Americans’ growing demand for convenience has created a profitable niche for a Winterset company.
As its tagline states, Merchandising Frontiers makes “products that turn space into profit” – carts and kiosks for the retail and food service industries.
Jerry and Janet Mayer founded Merchandising Frontiers in 1993 when they bought equipment owned by Ala-Cart, an Adel company that no longer was operating. The couple formerly worked for Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids before being transferred to southern California.
They decided they wanted to move back to the Midwest and become entrepreneurs. Jerry Mayer took a consulting job with Gateway while the couple researched markets and opportunities.
They saw potential when a business broker told them some of the assets of Ala-Cart were for sale.
Merchandising Frontiers moved into a new, 31,000-square-foot building in Winterset’s industrial park in 1994 and two years ago doubled its space.
The Mayer’s say their focus on customers and relentless pursuit of a solid reputation have helped build opportunities.
Products have ranged from a $1,000 merchandising unit to a $300,000 620-square-foot kiosk. The company also serves many types of clients.
One new major project is for Universal Studios, which selected Merchandising Frontiers to manufacture food service carts for a new theme park the company will open next year in Osaka, Japan. The contract is the company’s largest to date.
Schwan’s Sales Enterprises Inc., the Minnesota food service company, became a customer several years ago. Merchandising Frontiers produces kiosks for the Schwan’s Stone Willy’s Pizza, Summit Subs and Asian Creations units found at colleges and universities, hospitals and convenience stores.
The company has build kiosks for Wilson’s Leather, including four installed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and one at London’s Heathrow International Airport.
American consumers increasingly demand convenience, Jerry Mayer said. “Essentially, the old process used to be build retail outlets and expect people to come to you.
“The new concept is to build retail sales outlets where the people are.”
Typically that means building in existing facilities, which creates a high demand for temporary or movable structures like carts and kiosks.
Food service is the fastest growing segment of the business, partly because of the growth of brands, Mayer said. The Schwan’s product is an example of taking a branded concept into a non-traditional location like colleges and universities, he said.
Merchandising Frontiers faces the same kinds of demands for convenience as its clients and has added services and capabilities as customers have requested them.
Many carts and kiosks require extensive graphics and signs.
Companies in the food service industry need a lot of equipment for their carts or kiosks for baking or refrigeration. Merchandising Frontiers works with vendors to provide that equipment to eliminate extra steps for the client.
Merchandising Frontiers also will set up products on site, either by hiring a local crew supervised by an employee or sending its own crew from Winterset.
“We asked our customers what they wanted and then we provided the services,” Mayer said, “It’s like one-stop shopping.”
Merchandising Frontiers’ depth of service also makes the company unique in the industry, he said.
Mayer said the company has focused on building a solid reputation to help keep customers coming. He’s proud of the fact that the company has never missed a deadline even if that means loading a truck at 2 a.m.
Dan Fosvick, business projects manager for Schwan’s Food Systems in Marshall, Minn., appreciates the company’s ability to meet tight deadlines. And Merchandising Frontiers is willing to be flexible, he said.
Each location is a little bit different, so no two kiosks are built exactly the same, Fosvick said.
“Everybody down there takes a lot of pride in their work, and it shows,” he said.