Harter House is a House United

Brad Bettlach, owner of Harter House’s Strafford store and manager of the Kimberling City location, is stepping into leadership and bringing three generations’ worth of family wisdom and dedication to service with him.

By Claire Porter | Photos by Brandon Alms

Jan 2016

Harter House is a House United

“How may I help you?” is Brad Bettlach’s motto. After working his entire life for Harter House, the supermarket chain his grandparents Jerry and Barbara Bettlach founded in 1973, he is now the owner of one of six Harter House locations. Although he’s figured out a thing or two about the attitude it takes to climb to the top, the biggest challenge Bettlach faces is holding his store at the high standard customers expect from the retail grocery company.

With an empire spanning 417-land, Harter House is built upon generations of owners from the Bettlach family. Three of Jerry and Barbara’s children still work in and own the stores—Michelle Kauffman at the Republic location, Kathy Richards and her husband Randy at the Eastgate location, and Bettlach’s parents Butch and Lisa Bettlach at the Kimberling City location. Bettlach says 16 cousins, spouses and children also work throughout the company. Bettlach’s father Butch has been working in Harter House since he was a child. “He was a retail grocer from 8 years old,” Bettlach says. “As soon as he was old enough to do math he said, ‘I’ll sell groceries.’”

1.Shopping carts are always lined up neatly in the Strafford Harter House thanks to the supervision of a management team that prides itself on always being present. 
2. The Strafford Harter House is one of six locations across 417-land. 
3. Even with growing pains, Bettlach never sacrifices the quality of food he sells. 

Like his father, Bettlach worked in his family’s stores growing up, with his first jobs being sweeping floors and washing dishes. There was a time when he wanted to leave the business, but he ultimately realized his true calling was at Harter House. “You just have to decide what you enjoy doing,” Bettlach says. For him, that enjoyment came from working with people, and he loved that the job is never done. “It doesn’t matter how good of shape you’re in, there’s always work to do,” he says.

“It’s doing the right thing, and the right thing is ‘How may I help you?’” —Brad Bettlach, owner of Harter House’s Strafford Location

There’s also plenty of room for improvement. “My dad told me I was doing it wrong so many times, I had no choice but to do it right,” Bettlach says. To him, that’s the plus side of working for your parents. They want you to succeed no matter what, he says, so they’re going to tell you what they think is right in order to teach you to be better. Fortunately for Bettlach, the advice worked out. Three years ago he went from co-owning the Strafford and Nixa stores with his parents and brother to now becoming the full owner of the Strafford location and managing the Kimberling City location. Bettlach worked in every position in the store and learned each department inside and out. Understanding the business’s every aspect based on personal, first-hand experience is the key to the company’s success. “That’s Harter House’s motto: We’re there,” Bettlach says, meaning owners and managers are “between the walls,” or working alongside employees within the stores every day. On any given day you can call a Harter House location and expect to speak to an owner or manager as they walk the aisles, work the meat counter or greet customers. That constant presence and ability to address problems in person as they arise is crucial to furthering the company’s vast and rapid growth while maintaining the high quality the brand is known for. “That’s going to be one of our toughest challenges, growing that way and keeping that quality where it needs to be,” Bettlach says. “It’s proven to be very challenging to not be between the walls and still get it done right.”

Guarding the company’s reputation means Bettlach has to proceed with caution when exploring new ventures. Possible opportunities on the horizon include GMO-free eggs and chicken and organic beef, but the product has to live up to the company’s rigorous standards. “As long as you don’t change the quality [of your products] or your standards, customers will keep coming,” Bettlach says. For him alone, that’s easy thanks to a steady stream of role models including his parents and grandparents. However, according to Bettlach, trying to get the next 40 people you supervise on board with your vision is a nerve-wracking—but exciting—challenge. As a business owner figuring out how to tackle that challenge, Bettlach says it ultimately comes down to if you’re personally ready to deal with the stress and nervousness head-on. When you work with family, it becomes even more important to keep that stress out of your relationships. Bettlach’s strategy for making the employee–family member dynamic work is professionalism. “It’s doing the right thing, and the right thing is ‘How may I help you?’” he says. That attitude extends to co-worker and family relationships as well.

The family-wide support team will prove useful when Bettlach starts to grow to another two or three locations in the next three to five years, and fortunately for him, he won’t have to look far for his first employees. His 14-year-old daughter, Ayshia, is already asking what she can do to get involved, making her the most eager representative of generation four to jump into the game.

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