Boelter Tests Pop-Up Shop on Wheels

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As the coronavirus shutters dining rooms across the country and restaurants struggle with what, in some cases, is an overnight shift to a pick-up and delivery model, Milwaukee-based restaurant supplier Boelter has deployed a mobile pop-up shop to help keep the supply lines open. 

 “We wanted to make it easier for them,” says Tara Benyousky, the company’s vice president of marketing and e-commerce, also noting that Boelter’s brick-and-mortar stores have will-call pick-up windows for non-retail customers.

The company’s been testing this experimental store-on-wheels concept at locations in Brookfield, Wis., and Milwaukee, and keeping customers updated online about additional future sites.

Open to those current non-retail customers – even those business that don’t have an existing account with Boelter – it sells paper towels, take-out containers, latex gloves, foil, cling film and other essentials. Benyousky says the top seller has been toilet paper. 

Respecting social-distancing guidelines, the transactions are virtually contactless, she says. Customers call ahead or just stop by, select what they need, then phone Boelter’s customer service team to give their payment information. 

Eric Boelter, co-owner of the company, told the Milwaukee Business Journal Boelter has seen an estimated 40% to 50% increase in sales of disposables and take-out material because of the shift to these channels after the shuttering of dining rooms in Wisconsin due to the coronavirus. Another factor increasing demand: as senior-living facilities ask residents to stay in their room, they're shifting from serving meals on china in a dining room setting to making room deliveries on disposables.

And while those increased sales will not balance out the loss of higher-ticket items, Boelter says that’s not really the point of the mobile store.

“We’re just trying to make sure we can be there for these immediate needs that our customers have during this really challenging time for them,” he told the journal.

"Typically, foodservice establishments need replacement refrigeration equipment, cooking equipment, upgrading their facilities,” Boelter said in the interview. “Those sorts of things they’re not doing right now, right? They’re watching cash. They’re looking for how is this latest relief bill that was passed in Washington going to be able to help them to survive. This is survival mode in our industry.”

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