The History of Woodman’s Markets
In 1919, John Daniel Woodman started a produce stand at the corner of Milton Ave. & Sherman Ave. in Janesville, Wisconsin. John and his family were farmers; they owned a farm between Clinton and Darien but sold it during World War I when land
prices skyrocketed. They moved to Janesville and bought a house at 728 Milton Ave.
John Woodman’s son, Willard John Woodman, was born in 1901 on the dining room table of his family’s farm. Growing up on the farm taught Willard from an early age that if he was going to be successful in life, he would have to work very hard and he did just that. Every morning and night Willard would milk the family’s 4 cows, then drive the milk down to Allen’s Grove Creamery with a team of horses before going to class in a one-room schoolhouse.
Before long Willard was working with his father at the newly formed family business, Woodman’s Grocery. In 1921, Willard and his father, John, moved the stand indoors and built a 580 square foot grocery store at 922 Milton Ave. They named it Woodman’s Super-Service Grocery Store. Willard gave his father $1600, his life savings at the time, to purchase half the company and help fund the project.
Over the next 10 years Willard diligently worked to make Woodman’s one of the best grocery stores in Janesville by offering their super service and striving to offer the best foods for the lowest prices. His efforts paid off and they remodeled the store 3 more times during the late 20’s and early 30’s, to keep up with the increase in customers.
In 1936, John died suddenly from surgical complications, leaving the family business to Willard. Willard at the young age of 26, owned 1 of 49 grocery stores in Janesville, WI. In 1938, Willard married Bunny Smith; they had 2 sons not long after, Dan and Willard (Phil), and a daughter Sarah. During the 40’s and early 50’s business was very good for Woodman’s and Willard decided to build a larger replacement store further down Milton Ave. He secured a loan and built an 11,000 sq ft store at 1266 Milton Ave, which opened in 1956. But instead of closing the old store, he decided to leave it open for his loyal customers.
In 1966, Phillip Woodman graduated from the University of Wisconsin and started taking on management responsibilities at Woodman’s. Growing up in the business and working since the age of 10, Phil was well aware of the fast pace and hard work he would have to put into his career choice. In 1971, Woodman’s expanded to Beloit, WI, buying two Zinke’s Grocery stores. The night before closing, the smaller of the two stores burns down leaving them with one great store in Beloit. At 18,000 sq ft. it is the largest store around, although small by today’s standard. In 1973, Woodman’s moves farther out Milton Ave to a larger building and eventually closes the smaller stores in Janesville.
In 1975 Woodman’s becomes the 1st store in Wisconsin to use scanners to read the new Universal Product Code, the bar codes that are ubiquitous in today’s market. In 1978 Woodman’s starts an Employee Stock Ownership Trust for their employees. In 1979, Phil decided to expand the company to Madison, and locate a store at the corner of Hwy. 51 and Milwaukee St. setting the stage for the 1st Superstore Woodman’s would build at 90,000 square feet. The first week it’s open, the closest competition, C&P, has their roof cave in from snow and never re-opens. The Madison store is a huge success for Phil and the employee owners, and still today is the flagship location of the 16-store chain. Five years later in 1984, Woodman’s opens an even bigger superstore on the west side of Madison. At 210,000 square feet, the store includes 2 levels and has a warehouse on the 1st level. The new store opens with a bang and puts Woodman’s over the $100 million a year mark.
In 1986, Woodman again moves the Janesville store to 2819 N. Lexington Dr, its current location, and sells the old location at 1518 Randolph Rd. to the United States Post Office. In 1989, Woodman’s plans stores for Appleton and Green Bay. The Appleton store opens in 1990, but Green Bay doesn’t get built until ten years later in 2000. Meanwhile, the company is now opening stores every 2-3 years and opens LaCrosse in 1994 and Kenosha in 1997. The Kenosha store at the corner of Hwy 50 and Interstate 94 is the largest grocery store in the United States at 252,345 square feet. In 1998 Phil Woodman sells a majority of the company to the employees, becoming a Sub-Chapter S company and 100% Employee Owned.
In 2001, Woodman’s opens their 1st store outside the state of Wisconsin in Rockford, IL. The store is a huge success for Woodman’s outside of their home state. So they opened 2 more stores in Illinois, one in Carpentersville (2004) and one in North Aurora (2006). In March 2008, Woodman’s opened a store just outside Milwaukee in Oak Creek, WI. The Oak Creek store was the best opening Woodman’s ever had and pushed the company to over $1 billion in annual sales. Planning soon began for a second Milwaukee area store in Menomonee Falls which opened in the fall of 2010.
Since Menomonee Falls opened in 2010, Woodman’s has opened new locations in Sun Prairie, WI (2012), Waukesha, WI (2013), and Altoona, WI (2015).