Inside Menards, the billionaire-owned Midwest home improvement chain

Menards is a Midwestern home-improvement chain.
Talia Lakritz/Business Insider

  • Menards home-improvement stores earned John Menard Jr. his $22.2 billion fortune.
  • The Midwest chain is different from other stores, with mail-in rebates and no installation services.
  • I visited a Menards in Milwaukee and was surprised by its size and enormous selection.

If you’ve spent any time in the Midwest, chances are the “Save big money at Menards” jingle is permanently embedded in your brain.

Menards, the home-improvement chain founded by John Menard Jr., is known for its discounted prices, mail-in rebates, and quirky Midwestern charm. The company helped Menard Jr. achieve billionaire status with a net worth of $22.2 billion, according to Forbes, making him the richest person in the state of Wisconsin.

Last year, Menards earned $13.4 billion in revenue, Forbes reported, making it the third-largest home-improvement chain in the US behind Home Depot and Lowe’s.

During a trip to my hometown in Wisconsin in May, I accompanied my dad, a frequent Menards shopper, on one of his trips to see what has made it such a successful business.

As the founder of home-improvement retailer Menards, John Menard Jr. is Wisconsin’s richest billionaire with a net worth of $22.2 billion.

John Menard Jr.
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Menard Jr. is the 89th richest person in the world, Forbes reported.

After spending a summer constructing pole buildings to put himself through college at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, he started a construction company in 1958, according to Menards‘ official website. That led him to the building-materials business, and he opened the first Menards retail location in 1964.

Now with over 300 locations across 15 Midwestern states, the chain sells a wide variety of home-improvement tools and building materials as well as appliances, lighting, furniture, and groceries.

Menard Jr. is a controversial figure known for his frugality and iron-handed management style. A 2007 Milwaukee magazine profile reported that managers are fined $100 for every minute a store opens late, and Forbes reports that even top executives are still required to clock in.

In 1997, Menard Jr. was fined over $1.5 million and pleaded no contest to charges regarding illegal hazardous waste disposal. Prosecutors alleged he used his personal pickup truck to take dangerous chemicals from the business to deposit them in his household trash, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Menards paid another $2 million in 2005 for violating state water-pollution laws in Wisconsin.

His personal conduct has also come under scrutiny with a 2013 lawsuit alleging he pressured the wife of one of his business partners to have sex with him and fired her husband when she refused. Menard Jr. denied any inappropriate conduct, his attorney told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Menard Jr. is also an avid race-car enthusiast, sponsoring Menards race cars at NASCAR and IndyCar events.

I visited a Menards store in Milwaukee for the first time.

Menards is a Midwestern home-improvement chain.
Talia Lakritz/Business Insider

The Menards store I visited in Milwaukee’s Northridge neighborhood spans a whopping 162,300 square feet, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

In the parking lot, Menards pickup trucks were available to rent to bring home large purchases.

A pickup truck available for rent at Menards.
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The pickup trucks cost $18.95 for the first 75 minutes, $6 for each additional 15 minutes, and 50 cents for each mile driven, according to the Menards website.

I was surprised to find one-way gates at the entrance to help prevent theft.

The entrance to Menards.
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Most stores I visit in the Midwest don’t have extensive security measures. When I compared shopping at Target in New York City and Wisconsin, I found the New York location featured “secured shelves” and locked cases, while even limited-supply items were kept on open shelves in the Midwest.

Menard Jr. is known to be serious about anti-theft measures. He set a policy that store managers cannot build their own houses to prevent them from stealing supplies, Milwaukee magazine reported.

Walking in, I was immediately shocked by how large the store was.

Aisles at Menards.
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The aisles seemed to go on forever.

Our first stop was the grocery section, which sold snacks, beverages, and other basics.

The grocery section at Menards.
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Menards didn’t have a produce section, but it did have a refrigerated section with gallons of milk and frozen food.

Grocery items at Menards were significantly cheaper than local grocery chains.

Shopping for cereal at Menards.
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For example, a family-size box of Honey Bunches of Oats cost $4.93 at Menards. At Metro Market, a Midwestern grocery chain, the same box cost $6.29. I see why my dad swears by it.

I came across some unique products I’d never seen before, like Hydrox sandwich cookies.

Snacks at Menards.
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Oreos were created as an imitation of Hydrox cookies but eventually superseded them in popularity, making Hydrox look like the knockoff. I’d never even heard of Hydrox cookies until I saw them at Menards.

Menard Jr.’s involvement in racing was evident in the packaging of the locally brewed Sprecher root beer.

Sprecher root beer at Menards.
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The root beer was labeled as the official craft soda of the Automobile Racing Club of America’s Menards Series. A 24-pack cost $19.99.

The lighting section glowed with lightbulbs, chandeliers, and other fixtures.

The lighting section at Menards.
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The items also featured QR codes to scan for online shopping.

Counters, cabinets, and bathroom vanities looked ready to install.

Bathroom vanities at Menards.
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Unlike other home-improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s, Menards doesn’t offer installation services. Instead, it directs customers to local service providers so the store doesn’t act as a competitor to the contractors who shop there.

The lumberyard was big enough for multiple semi-trucks to load up on supplies.

The lumberyard at Menards.
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Milwaukee magazine reported that Menard Jr. used to recycle wood scraps and heat stores with the leftovers.

The outdoor-living section sold an impressive array of furniture.

Outdoor items at Menards.
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The section also included grills, gazebos, and swing sets.

With spring arriving, the garden center was in full bloom.

The garden center at Menards.
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The gardening section sold potted plants as well as seeds, soil, outdoor decor, and gardening tools.

Menards had a little bit of everything, including shelves of “As Seen On TV” products.

An “As Seen On TV” section at Menards.
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The section featured Mike Lindell‘s MyPillow, Ped Egg callus removers, and portable handheld fans, among other items.

It even sold its own swag.

Menards swag.
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I could see how Menards, a family-owned Midwestern brand, would inspire the kind of loyalty that would make people want to wear its hats.

Another characteristic of shopping at Menards is its mail-in rebate.

A Menards rebate form.
Talia Lakritz/Business Insider

On the day I visited, Menards was offering an 11% rebate in the form of a merchandise credit check if you mailed in a receipt and a completed form. The rebate percentage fluctuates, but the system is a hallmark of the Menards shopping experience and helps keep its prices even lower.

While I’m not a DIY-er myself, I was impressed by Menards’ low prices, huge stock, and unique policies.

Outside Menards.
Talia Lakritz/Business Insider

Even long after I left the store, I couldn’t get the “Save big money at Menards” jingle out of my head.

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