The feed store in our little town is closing. Not only do they have their own amazing blends of animal feed that keep horses and chickens shiny and healthy and beautiful…we are losing The customer service that is a leftover of generations gone before us. I drove around for 2.5 hours sampling the feed selection and general customer service experience of feed stores in 3 different nearby towns and the trip was an utterly disappointing waste of time. I’m going to paint you 3 pictures, so you can understand what i’m talking about.
Imagine you pull up to a metal building with a wooden boardwalk, a metal depiction of a chicken tacked to the front of the building next to a flashing “open” sign with an electric cord hanging out the bottom of it and disappearing into a tiny hole in the wall. You turn the doorknob and walk in to a fairly open and well organized shop. The young man at the desk immediately smiles and tips his head to you as if he were wearing a hat. He says, “Good morning ma’am. I’ll be right with you.” He finishes ringing up the gentleman at the counter, leaves the desk, walks over to where you are standing and with a polite grin asks, “what can i do for you?” His clothes have dust and hay on them. You tell him what you have come to buy. If you dont know what you need, thats alright because he’s full of knowledge passed down from generations and can help you learn about and find what you need for any animal you have an issue with. If you have sick animals he has advice on what to try and when to call it and go to the vet. If you need animals he’ll take you to see the stock in the chicken shed/yard and if you need supplies or feed for any animal from horses to hens he can help you find what you need. There is a huge variety of chicken breeds to choose from every spring and they keep a stock of their signature cross of adult hens available year round. There is no disclaimer about some hens might be roosters because they know how to sex the chicks well and each one they say is a hen is a hen. If you buy from elsewhere and they give you rooster chicks this feed store will take em and give them a home. If you need eggs they’ll sell you those too. If you want feed they have a wide variety of brands to choose from, including the ones they make themselves which are just full of amazing ingredients, like an entire paragraph of beautiful wholesome ingredients…everything you need is in the bag, just open and supply. As soon as you notify the young man what you’ve come to buy he grins again, tips his head, and says, “alright, i’ll get that loaded up for you straight away ma’am. No matter where your car is…backed up to the loading dock or parked in the lot, the young man will carry the bags of feed to your car and load them wherever you’d like them placed. Then you go inside to the cash register and as you ring up the young man asks you, “so how’s work been, pretty busy?” It allows you to make small talk while the really slow card reader remembers to function. If they are out of something you need the young man takes down your phone number on a piece of paper, puts it in his pocket, and calls you sometimes even a week and a half later when it’s come in. He doesnt write down what it is you wanted to buy, he just remembers. He knows all the people in town and all the animals they have. He also cuts one of your chickens nails on the boardwalk for free twice a year because she was born with crooked feet and her nails dont get worn down when she walks. When the card has been ran and the feed is loaded in the car, the young man shuts the trunk or car door and smiles again telling you, “alright ma’am you have a wonderful day. Thank you for coming by.” He waves as you pull out of the place you are parked in a gravel lot and he heads back into the building.
Imagine another scene. You pull up to a big building with silos and chutes with dump trucks that pull under them to get filled with the chutes contents. You are not sure where to park because there is equipment and tractor attachments everywhere. It is unclear whether they are for sale or they belong to the operation you feel you might be in the way of. There are several doors to a long skinny pieced together metal sheet wing of what may be a barn or a factory, one of the two. It appears the door you picked is an employee entrance that leads behind the register even though its not labeled as such. You take your hand off the knob sheepishly and look for the next entrance. You see a man and then a man and a woman disappear into the dark building after going through an adjacent door. You follow them. You find yourself in a dimly lit narrow cramped space where there are a couple shelves and minimal bags of feed visible. You see heat lamps and halters but not much else. This is supposed to be the huge feed operation in the area. Where is all the merchandise, the variety? Inside there are so many people lined up all over the narrow store waiting for access to the counter facing a wall three feet from it, half that space taken up by shelving. The people behind the register are dressed in shiny button up shirts with a pop of turquoise against the brown, the woman has tassels hanging from the chest and shoulders of her shirt and all of them are wearing perfectly sharp cowboy hats that look like they’ve never been dirtied by a day of outdoor work. The woman has long black shiny hair that has been perfectly curled and sprayed at the ends and reminds you of a Pantene commercial in thickness and shine. All 4 of the people behind the counter are hollering always at the top of their lungs, “next! I can help the next one over here! Next!” People are pushing through each other and raising their hand, “i was next”. People are trying to figure out who was next in the nonexistent cue as people push up against each other waiting for access to the cramped counter in the dimly lit narrow drafty room. The air is damp and the building as well as the people are all business and no charm. A man points to you and gives you a helpful shove forwards as you are overwhelmed by the experience of the place and dont answer when they call “Next!” And it was your turn two people ago. He says, “i think she’s next.” The woman asks, “what do you need sweetheart?” You have what feels like 60 seconds to get the words out. The woman smiles apologetically and says, “we dont make our own feed. We carry two brands and that’s really it. I think this might not be the place for you hun. What you’re looking for is down the street.” She gives you the name of a woman and tells you she’s a bit eclectic but very nice once you get to know her and then points towards the door. Before you can turn she hollers, “Next!” And a man pushes his way past you to the counter. You head for the door and are amazed at how bright it is outside in comparison to the dark metal building. You step over more equipment lying on the ground and wonder if its got to do with plowing or harvesting. This is not the place for novice chicken owners.
Down the street you stop at what looks like a shack with an old wood floor in the office part and a dirt floor in the rest of it which houses the feed and supplies. It looks empty. There is only one car. As you walk in and look around you dont see anybody. Then an old hunched over severely arthritic man in a button up shirt, tan pants, and a gray robe approaches you. His hair and beard are disheveled but he looks and sounds friendly. He says hello. You tell him why you’ve come. He then spends ten solid minutes trying to talk you out of buying his feed and into buying his competitors feed as you plead with him to understand that you dont want to buy feed from a huge bustling store and just want a smaller experience. He then seems to take offense that you called his shop small and takes you outside to show you where the beginning and end of the land he owns is. You learn that he owns about five acres of land in the middle of town and all these strange looking unkept farm buildings are his. You politely show interest and awe and then try again to convince the man to sell you chicken feed. You say you’ll take a bag of chicken scratch. He informs you that the scratch is just the basics, four ingredients, if you want the hens to lay eggs you’ll also need this bag over here containing calcium and minerals and you’ll have to mix them together in a ratio. He states then that he only takes cash. You tell him you’ll buy the bag of scratch and come back another time for the egg laying crumbles, realizing you only have enough cash for one bag and having finally convinced the guy you are buying something from him. You dont want to tell him its off after all that but you’ve already decided this is too difficult an experience to be done every month. The man demands you park your car right next to the opening of the building housing the feed on the dirt floor. He then critiques your driving as you put it in reverse, hang your head out the window, and back up apparently not quickly enough or straight enough though you are not moving slow. When you get out you watch as he heaves one of these bags into his arms and waddles it over to the car and you feel very guilty you havent done it yourself but wonder if that would be an insult if you implied he couldnt do it in any way. You thank him and he tells you you cant possibly live in the town you live in, you must just work there, because during directions to a rival feed store he’s trying to talk you into going to, you are referring to the convenient store at the gas station as “the shell” instead of “the mini mart at the shell.” You sigh. Nothing like finishing the transaction with someone telling you you dont live where you live.
Which experience would you want in a trip to the feed store? #1, #2, or #3?