, and honed in early jobs he held around Union and Washington.
Showed Responsibility From Young Age
Gildehaus was in grade school when he took his first job, delivering newspapers door-to-door. As one of nine children in his family, Gildehaus was eager to start making a little spending money, and he showed a strong sense of responsibility, despite his young age.
He took a job running the local laundromat when he was only in the sixth or seventh grade. The county sheriff was the owner, and he gave Gildehaus the keys so he could manage it.
“I emptied the machines, brought the money by his house, refilled soap machines and did all that kind of stuff,” said Gildehaus.
At the same time, he also worked shining shoes for customers at two barbershops in Union.
“They would call me when someone wanted a shoe shine, so I’d get on my bicycle and it would take me about two minutes to get to downtown Union, and I’d go in and shine shoes,” said Gildehaus.
He was a sophomore in high school when he went to work at the A&W restaurant in Union.
“The owner threw me the keys one day and said, ‘You’re going to manage this for me,’ ” said Gildehaus, which he did until his senior year.
When he needed to make a little extra money to cover the cost of going on the school’s senior trip, Gildehaus took a second job working the night shift at a shoe factory in Union.
“I worked at DQ from after school until 10:30 or 11 p.m. Then I’d go to work at the shoe company from midnight until 5 a.m. Then I’d go home and sleep for two hours before I went to school,” said Gildehaus. “I did that for like three months just trying to save up money to go on the senior class trip.”
‘Natural Talent for Retail’
Gildehaus’ first job in retail was with a discount store in Washington called Mohr-Value, which was a division of Wetterau Foods in St. Louis. He started out unloading trucks and hauling freight before being promoted to manager of the electronics department.
After 1 1/2 years, the store manager called him into the office to say he wanted Gildehaus to quit Mohr-Value — not because his job performance was that poor, but because it was that good.
“He said, ‘I really think you have a natural talent for retail, and I’d like to set you up for an interview with a company called Walmart,’ ” Gildehaus recalled. “I’d never heard of Walmart before that. They didn’t have any stores up around the Union area. They were in Arkansas and Oklahoma at the time.”
Gildehaus trusted his boss’ instinct, so he took him up on the offer and headed to Bentonville, Ark., for a job interview with Walmart.
“It was my first time ever to go out of state by myself,” said Gildehaus. “I had no idea where Bentonville, Ark., was, so I pulled out an atlas and found my way down there.”
The interview lasted a couple of hours, and a couple of weeks later Gildehaus got a call offering him a job as an assistant manager of a new 50,000-square-foot Walmart store opening in Festus.
“I jumped at the opportunity,” said Gildehaus, noting he was not quite 21 yet.
From that point, Gilehaus continued to impress the Walmart executives and was transferred to a number of stores — Sikeston to Sullivan to Humboldt, Tenn., to Greenville, Miss. He was just 23 years old when Walmart offered him a chance to run his own store in Coffeyville, Kan.
“It was a really old building, an old grocery store that Sam Walton had bought out and converted to a Walmart store,” Gildehaus recalled. “It wasn’t really in good shape, so they challenged me to get the store cleaned up and run it the way it’s supposed to be run.”
A little more than two years later, Gildehaus received a call from Sam Walton’s secretary asking him to come to Walton’s house the next week for a meeting. Despite doing well at the store, Gildehaus feared he was being fired. But it was quite the opposite.
When Gildehaus arrived at Walton’s house and was shown into the meeting room, he found 15 or so people gathered around a table covered with blueprints. Walton hadn’t seen him enter, so he stayed in the background.
“I’m pretty nervous, but all of a sudden, Mr. Sam sees me and says, ‘Roger, when did you get here? Hey everybody, I want to introduce you to Roger Gildehaus, he’s going to be the one to run this store.’ My eyes probably got as big as melons,” said Gildehaus.
The new store was going to be totally different from anything Walmart had ever done before, and Gildehaus was up to the challenge. Plus, when Mr. Sam asks, you don’t say no, he remarked.
The new store opened in Pine Bluff, Ark., in 1978, and its grand opening set Walmart sales records. For two weeks after that, Walton called Gildehaus every night to ask about the day’s sales.
“He’d ask me about the departments, what was selling best,” said Gildehaus. “I had (executives) visiting that store pretty much every day, because it was such a high-profile store.”
Climbing Corporate Ladder
Gildehaus’ performance continued to turn Walmart heads, and after just one year at the new store, he got a call from the executive vice president of merchandising in Bentonville offering him a job as a toy buyer.
“I’m still young and single, and I’m thinking, why does he want me to be a toy buyer,” said Gildehaus, “but I didn’t ask questions. I said, ‘Yes, sir. I’ll take the challenge.’ ”
Again he quickly moved through the ranks, becoming senior toy buyer, then vice president divisional merchandise manager.
“I believe I was 26 years old,” said Gildehaus, noting at that point he was the youngest person to be promoted to an officer for Walmart.
Several years later and after spending two years in Amarillo, Texas, working for Walmart’s music, book and video distributor, Gildehaus was presented with his newest challenge: merchandising for the international division.
His job was vice president of general merchandise management for all of the hardlines in all of the stores outside the United States. When he took the job, there were just two international stores, one in Mexico City and one in Puerto Rico. But 4 1/2 years later, it was thousands, and Gildehaus, who was married with young children by this time, was traveling extensively between 13 countries around the world.
“I went from Asia to Germany to the farthest point on South America,” said Gildehaus, noting he traveled so much that he had two passports that customs stapled together.
After one trip that ended up keeping him out of the country for five weeks, Gildehaus decided he’d had enough.
“We flew to Canada to visit the merchandising division, then went to Frankfurt, Germany, and the final stop was to Buenos Aires, Argentina,” Gildehaus recalled. “We’d been out three weeks at this point, and I had a team of buyers traveling with me. Then I got a call from my boss in Bentonville saying, ‘We have problems in Brazil. You’re close. I need you to take the team and go there.’ We were there four or five days and ready to go home to our families, when I got the same call. ‘We have problems in Mexico City, stop there on the way home.’
“That weekend, I told my wife, I think I’m going to go in Monday and write my letter of resignation. I’ve been there 25 years. This travel is wearing me out,” said Gildehaus.
He had his secretary calculate the number of days he’d been out of the country that year. It was only mid-July, and he’d been away from home 72 percent of the days.
“My youngest daughter was 7 at the time, and I was the absentee dad because I was gone out of the country for the last five years, basically,” said Gildehaus.
He was just 44 or 45 years old, and Rob Walton tried to tell him he was too young to retire, but Gildehaus was eager to spend uninterrupted time with his family. Walton presented Gildehaus with a hardcover copy of his father’s autobiography that he had written before he died.
“That really meant something to me,” said Gildehaus. “Rob said, ‘Roger, You were always Dad’s maverick. That’s why Dad always looked to you for challenges that needed to be attacked.’ ”
Experience Inspires Entrepreneurial Spirit
About a year before he retired from Walmart, Gildehaus put his many years of retail and merchandising experience to use by going into business for himself.
The county where he lived was dry at that time, meaning you could drink beer or wine, but stores there couldn’t sell it. With the Missouri state line just a 15-minute drive, most people, including Gildehaus, drove to Missouri to purchase the wine, beer and spirits.
“There were like seven liquor stores there at the state line, and all were very junky, very cluttered and offered no service of any kind,” said Gildehaus.
“I grew up with Sam Walton as my mentor, and I learned the values of customer service from him. For years, when I would leave those liquor stores I would tell myself, ‘Roger, you just need to open a liquor store down here and do it the way that Mr. Sam taught you how to do business.’ ”
And in August 1997, he did.
Gildehaus purchased an old antique store building on 4 1/2 acres in Pineville, Mo., and began designing the first Macadoodles liquor store. It was 6,000 square feet, which was larger than any other store around, and it prided itself on service.
“My philosophy was then and still is, we will provide you the best overall assortment of wine, spirits and craft beer in the area . . . we will provide you all of that at very competitive prices . . . and we will give you service beyond your expectations,” said Gildehaus. “That’s what I built my business philosophy on. Which was really nothing different from Sam Walton’s philosophy.”
Gildehaus hadn’t retired from Walmart yet, so he hired his brother-in-law to run the liquor store. Within two years, he made some key improvements — adding an eight-pump gas station, an underground wine cellar and a wine room on the main floor, taking the wine space from 850 square feet to 4,500.
“People just went crazy over it,” said Gildehaus. “Business took off like a rocket. We became the highest volume single liquor store in the state of Missouri after only three or four years.”
Macadoodles had been open around eight years when Walmart took notice and opened a 200,000-square-foot Supercenter across the street with a 10,000-square-foot liquor store on the corner.
That didn’t slow down Macadoodles business one bit, said Gildehaus.
Customer Service Begins on Parking Lot
Customer service is key to the Macadoodles success, said Gildehaus, noting that’s what he learned from Sam Walton.
“To me customer service begins on the parking lot. It better be clean, because if it’s not, you’re creating a bad first impression,” said Gildehaus. “When they walk through the door, they need to be greeted, sincerely. Create that friendly atmosphere as soon as they walk through the door. Then we have people approach customers on the sales floor, ‘Are you finding everything OK? Can I help you with anything?’
“We have a tasting bar for beer and spirits, with free tastings. In the wine room we have a wine tasting bar where customers can try lots of new wines before they buy them, and people love that,” said Gildehaus. “Then at the checkout, my philosophy has always been, ‘A customer is never second in line unless we have all eight registers running,’ and for anyone buying more than a 12-pack of beer, someone will carry that out for you and load it safely in your car.”
Customers were impressed and it showed in Macadoodles sales receipts. It’s an old-fashioned approach to sales, said Gildehaus, but it works.
At the gas station, Macadoodles Shell, there is an attendant who offers to wash everyone’s windshield, compliments of Macadoodles. Inside the stores, there’s free coffee, free popcorn, and in the wine room, they pour a glass for customers to carry around while they shop the assortment.
The design of the stores (there are now eight Macadoodles across Missouri and Arkansas) is rustic and welcoming, said Gildehaus.
“It not steel with big glass. It’s wood and wood posts, so it has a warm feel,” Gildehaus said.
Inside, the spirits and beer sections have a down-to-earth, fun feel to them. Gildehaus even goes so far as to customize the music play list to reflect that.
“We play country western and some pop,” he said. “It’s all fun and lively.”
Things are different in the wine room. The rustic look is transitioned to an upscale appearance.
“We have a beautiful dome that rises up to the roof. That’s in most of our stores nowadays, and it’s beautiful,” said Gildehaus. “It’s an upscale look, but we also have the cheapest wine anybody could have. We also have wine that’s a couple thousand dollars a bottle, so we cater both to low-end and high-end consumers.”
Top Industry Awards
Macadoodles has received three awards from Market Watch, beginning in 2006, when the magazine named Macadoodles one of the top retail leaders.
“Their feedback from the wine and spirits industry was that Macadoodles was doing unbelievable business and customers rave about them,” said Gildehaus. “So we went to New York City in September 2006, and we were one of seven companies that year to receive the Market Watch Leader Award. I was pretty proud of that.”
In 2012, the magazine invited Gildehaus to Washington, D.C., to accept its Merchandiser of Year Award.
“I was so proud of that because that’s what Sam Walton was always teaching us at Walmart. We have to be merchants,” said Gildehaus. “Anybody can be a shopkeeper. Anyone can unlock a door and say we’re open. But you’ve got to be a good merchant if you’re going to succeed.
“And when the liquor industry said, ‘Roger, you’re the best merchandiser of the year in the liquor industry,’ I was like, wow! That’s incredible. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Four years later, Gildehaus was again in the spotlight for Market Watch’s highest honor, Retailer of the Year.
Seven Franchise Stores
Macadoodles hadn’t been open for too many years when the liquor vendors began suggesting to Gildehaus that he expand the business and open more locations, but he wasn’t interested.
“The reason I retired at 45 was to not have to be on the road, and if I opened more stores myself, I’d be on road again,” he said.
But starting a Macadoodles franchise would be different. He wouldn’t own the stores, only the brand, and that wouldn’t require the same kind of oversight.
It took about four years for Gildehaus to put together an agreement, and it wasn’t long after that before people stepped forward wanting to buy a franchise. Today there are eight Macadoodles stores — the original in Pineville, Mo., and seven franchise stores in Joplin, Branson, Columbia, Republic, Springfield and North Springfield in Missouri, and Springdale, Ark.
Gildehaus’ brother works for him, traveling to the franchise stores almost every week to make sure standards are being met.
Over the years, there have been a couple of times people approached Gildehaus about opening a Macadoodles franchise in Franklin County, but so far that hasn’t worked out.
“I would love to have one out there,” said Gildehaus.