New players on the farm

True Value and the National Hardware Show are sharpening their message in the farm-ranch-pet category

Kevin Rewerts, with Peaches, at the True Value Fall Market

Among the top 10 companies on the 2012 Home Channel News Industry Scoreboard, none grew faster than Brentwood, Tenn.-based Tractor Supply. The farm-and-ranch lifestyle provider showed a 16.3% sales increase and an overall ranking of seventh on the Top 300 retailer list.

Rural King Supply of Mattoon, Ill., moved up the list from 25th to 22nd. Also moving up the rankings were Atwood Ranch & Home of Enid, Okla., and Bomgaars Supply of Sioux City, Iowa.

One group of interested participants is Wall Street investors. They’ve pushed the prices of Tractor Supply shares (ticker symbol TSCO) steadily upward, from under $40 two years ago to $94.50.

And they’re not the only ones taking notice of the sales opportunities in the farm-and-ranch market.

“It’s clearly a trend that we see on the rise in the industry,” said Sonya Ruff Jarvis, VP attendee programs for the National Hardware Show. As a result, there will be some noticeable changes in this regard at the May 7 to 9 event in Las Vegas.

“Many retailers and distributors are looking to expand — or have already expanded — their product offerings to include farm and ranch,” said Ruff Jarvis. “And the National Hardware Show wants to make sure that we supply these buyers with more of these types of products.”

Based on the market research, the event is creating for the first time a distinct farm-and-ranch area on the show floor. It will be located in the Lawn & Garden Outdoor Living area. A Farm & Ranch icon (carrying the iconic images of a barn, silo and fence) has been added to the show’s collection of category icons that include “Hardware & Tools,” “Homewares” and Plumbing & Electrical.”

While definitions of farm and ranch vary slightly across the business, the National Hardware Show will feature products, including animal/pet health, fencing, farm hardware and tools, and the classic feed and seed.

In Salt Lake City, another example of increased emphasis on the farm generated some show-floor excitement at the True Value Fall Market in the form of dogs, chicks and Peaches and Cream, a mother-daughter miniature horse family.

Kevin Rewerts is divisional VP merchandising for automotive-pet-farm and ranch for the Chicago-based co-op and the architect of True Value’s expansion into farm.

True Value believes that its distribution expertise has been underused in this area, and it sees its 12 distribution centers as the foundation for growth in this category.

“We’ve been telling our stores that the secret to our business is we have the products that they want, and they can buy them when they want it, and in the quantities that they want,” Rewerts said. “They can buy one piece or a thousand pieces, and we can meet their needs.”

Rewerts, who came to True Value from farm-and-ranch supplier Central Garden & Pet, said not every retailer should jump on the ranch bandwagon. But he added that it’s not a stretch to suggest that every retailer should have some representation of the broader category of pet and automotive.

“We’ve always said: ‘Don’t just get into [farm and ranch] just because we’re getting into it,’ ” Rewerts said. “If you’re not in it now, there’s probably a reason. But if there’s an opportunity for you, let us guide you.”

True Value, in turn, has been guided by a retail advisory council, representing a total of about 150 locations. Among the feedback was the suggestion that equine grooming could be scaled back.

Larger trends include backyard birding, an industry term for raising chickens, and the grow-your-own-food trend inside and outside cities.

“It’s the rural lifestyle,” Rewerts said. “The lifestyle typically has one or two dogs and two to four cats. They tend to do a lot of their own auto and car repairs. That’s the lifestyle.

“And what we’re providing here is category management, which is so needed in this industry.”

In upstate New York near the Vermont border, True Value member John Rieger operates Country Living Center in Greenwich, N.Y.

“People are reverting to gardening, and we all have pets,” Rieger said. “Things are changing. Twenty years ago, did you hear of llamas? Did you hear of emus? They’re not so rare anymore.”

A potential big change for Country Living Center is the recent opening of a nearby Tractor Supply store.

“Tractor Supply will force the independent dealer like us to do our job better,” Rieger said. “They do a great job of marketing. They have beaucoup bucks behind them. But they don’t have the people we have in the store. When people spend their hard-earned money, they want to feel like they’re getting a value for that money. The personal touch is so important.”

Tractor Supply, sitting at the No. 7 spot of the Home Channel News Scoreboard, is the de facto standard for the retail category.

At Tractor Supply, executives point to a success driven by strong consumer demand for products that promote the farm-and-ranch lifestyle. But the company’s growth to a large extent depends on its ability to manage change and adapt quickly.

During the company’s second-quarter report, Greg Sandfort, who will replace Jim Wright as CEO on Jan. 1, described the company’s operations and execution this way:

“In the past few years, Tractor Supply has operated more effectively than at any time in its history,” Sandfort said. “This is best demonstrated by the fact that we’ve had 17 consecutive comp-transaction count increases, 14 consecutive quarters of double-digit EPS growth, 11 consecutive quarters of comp-sales increases, and 10 consecutive quarters of expense leverage.” 

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