Posted: July 17, 2013, 4:30 p.m. EDT
By Lizett Bond
From the rafters of West Lebanon Feed & Supply hang three farm implements: a furrow plow, a dump rake and a cultivator. Each tool symbolizes what lies at the heart of this venerable feed store.
"The plow represents new beginnings; the rake symbolizes the gathering of friends, family and information; and the cultivator stands for enriching those relationships,” said Curt Jacques II, who with his wife, Sharon, co-owns the West Lebanon, N.H., store and is the Pet Product News International Retailer of the Year for 2013-2014. "We build that philosophy into what we do and who we are.”
West Lebanon Feed & Supply is familiar with new beginnings. Settled in 1761, the town of West Lebanon served as a regional rail hub in later years. To expedite offloading, the feed supplier was sited at the rail yard. As shipments arrived, farmers queued up to load purchases of grain and foodstuffs.
In those days, the company, established in 1927, was known as Sunshine Feed. In the 1950s and ’60s, the trucking industry replaced rail, and premade kibble, sometimes packaged in burlap bags or round barrels, replaced table scraps as mealtime fare for pets. The feed industry was transforming, and over the course of the next few decades, the operation changed ownership and names several times.
Such are the roots of West Lebanon Feed & Supply. Like the agricultural industry, the family feed store follows a similar evolutionary path, as the old guard ponders how to keep each successive generation down on the farm. Further, as population demographics change, demands on the industry shift even more.
"The local feed store is often handed down to the next generation, and it’s a huge commitment,” said Jacques. "When we bought the store 20 years ago, there were nine feed stores within a 20-mile radius. Today there are two.”
Curt Jacques II along with wife Sharon. Courtesy of Headshot Photography
When Curt and Sharon acquired the establishment in 1993, the store resided in the old freight house and featured 1,400 square feet of retail showroom. Today, the new space, opened in 2007, is 11,000 square feet of retail and 12,000 square feet of warehouse.
"We don’t sell to dairy farms anymore; our customers are horse people or folks who garden and raise backyard poultry,” he said. "They move into the area from the city for a more laid-back life, to enjoy that sense of peace.”
However, back in 1993, the Jacques’ first order of business consisted of expanding the existing image of their new enterprise. That meant listening to customer desires and needs, and developing an inventory to meet those demands.
Fast-forward to 2013, and customers are still encouraged to request products and subsequently receive a 20 percent discount on their first purchase of a requested item.
The resulting hand-selected, high-quality assortment of products includes goods from more than 175 vendors.
Specializing in pet nutrition, the store stocks more than 30 brands of pet food, including raw, canned, holistic, natural and conventional foods.
"We have it all,” Jacques added. "We are one of the largest single-location retailers of pet foods in the Northeast.”
In addition to pet foods, the store stocks equine feed along with an extensive selection of pet, equine and poultry supplies. Baby chicks and piglets are available seasonally, as are wild bird products and gardening supplies.
Gift items, locally handcrafted products and fresh eggs, purchased from customers, round out the shopping experience.
"Whenever we can, we push local products,” said Jacques. "We sell maple sugaring supplies and maple syrup products.”
With 2,000 square feet devoted to home and garden supplies, those wishing to cultivate their own green thumb can browse an array of organic or conventional seeds, organic treatments and gardening tools. In the winter months, the same area becomes a haven for bird watchers as they peruse a sizeable selection of wild bird feed and provisions.
Beyond customer requests, the Jacqueses travel to trade shows to discover fresh and original merchandise options.
"We find that by going to shows, whether lawn and garden or pet, we are able to pick up interesting items that people can’t find elsewhere,” he said. "It’s just part of being forward thinking or innovative in retail today. You have to make it interesting and convenient for your customers.”
Following that school of thought, three years ago the Jacques launched Clean Paws Grooming, a full-service pet-grooming salon; an expansion project currently underway will triple the size of the salon.
"It’s a real natural,” he said. "We have customers traveling from 30 to 40 miles away to buy pet food; now they can get their pet groomed at the same time.”
Crucial to the success of any business is familiarity with the intrinsic values of the community it serves, said Jacques. For West Lebanon Feed & Supply, this framework includes a strong commitment to improving and enhancing the human-animal bond and partnering with the community. These collaborations extend beyond the walls of West Lebanon Feed and Supply.
"People trust people who are involved and show a genuine sense of care,” he said. "It’s about being good stewards.”
As families become more conscious of food sourcing, the store sells upward of 10,000 baby chicks each season for egg production, as well as piglets to be raised for meat, Jacques noted. Up from 3,500 birds four years ago, this growth prompted the store to initiate its "Share the Harvest” program, where customers deliver to the store excess eggs, which are picked up several times per week by a local nonprofit and distributed to local food pantries and senior centers.
AT A GLANCE
West Lebanon Feed & Supply
Location: 12 Railroad Ave., West Lebanon, NH 03784
Owners: Sharon and Curt Jacques II
Size: 11,000 square feet (retail); 12,000 square feet (warehouse)
Employees: 26 full-time, 1 part-time
Years in Business: 20
Products and Services Offered: Dog, cat, avian, poultry, small mammal, equine feed and supplies, wild bird, pond, gifts, locally crafted products, home and garden, pet grooming, adoption days, home delivery, educational seminars
To encourage this plan, customers purchasing the minimum eight chicks are provided two additional birds free of charge. In return, customers pledge to share a portion of gathered eggs with those in need for one year.
"People have really taken ownership of the program,” said Jacques. "I can’t tell you how many thousands of dozens of eggs have been donated since we began five years ago.”
With the increased interest in sustainable living, the store’s popular "Backyard Living Educational Series” provides customer education and addresses the resurgence in raising animals, poultry in particular, as well as produce. Subjects covered during workshops might include raising domestic fowl, wildlife plot management or organic gardening with instruction from a master gardener.
Consumer education is always at the forefront at West Lebanon Feed & Supply. The store’s quarterly "Feed for Thought” newsletter, distributed to more than 12,000 households throughout the area, includes useful information, community interest stories, favorite customer recipes, seasonal advice and tips.
Planting the seeds of responsibility with children, poultry and gardening programs presented at local elementary schools provide gardening indoctrination to youngsters. Child-sized gardening tools are included to foster student interest in planting and tending classroom gardens. A poultry demonstration features a poster series, created by a store employee, illustrating the egg incubation process.
"We try to find the niches and talents that our employees can use to make their job more rewarding,” said Jacques.
Reaching out to livestock owners during drought conditions and ensuing hay shortages, "Hay Days” provide feed purchased from regions not experiencing these conditions. Brought in by the truckload, customers are able to replenish their feed rations at cost.
"It’s about pulling together and getting involved,” he said.
Partnering with the community extends to the support of local animal rescue efforts. The store’s one-time loading dock creates the perfect venue for adoption days. The spacious, covered area easily accommodates a large event while providing protection from the elements.
In addition, the store has hosted a "K-9 Awareness Day” for the past six years. With approximately 3,000 spectators in attendance, a section of the dock is cordoned off to allow dogs and their handlers from several different police agencies to present demonstrations of canine police work. Agility exhibitions take place in the adjacent parking lot. Proceeds benefit a local police canine association with the long-term goal being the completion of a state-of-the-art canine training facility at the Lebanon Police Station.
"It will be the biggest and best facility east of the Mississippi,” said Jacques. "It’s a connection between the community and law enforcement, but it’s also interesting; we love dogs and want to see something with dogs.”
Store interior. Courtesy of West Lebanon Feed & Supply
That passion extends to West Lebanon Feed & Supply personnel. As company ambassadors, Jacques said, prospective employees must possess a contagious spark of enthusiasm for what they do and a personality that complements the rest of the sales team.
"We look for the right balance of chemistry,” he said.
Moreover, employee training and education are considered significant components to an overall commitment to outstanding customer and community service.
In order to achieve this objective, employee training is extensive. Weekly staff meetings include product training from vendors, workshops and presentations of independent research by staff members.
Exemplifying the heart of the West Lebanon Feed and Supply ideology is its "Passion Statement” (see sidebar). Employees contributed their own voices to its creation and strive to embody its spirit every day.
"To be successful, it’s not just any one thing, it’s doing a good job at everything and being genuine,” Jacques said. "That’s the biggest thing, you have to be genuine.” <HOME>
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