Casey’s General Store surges into area
Iowa-based company buys 7 Tri-Par locations in region

By Brianna Stubler

Nov. 9, 2018

Traffic moves along East Washington Street near the Tri-Par gas station Thursday morning in Slinger. Casey’s General Store has bought out Tri-Par’s Qwik Stop locations including Slinger, West Bend, Newburg and Saukville.
John Ehlke/Daily News

WEST BEND — The fifth-largest pizza chain is opening new locations in Wisconsin, seven of which will be replacing Tri-Par gas stations throughout the region.

At the end of this month, Casey’s General Store will finalize a deal to bring in customers to Cedarburg, Hustisford, Newburg, Saukville, Random Lake, Slinger and West Bend with gas, groceries and pizza.

Steve Gall, co-owner and president of Tri-Par, said its locations will continue to be open and operate as Tri-Par gas stations until Nov. 26. Starting that day, two stores will close every day. On Nov. 29, all seven will be closed. Then, Casey’s ownership will be finalized and the reconstruction will begin. The company plans on starting the rebuilding process in February or March.

It was difficult for the Gall brothers to sell, but Steve said he and his brother were approached by three buyers, and took into consideration the industry and state of the economy in their decision to sell all seven locations.

Vice president of marketing Mike Richardson said Casey’s, an Iowa-based company, is always looking to expand within its 16-state area. The company purchases between 60 and 80 stores each year, and acquires existing locations to rebrand them, he said, so these seven new stores will join a growing chain.

Gall said there is a trend of larger corporations acquiring smaller businesses.

“The business is changing; there is a trend of losing local businesses to bigger chains. You see Walmart and Kwik Trips everywhere now,” Gall said. “With the bigger businesses, you aren’t dealing with the owners on a daily basis, so you lose that personal touch.”

 The Tri-Par at Western and Wauwatosa roads in Cedarburg is part of a business
that dates back to 1930.
Photo by Mark Justesen

This expansion of Casey’s continues the company’s growth in Wisconsin, which includes already a new store set to be constructed in Hartford.

“We’ve been in Wisconsin for a long time and always look for opportunities to expand,” Richardson said. “Sometimes it’s when opportunities come up, typically existing stores in pretty big corners. We’ve had good luck with purchasing stores that have good locations, and then remodeling them to what services we have to offer.”

There are many aspects that go into rebranding and reopening, but the acquisitions from Tri-Par will be remodeled and reopened as soon as possible, Richardson said. Casey’s has already received approval to buy and rebrand the gas stations, and will also be opening new stores in Hartford, Fredonia and other municipalities across Wisconsin.

“We’ve been in the western side of Wisconsin for quite some time and we’re now expanding into lots of places around Madison,” Richardson said. “As we searched the Milwaukee area we found locations and opportunities to purchase sites, which gave us a good opportunity to expand in that direction too.”

Pizza and fresh food items are some of Casey’s strengths Richardson highlighted, while Gall emphasized the family aspect of a small business.

“My family has been in the business for 88 years, and we really appreciate the support from the local communities,” Gall said. “I hope the local presence and for caring for the community is not lost.”

Richardson talked about the pros and cons of building versus acquiring, and why these six Tri-Par gas stations will soon become Casey’s General Stores.

“It really depends on each location — it’s preferential to buy versus build, but it’s always nice to have that shiny new store and have everything the same as it is in the large majority of the stores,” Richardson said.

It may be more costly to build a new store from the ground up, but acquired locations must have the space and capabilities for the fresh pizza and bakery items, so there are variables that affect the decision.

“If you talk to the communities, you’ll see that everyone certainly likes to get a brand new store,” Richardson said. “And then you know exactly what you’ve got there, that everything is working and under warranty.”

What it comes down to, he said, is the location and what is best for that specific community, which takes into account traffic going past an intersection and the number of residents.

“We have stores all the way from a town of 500 people up to places like our new store that we’re building in Indianapolis right now,” Richardson said. “As a company, 57 percent of all of our locations are in towns of less than 5,000 people. We seem to fit that niche pretty well.”

Tri-Par: An 88-year-tradition ends

What would become the local chain of Tri-Par convenience stores started in 1930 as a collaboration between three local businessmen: Herbert Gall, Clarence Gueller and Jack Klein. At the time, according to the Tri-Par website, none of the men wanted any of their names on a bill of lading for a train car of gasoline, so the German depot agent suggested using the German word for three, which is drei. The English equivalent was “tri” and “par” was added as a shortened version of “partner.”

After a year of business, the three men went their separate ways, but Gall kept the Tri-Par name as he sold fuel door-to-door in Ozaukee and Washington counties. In 1945, he opened an automobile shop in downtown Cedarburg and installed an automobile pump outside. He later bought property at the northwest corner of Washington and Western avenues and built his first stand-alone gas station in the early 1950s.

By the 1970s, and after adding additional locations and expanding his fuel delivery business, Gall sold the business to his sons. In 1986, Robert Gall bought the business from his brothers. Tri-Par had carved out a niche, though on a smaller scale, similar to that of Casey’s General Store: specializing in providing gasoline and convenience services to small communities.

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