Walton’s expansion good news for backyard cooks

11/15/2012 6:33 AM

11/15/2012 6:35 AM

A company that does most of its sales through catalogs and the Internet just got a lot more retail friendly.

Walton’s, which sells meat-processing equipment and supplies nationwide, recently completed its move from Old Town to northeast Wichita. As part of the move, Walton’s opened a 5,000-square-foot showroom full of upscale grills and accessories, seasonings, sauces, hardwood charcoal and other goods for the home cook.

“Everybody who’s a meat eater has a grill in their backyard,” owner Brett Walton said of the thinking behind the new showroom, which is five times the size of the old one.

Walk-in business is actually a small part of the company’s business – about 2 percent, Walton said – and the showroom is just a small part of Walton’s expansion. When an addition is complete, the company’s warehouse space will have doubled to almost 50,000 square feet.

And those aren’t the only advantages to the new building, which formerly housed Wichita Technical College. Walton plans to use the old classrooms, equipped with desks and video equipment, for cooking classes and sales meetings with potential clients.

Walton’s father, Don, now retired, started the company in the family’s garage in 1986. Brett came aboard a decade later. And the business really took off after the company started issuing catalogs and selling over the Internet.

“Business continues to grow,” Walton said. “We’ve averaged 15 percent growth annually over the past 10 years.”

Walton’s sister, Stephanie Jennings, is the office manager; his wife, Sandy, designs the catalog; and their son, Austin, runs the website. The company changed its name from Mid-Western Research & Supply earlier this year. It currently employs 23 people.

About 85 percent of the company’s business is with commercial meat processors, called meat lockers. Walton’s does business with about 4,000 of them across the country.

“We don’t sell to Cargill. We sell to smaller guys like Yoder Meats, Stroot’s and Walnut Valley,” Walton said, mentioning area processors.

The rest of the business comes from home cooks and processors.

“It may be the guy who’s just grilling in his backyard, or the guy who goes out and shoots a deer and wants to make jerky,” he said.

Walton’s ships products to 25 or more states on any given day, and this is the busiest time of year because it’s hunting season.

Walton’s distributes several thousand products – meat slicers, gloves, sheep casings and jars of barbecue sauce provide a sense of the variety.

Walton said the company’s move represents a big investment, but he doesn’t sound worried.

“There’s a lot of market share – we’re a small player.”

A huge factor driving the company’s growth has been the popularity of TV cooking shows.

“It’s constantly changing. There’s this whole world out there making people try different flavors,” Walton said.

Asked what’s popular now, Walton said, “Chipotle anything.”

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