July 17, 2013

Liebels end 43-year ownership of Jack & Jill

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

After 43 years with the Liebel family, Liebel’s Jack & Jill has switched hands. As of June 27, the Watford City grocery store, once known as the Piggly Wiggly, ceased to be owned by Bill and Lonnie Liebel, and started under the new ownership of Ken Jedneak, a Minneapolis businessman.
Liebel’s Jack & Jill took on its name in the early ’80s, but the Liebel family’s association with the store began long before that.
“My dad, Earl, and his partner bought the store in 1970 from Mervin Johnson,” states Bill. “That same year our family moved to Watford City.”
According to Bill, his father expanded the store in 1975, doubling its selling area.
In the early ’80s, Bill and Lonnie began working in the family business, Lonnie in 1981 and Bill in 1982. It was also around that time that Bill and Lonnie began buying out their father’s business partner, initiating their ownership in Liebel’s Jack & Jill.
Slowly, Bill and Lonnie began acquiring more and more shares in the store, first from their father’s partner, then from their father, until it eventually became theirs.
“It was always a family business though, even after we bought dad out,” states Bill. “Both dad and mom, Verena, worked here for many years.”
Purchasing the Piggly Wiggly and moving to Watford City became a good move for both of the Liebel children. Not just for the business they would come to own, but for the community in which they would do business and raise their children.
“Watford City has been a great community to live in and raise a family,” states Bill. “We are very appreciative of the community support we have received throughout the years. Anyone can open a business, but without community support, they will not get anywhere.”
From the very beginning Bill states that his father taught he and Lonnie to invest in and give back to the community. And since taking ownership in the store, they have tried to continue that tradition.
“We have supported the McKenzie County Fair, as well as 4-H beef sales, sporting events and many different things throughout the years,” states Bill. “There were even times where dad honored a student for their academic achievements. And he taught us to look for and do those types of things ourselves.”
“It’s not just about sports. Young people in the community are very important, because they are the ones that stay and get involved as they get older,” states Bill.
While the Liebels have loved giving back to the community, one surprising aspect of doing business in the oil boom is how much the oil industry newcomers have given back to them.
“There is a lot of negative out there, and the oil growth has brought many growing pains to the area. But many people don’t realize how much we have come to appreciate the people that some people are bad-mouthing,” states Bill.
Bill recounts time after time where people had left the store and came back in to settle up because the cashier had either undercharged them or forgotten to ring up items.
“One time in particular, a man came to me and told me that he had just gotten $60 out of the ATM, and it gave him $120 instead,” states Bill. “He didn’t have to come back. He could have left and no one would have known, but he didn’t. That one still shocks me when I think of it. I’m not sure that there are many people that would have done that.”
Bill states that he has found that when the store is busy and short-handed is when those who are new to the area and here for work seem to shine.
In 2002, Bill and Lonnie took a serious look at their lives and their business, where they were and where they wanted to be. In the evaluating process, they made the decision to put their business up for sale.
“We decided that when Lonnie turned 60, we wanted to be able to retire,” states Bill. So they set in motion a plan to make that happen.
Part of their plan was the eventual sale of Liebel’s Jack & Jill, which is why they have had the store up for sale for the past three years.
“It takes about two to three years to sell a store like ours,” states Bill. “But when the boom came, Lonnie and I thought we might be able to retire sooner than we thought, so we put the store up for sale about three years ago.”
Bill states that he and Lonnie went through a long line of potential prospects before Jedneak found them. But it was Jedneak’s business experience in combination with the success of the Liebels’ store that ultimately made the sale go through.
“Ken has vast experience in the grocery and convenience store industry,” states Tom Omeara, part of Jedneak’s management team. “But the biggest reason we are here is the way the Liebels have run the store and the success of their business.”
Both Omeara and Jedneak were impressed with the success of the Liebel Jack & Jill grocery store. And, because of that success, they plan to maintain the operation that Bill and Lonnie set in place.
“Nothing is changing with the operation of the store,” states Omeara. “We think the Liebels have done a good job over the years and we are committed to continuing that level of customer service.”
Jedneak and Omeara plan to keep the Jack & Jill name, the store’s current employees and the store’s current hours of operation. And, Melissa Dornfeld, a faithful member of the current Jack & Jill team and the Watford City community, will take over as store manager.
Omeara states that it is his and Jedneak’s goal to continue to meet the needs of Jack & Jill customers. “We want to continue to provide the right mix of products, while doing it in the right way, by providing good customer service as well.”