Iowa Meat Clerk Leaves Counter to Pursue Bigger Aspirations

Iowa Meat Clerk Leaves Counter to Pursue Bigger Aspirations

After 30 years working under different managers and performing monotonous duties, an Iowa grocery meat clerk made a bold decision to leave the comforts of his familiar beef counter to pursue a dream of running his very own grocery operation.

In 2008, desire became reality when Tom Mulholland gained ownership of a small retail grocery outfit located in Malvern, Iowa.

To no one’s surprise, upon seizing control of the establishment, the Mills County native renamed the business Mulholland Grocery a name which is all too synonymous within the rural community.


The Mulholland name has a strong history dating back over 140 years beginning with Mulholland’s great-grandfather, Fredrick E.
During the 1870’s Fredrick E. opened a dry goods business which offered an assortment of fabrics, patterns, shoes, and ready-to-wear clothing. Unfortunately, unfavorable economic conditions drove people away which negatively impacted his business.

In order to make ends meet his son, Fredrick A., set up a small cash-and-carry grocery operation located in the same building as his father’s clothing and fabric business. From that point forward, the grocery industry expanded while the dry goods business slowly vanished.

Fredrick A. found the prosperous niche his community needed and eventually took over the business from his father. Fredrick A. went on to successfully run the business until handing it over to Mulholland’s father, Gordon, upon his retirement.

Finding that specific niche was instrumental in Fredrick A.’s success, which today Mulholland credits as a primary reason for his own personal success.

“”You have to make your business unique, find your niche, expand it, celebrate it, and let other people know why you’re the answer to their questions and needs.””

The business remained in the Mulholland family until the early 1990’s when Mulholland’s father sold his portion of the business to his partner. Over the course of 17 years, the business changed hands a multitude of times until Mulholland re-purchased the establishment in 2008.


Much like the 140 year-old building Mulholland purchased, the Mulholland Grocery business has managed to withstand the tests of time.

Up until the 1980’s, Muholland’s father had to compete against three supermarkets located within two blocks of his store. The competition was fierce as all four outlets battled to establish a solid customer base. Eventually, the saturated market took its toll on the industry forcing all of his competitors to close – leaving Muholland Grocery as the lone survivor.

After all the positive recognition Muholland has received over the past six years, he is not oblivious to the impact an unstable economy could have on his business. In order to satisfy loyal supporters and draw new customers, Mulholland provides more freshness and unique products not found in many small town retail grocery outlets.

“”We carry items you won’t find in a small town normally; like fresh seafood, homemade brats, smoked bacon, smoked salmon, nearly two dozen types of homemade sausages, and numerous other homemade items that are top quality, and draw people from large surrounding radius,
“”said Mulholland.


According to Muholland, achieving the level of success you desire requires a certain level of internal perseverance.

“A successful entrepreneur has to have the tenacity, vision, and willingness to do what it takes to be successful. You have to make sacrifices to get your business off the ground, and perhaps for a lot longer than that.””

Patience is certainly one trait Muholland had to possess in order to get his business off the ground. Even with a recognizable name, developing a positive reputation takes time and requires a commitment of providing superior service on a consistent basis.

“You cannot expect to be an overnight success, and do not expect anyone else to do the work for you. If you want the job done right, you better plan on doing it yourself, because business success doesn’t mean as much to those around you as it does to you.”

During his first couple years as a new owner, Mulholland faced a number of financial challenges which included basic building maintenance and costly equipment repairs. The small business entrepreneur admits there were times he wanted to quit; however, he knew Malvern needed a reliable grocery store.

“If my town was to lose its grocery store, that would be the beginning of a downward spiral that would be irreversible,”
explained Mulholland. “I would feel like I let my whole community down.”

As a result of Mulholland’s perseverance, the self-made small business owner has been able to employ 11 workers and establish a solid reputation within the community.


Over the past six years, Mulholland Grocery has been recognized and honored with a number of awards from different organizations and agencies across the state.

Awards which include: being named as one of the Top 10 Stories of 2013 by the Glenwood Opinion Tribute and the Renew Rural Iowa’s Entrepreneur Business of the Month by the Iowa Farm Bureau.

One of Muholland’s biggest honors was taking home the grand prize of $10,000 at last years 2013 Dream Big Grow Here competition held at EntreFEST in Cedar Rapids. The Dream Big Grow Here competition is an annual event where small businesses complete for a cash reward to further their business venture.

Since winning the competition, word about Mulholland’s grocery business spread quickly throughout the state; attracting a number of curious consumers throughout Iowa, as well as a few high-profile state politicians.

Mulholland has been honored to receive visits from Lieutenant Govenor Kim Reynolds, State Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and State Auditor May Mossman.

Aside from all the attention and awards, Mulholland believes the real measure of his success is based on the feedback from local residents and surrounding communities.

“There’s a sense of pride in going to other towns and commenting on where I’m from, and then people telling me they’ve heard about a great grocery store in Malvern, and they don’t even realize who they’re talking with.”

As a result of the publicity Mulholland has received, a number of small business leaders have contacted him for his insight on how to startup and maintain a successful small business.

“I’ve been asked to speak at state-wide conferences, been asked by numerous communities to give my opinion or advice about what it might take to get a successful store in their small town, and been begged to open a satellite location in numerous other communities, which I’ve had to turn down.”

As far as expanding his operation to anther location, the future is still unknown.  Right now, Malholland says, his time is consumed just running the one store.

For more information on Mulholland Grocery, you can go online and visit

Content contributed by Matthew Cassady, IASourceLinkIASourceLink is a proud affiliate of U.S. SourceLink, America’s largest resource network for entrepreneurs.

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