Carrie Rengers

Nifty Nut House to expand into 10,000-square-foot retail center (+video)

Nifty Nut House owner Steve Jahn is expanding his popular downtown business into a larger building next to the existing store. (Jan. 18, 2016)
Nifty Nut House owner Steve Jahn is expanding his popular downtown business into a larger building next to the existing store. (Jan. 18, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

Steve Jahn still has Christmas on his mind.

The owner of the popular Nifty Nut House, which gets slammed during the holiday season, is expanding in downtown Wichita again. This time, Jahn is moving his business into a 10,000-square-foot building behind his existing 8,000 square feet over a couple of buildings at Elm and St. Francis.

His goal is to make future holiday seasons “as painless as possible for everybody.”

“People have to fight the crowd to get in deep, and then they have to fight to get out.”

When Jahn expanded in 2005, he says, he figured he’d never have to do it again. That’s what he thinks this time, too.

Then he pauses.

“I could see possibly one more.”

Jahn thinks this expansion could be enough for the next five to 10 years. In addition to the new space being larger, the entire space will be used for retail. The current space has a roaster and other operations in its 8,000 square feet.

There’s becoming something of a Nifty Nut compound with the new property, the existing buildings and a warehouse.

Jahn is the third generation to operate the business that his family founded in 1937. He says he wants to expand carefully.

“How do you do it to where you can operate at the velocity you have at Christmas and still be profitable through the year?” he says. “The common-sense business practice is don’t be any bigger than you need to.”

There’s opportunity with extra space, though.

“There’s always new products out there that people want,” Jahn says.

He says he can’t add new products right now without taking away proven ones.

“This will give us room to play a little more.”

That probably will mean more chocolate-covered nuts and expanded snack mixes.

“There’s a lot of those we could do.”

The new space likely will have a dedicated fudge counter, too. Jahn says he hopes to be able to show the fudge as it’s made as well.

The new retail space also will allow products to be displayed better, he says. That means bigger bins in some cases or islands throughout the store where customers can walk around the products.

Along with the new store, Jahn is upgrading his website, which he says has never been a big focus.

“We’re rethinking that,” he says. “It’ll be a far more integral part.”

The business got a nice boost last year with a visit from Food Network star Alton Brown and a positive mention in USA Today.

Jahn knows he could do more business with online sales if, as he puts it, he decides to join the 21st century.

Even with in-store and online improvements, Jahn says he wants to keep the same simple, utilitarian Nifty Nut feel.

He says if he goes too far, that could lead to a false perception of higher prices.

“I don’t want to get too far off our proven path,” Jahn says. “We want to improve ourself, but we don’t want to shoot our foot off by getting too fancy.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers

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