Decades ago, the parents of Kenny Cross bought a building in the 53206 area of Milwaukee with the hopes it would keep him and his 5 brothers out of trouble. In 2010, the grocery store, known as Junior’s and named for one of the brothers, was opened. In 2015, Kenny joined his brother in operating and revamping the store.
Finding the Resources
Kenny first worked with the African American Chamber to obtain a loan which kicked off the remodel. The funding was used to update the front counter, adding more shelf space and making items more visible. He also worked with Mary Trimmier of the Small Business Administration (SBA). Mary advised him of several resources including the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). There he met SBDC Consultant Cheryl Mitchell.
Kenny and Cheryl joked that when the Junior’s food store opened, there was “more dust than inventory” on the shelves due to struggles with financing. Cheryl helped Kenny locate resources such as an accountant, an architect and a business plan writer. She also helped with financial projections. Cheryl said, “Kenny is extremely dedicated and will do or learn whatever is needed to make his way to success.” He proves this by working full-time at another job while operating the store and serving as his own contractor, refinishing floors and renovating the apartments above the store.
The rental income from the apartments helps the brothers to reinvest whatever they can in the store. With Cheryl’s help, they were even open to trying unique marketing ideas. Since Kenny could not yet afford new coolers, Cheryl suggested selling meat temporarily during a high volume time frame. The area does not have much access to fresh produce and meats, and when he put meat on ice in temporary coolers for the 4th of July holiday, his patrons were thrilled!
Supporting the Community
The impact on the community is obvious. Kenny and Junior are familiar faces in the area and are well-known and loved in the community. When Cheryl visited the store, she heard many people greet the brothers by name. Kids in the neighborhood especially love Junior. She witnessed them buying fruit instead of junk food at the store because Junior told them they need to look after their health.
Kenny said what makes their store unique is “people know we care. We don’t rush them in and out of the store. Sometimes they just want to come in and talk.” Junior has been known to help customers of the store figure out how to pay their bills online and even help them to repair their cars!
The windows of the building were previously painted white but when area kids had cool ideas, Kenny was open to supplying paint, plywood and other materials. The local high school students created the paintings that now hang on the outside of the building. These students show a sense of pride when they come into the store. Kenny said the paintings are a good marketing tool as well, stating “Folks sometimes come in just because they saw the art.”
Accomplishments with the UW Milwaukee SBDC:
- Business plan
- Financial projections
- Resources connections
Looking to the Future
The growing success of this store motivated Kenny and Junior to buy a second building to be remade as a food store, this one in the 53209
ZIP code. When asked why they chose to expand, Kenny said, “We enjoy providing for the neighborhood.” They even intend to hire more help for the store, creating more jobs in the community.
Kenny is making way for the future, finalizing his business plans, cleaning up his books, budgeting for the new building permits, and working with attorneys on employment agreements. Kenny said some of Cheryl’s best advice which he continues to believe is to “Follow your dream!”