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Business changes for feed stores
The small-town livestock feed store was once a hub for socializing and trading information for farmers and ranchers.
But Randy Smith, owner of Richfield Feed and Supply, said those days are long gone.
"Today most of our business comes from backyard and hobby farmers. Some call them weekend farmers. Seldom do people just hang around to visit and shoot the breeze," Smith said. "Things are just different today. People seem to be in more of a hurry."
He explained that his small, family-ran livestock and pet supply business, located at 5605 Highway 99W, just north of Corning, has a lot of competition compared to the way things used to be.
"Like a lot of the agriculture-based businesses, the big chain stores or companies are taking things over," Smith said. "Be it a livestock feed store or dairy, and a lot of other small, family-owned farm businesses, it is really hard to compete with the big boys."
Running a business isn't new for the 55-year-old Smith. Prior to buying Richfield Feed, he had his own landscaping company.
"We — my wife, Katie, and our children Cassie and Nathan — moved to Richfield 10 years ago from Chico. I really had no plans on buying a feed store, but I'm glad we did," Smith said.
The feed store has been family owned and ran since it was originally open more than 20 years ago.
Before the Smith family took the reins, Richfield Feed was owned by the Curt Eller family, also of Richfield. Previous to that it was Low's Feed, owned and ran by the Cal and Alice Low family.
"There was a time in an agriculture area like this that almost everyone raised livestock, pigs, chickens, cattle, sheep, to put food on the table. Now, we see a lot more pet owners coming into the store, and city people who have moved into the country who just want to raise a few chickens for the fun of it," Smith said.
McCoy's Hardware in Corning is another local store that carries livestock and pet feed.
"It's a new era," said Mark Oldfield, McCoy's manager. "Ten to 15 years ago there were a lot more livestock and horse people in this area. It seems there just aren't as many as there once was."
Cassie Smith, 22, said her family has expanded Richfield Feed's dog and cat feed and supply section of the store.
"We still sale a lot of livestock feed, but the greatest growth is in the pet supplies," she said. "Another expanding area of sales is in horse supplies. We see people moving into the country who want to own a horse. It's the hobby thing again."
Over the last three years, the Smith's have seen business decline a bit.
Oldfield said the same is true for McCoy's as far as livestock feed goes.
"The recession hit us just like everyone else," Smith said. "Feed prices have really gone up, and when you have a hobby that is getting to expensive you quite. But we still have a good customer base and things are doing okay."
Cassie said one of the best aspects of being a small, family-ran business is the ability to personally know your customers.
"We know 95 percent of the people who walk in our door, and they know us. They know they can ask us questions and we will provide them with personal service," she said.
With the onset of spring this week, Smith said business is already picking up.
"It's chick season and that really brings in the customers. Then it's time for the junior livestock fairs to begin and we see a lot of FFA and 4-H kids," he explained.
In an effort to provide that extra something only privately-owned businesses can deliver, Richfield Feed holds a mobile-pet vaccination clinic and a small livestock sale/swap meet once a month.
"The swap meet is the first Saturday of each month. The next vaccination clinic is April 13," Cassie said.
As the Smiths try to provide the best customer service they can, government rules and regulations are adding an additional burden.
"It used to be no problem providing customers with things like needles and syringes to administer medication to their livestock. Now, because of the problem of illegal drug users, we have to get a special, and expensive, permit to sell such items. That goes for iodine as well. Because it can be used to make methamphetamine, we can't sell it anymore. Iodine was once a common sight in livestock feed stores and on farms and ranches," Smith said.
McCoy's was able to obtain the required permit and carries large size syringes and needles for livestock use.
Smith believes until the political climate and economy change, small, family-owned agriculturally-based businesses will continue to struggle.
Oldfield agrees with Smith to some degree, but also believes people in the area are willing to stay in town to buy feed due to the high cost of gas.