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Standing the test of time

Krueger’s True Value is older than the City of Neenah itself

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September 8, 2022

NEENAH – Looking back, Brian Webb said he still remembers when he was in kindergarten and his teacher asked the students what they wanted to do when they grew up.

“I said, ‘I want to work at Krueger’s,’” Webb said. “That was always my answer. I liked the atmosphere and liked the people who worked for the company. I was always a social person and looked up to my father.”

Founded in 1866 by Webb’s great-great grandfather – William Krueger, a German immigrant – Krueger’s True Value, located at 999 Winneconne Ave. in Neenah, has been on the map longer than the city itself has.

At the time, Neenah was known as the village of Winnebago Rapids and wasn’t incorporated into a city until 1873.

All in the family
In the 1880s, Webb said William Krueger Co., as the store was formally known, was one of five hardware stores on the 100 block of West Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Neenah.

Started by Webb’s great-great-grandfather William Krueger, the store has been handed down generations, with Webb, and his brother Jim, now at the helm.

Though Brian and Jim both earned college degrees (physical anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and theater from UW-Milwaukee, respectively), they chose to make owning and operating Krueger’s True Value their careers – following in a long line of family members to do so.

Not a franchise
Though True Value is a nationally-known corporation, Brian Webb said its stores are not franchises, nor are they corporate-owned.

“True Value remains made up of independently-owned retail hardware stores,” he said. “We joined the cooperative in 1951. True Value is our primary supplier of merchandise in our core departments, but not our exclusive supplier. We use them for our loyalty program, marketing, advertising, flyers, etc.”

Webb said his brother Jim started working full time at the store in 1972, and he came on board in 1980.

“My brother and I had the fortune to spend a great deal of our career working with our father,” he said. “He was here almost every day until he died at the age of 89. This was his social outlet.”

Webb said the store has been located at its current location since 1972, which at the time was occupied by two other tenants.

He said in 1987, they bought the building and took over the entire space.

With the addition of a lumber drive-thru, Webb said the facility is now more than 55,000 square feet.

More than a hardware store
Though some may label Krueger’s True Value as just a hardware store, Webb said it’s more in the home improvement and home maintenance space.

“Our core departments are hardware, paint, electrical, plumbing, tools, lawn and garden and housewares,” he said. “We’re (also) in equipment and tool rental and we’re an agent for U-Haul as well.”

Webb said the seasonal department is the largest in terms of its footprint and sales revenue.

“We carry power equipment year-round,” he said. “During the warm-weather months, we have fertilizer, cow manure, top soil, push lawn mowers and riding lawn mowers, plus nursery stock — perennials, annuals and some shrubs.”

Webb said during the winter holiday season, they switch gears and sell artificial and fresh-cut trees.

“In the winter, we feature shovels, snowblowers and Ice Melt,” he said. “In addition, we have a separate building in the back where we do small-engine repairs.”

Webb said he and his brother are hands-on owners and both work full-time at the store.

“We have 40-50 people on staff, including Jim’s son and daughter, who are now the sixth generation in the family to make their careers at Krueger’s True Value,” he said.

Despite competition from big box stores and e-commerce, Webb said customers continue to flock to their small business. 
“What still drives customers to our store is convenience,” he said. “You can get something now – you don’t have to wait for it, especially if it’s an immediate-repair need.”

Webb said another advantage is the store’s breadth of merchandise.

“A typical hardware store has many more individual SKUs (stock keeping units) than even big-box retailers, because we have the hard-to-find items,” he said. “We also offer services that Amazon and big-box retailers don’t. We’re making keys and sell chain, cable and electrical wire by the foot. We sell birdseed and grass seed by the pound. You can get your window screens repaired here. You can get your small engine repaired on the premises by a trained technician. And you can get custom-mixed paint in probably 5,000 different colors while you wait. You can rent equipment here for a single use so that you don’t have to buy it.”

Webb said his staff has the expertise to help any customer.

“We hire people aged 15 to 75, and we spend an extraordinary amount of time training them so they can be helpful to our consumers,” he said. “One of our best resources are retirees (coming from other fields). They have a lifetime of experience, and they are valuable to us. Many of them say it’s the best job they’ve ever had.”
Webb said running a business seven days a week is a lot of work, but it’s fun.

“We still enjoy the day-to-day,” he said. “It has its challenges and frustrations, but most of us genuinely enjoy coming here. Mostly, it’s because we get to visit with people. We have a lot of repeat customers. I love the interactions with customers.”

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