Mildred Store owners seek national inspiration

Loren and Regena Lance visited grocery stores on a road trip to a national grocery store summit in Alabama. They picked up ideas for success along the way, then came home for a motorcycle rally at the store.

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Local News

July 2, 2024 - 1:50 PM

The Mildred Store hosted a motorcycle rally Saturday, with a “rodeo” event that featured motorcycle-themed games such as a ring toss. Jennifer Lamb, left, watches as Audrey Plaster, on back of the motorcycle driven by Antonio Campos, tosses a ring onto a cone. All are from the Moran and Mildred areas. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

MILDRED — Driving to a national grocery conference in Alabama last month, Loren and Regena Lance stopped at several small grocery stores along the way. It’s an opportunity for the Lances to see how other communities address the same kind of challenges they encounter as owners of the Mildred Store.

“The best ideas come from others in the industry,” Regena Lance said.

When she walks into another store, Lance looks at how items are arranged. She wants to see which products are prominently displayed and why. She discovers new products. 

During this trip, Lance paid special attention to how stores in Alabama cater to hunters. She knows the Mildred Store and nearby communities attract several residents of north Alabama during deer hunting season. She plans to purchase a type of sausage local to Alabama, and bought both frozen and canned boiled peanuts. 

“We’ll have that available during deer season to give them a taste of home while they’re here,” she said.

THE LANCES attended the National Rural Grocery Summit June 23-25 in Montgomery, Ala. The conference was co-hosted by the Rural Grocery Initiative at Kansas State University and the Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn University. The Lances attended previous summits in Kansas, which have been held on a bi-annual basis.

“That’s where we go to get new insights and see what are the best practices at stores across the country. A lot of collaboration takes place,” Regena Lance said.

“This year was really cool. We toured one of the oldest grocery stores in Alabama. I thought it would be along the lines of our store but it’s not. It’s huge. It started out like ours but kept expanding. It’s a third-generation family running this store out in the middle of nowhere, but they were doing a booming business.”

Still, the store faced several of the same issues the Lances have battled on a regular basis: High cost of goods, a struggle to get supplies and a labor shortage. 

“No matter what size you are, the struggles are still the same,” Lance said.

They also toured Auburn University, which has a culinary institute and horticulture program that work together. The horticulture program provides fresh products for the culinary institute, which also has its own restaurant. 

Learning about those cooperative programs inspired Lance to reach out to local high school FFA programs. She’d like to partner with those students to obtain goods to sell at the Mildred Store. On Tuesday afternoon, she planned to travel to Uniontown to pick up sweet corn from an FFA student. 

At the conference, she also learned about grant opportunities that could benefit the store. 

AFTER THE Lances returned home, the Mildred Store had its first motorcycle rally on Saturday, June 29. More than 20 motorcyclists came and went throughout the day. The event included activities such as music from Casey Cook and Jake Riebel, and a “motorcycle rodeo” with activities such as a ring toss or seeing who could drive a motorcycle at the slowest speed between two lines. 

“It drew in a different crowd, which I was really pleased about,” Lance said. The store often has car shows and hosts arts and craft vendors. Those events tend to attract repeat visitors, so the Lances hoped to expand their reach. 

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