Family Center Farm and Home Talks About Being “The Everything Store” and Growing with Technology
With over 50 years of experience, Family Center Farm and Home has become a household name in the greater Kansas City area. The business began as a small tractor parts business in Harrisonville, MO. Today it’s a full-fledged farm and home store with additional locations in Paola, KS, Butler and Rolla, MO, and Winterset, IA.
Now, in its third-generation, the business is known as “the everything store” and is one of the few farm and home stores that is still family owned and operated. The business offers farm and home supplies as well as a full-service outdoor power equipment department which has been recognized as one of the top-ranked dealers by Cub Cadet, Ferris, and Stihl.
As the business has grown, so has their need for streamlining multi-store operations. We recently spoke with corporate manager Blake Mills, service manager Jerod Ames, and buyer Jon Taber to discuss the success of the business and how technology has helped foster that growth.
You’re unique in that you essentially run an outdoor power equipment business within a retail store. Talk about the equipment that you sell and what you do to set yourselves apart from the competition.
Jerod: “Most farm and home stores will sell some power equipment but won’t service what they sell. That’s what sets us apart from other farm and home businesses. We strive to take care of our customers just like you would if you went into a full service power equipment store. We also carry a wide variety of parts and are fortunate to have the best technicians that are up to date with their certifications and are very knowledgeable on all of the equipment we sell.”
Blake: “Our store motto is that we are ‘the everything store’ and we strive to have the best equipment available for our customers. Power equipment wise, we’ve always sold truckloads of Ryobi trimmers and MTD basic lawn tractors. In the mid-90s, we became a White Outdoor dealer and ended up being one of their top-ranked dealers. We’ve always been one of the top Cub dealers in the nation and finished last year ranked 23rd. We’ve been a Sthil dealer since the mid-80s and have been awarded as a platinum dealer many times. In 2001 we became a Ferris dealer and have grown with them to become one of their top 10 dealers.”
How do you increase conversion rates and convert a higher number of customers that come through your doors?
Blake: “We’ve built the reputation to where people are comfortable buying their everyday things from us. They trust us to feed their dog and carry the jeans they want to wear. So when they go to buy equipment or a part, they trust us. We’re also open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Sundays. Our store hours provide more opportunity for a family purchase. To get everyone there on Sunday after church, or at night after a baseball game to look at a mower is huge. We sell the most parts from 4 pm. – 8 p.m. on weeknights and sell the most units on Sundays.”
What methods do you use to market the business and what has proven to be most successful?
Blake: “We do TV and radio advertising in the Kansas City markets. We also do some texting and direct mail. We’ve built a really large text list and communicate with them through a company called VIP texting.
Between all of our locations, we have 18,000 people signed up for text alerts. On a given Monday – Thursday, during the early spring months, we’ll text 500 people every half hour between 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. at each location with a direct link to call and schedule their tune-up. It’s nearly impossible for people to not look at a text message, so we typically have a 99% percent open rate. Even if they don’t look at the ad, they’ll at least see our name for a couple of seconds. We have the ability to put links in there. It’s been successful and affordable. The initial investment is $100 per kiosk and sending text messages is five cents apiece, so it’s proven to be cheaper than print advertising.”
What special events/promotions do you have throughout the year and how does that impact business?
Blake: “January and February are typically our slowest times, so we have a bucket challenge where you can get 10% off of what you can fit into a five gallon bucket. It’s store-wide and people really get a kick out of it. Last year we had a guy fill an entire bucket full of chains.
We also have two large open houses every year for our power equipment department. Our spring open house is our largest one. We call those events Power Days. We bring in manufacturer reps and have lots of giveaways. We also do pancake breakfasts and free lunches for customers. Last year was the biggest event we’ve ever had. We sold roughly 20 units and over 40 pieces of Stihl equipment in one day.”
Six years ago, you implemented Ideal to help run the power equipment side of the business. What features have made the greatest impact?
Jerod: “We always knew we were making money in the power equipment side of the business, but there were certain areas that needed improvement. By bringing Ideal in, we’ve been able to streamline everything. We’ve seen a big difference in our forecasting. If you have a good program and a plan, it works out very well.”
Jon: “Inventory management has been huge. For a business that’s been around for a long time, we’ve accumulated a lot of stuff and nobody really knew where it came from, or why we had it. Ideal allows us to keep tabs on what’s being ordered as well as what’s being sold. We can run slow moving parts reports and keep an eye on our turns. You really can’t put a price tag on that because you don’t know what you’re losing until you’re able to keep track.”
Blake: “I would say our parts business completely changed with the integration of Ideal. It’s just continued to evolve and we use more and more of Ideal every day. We’re also a big believer in the Lista cabinets. Ideal and Lista work hand-in-hand now with keeping track of our parts.
Another big thing is being able to capture all of our customers and keep track of them year after year whether they’ve had a tune up, or even personal notes. It’s great to have that database there so no matter who is helping the customer, anyone can look them up and know what’s going on.”
What features do you like best about Ideal in regards to handling multi-store operations?
Jerod: “We have a lot of high valued equipment at our warehouse and other locations. As the business has grown, the quantities of our high valued equipment have increased. I can’t imagine keeping track of that without Ideal. I can tell you exactly where something is, where it was and what we plan on doing with it. We have almost 3,000 SKUs when it comes to power equipment. Without Ideal, we wouldn’t be able to effectively keep track.”
Blake: “Ideal is a tremendous help when our floor plan guy shows up. We can quickly answer questions for him, which was a big challenge before. We can run reports for him and see what’s sold and track down other items that are due. We try to go by first in, first out when selling units. Ideal makes it very easy to show us the receipt date so we can sell the older units first.”
Jon: “It gives you the ability to use your buying power. If you use multiple locations, you can use your buying power to buy larger quantities that can be spread evenly across the locations. You can buy certain products much cheaper when you buy more. In addition, if we see one location has 12 of a part and the other locations have one, we can spread it out evenly and take care of a customer that day because we have trucks that go from store to store daily.”
How does Ideal help improve tech efficiency in your service department?
Jon: “It allows our techs to easily see the service history done on a machine as opposed to digging through a file cabinet. Now we can see all history over the last six years in one click. The more we have them turning wrenches, as opposed to looking through paperwork, automatically improves efficiency.”
Jerod: “Ideal has helped with communication. Our techs never have to leave the shop. They can put parts requests in, pull up an order and our service writer can open up the record and read the notes.”
What future goals do you have for your business and how will Ideal help?
Jerod: “We are definitely growing so we’re already achieving one goal. One thing we’re working on is having the most friendly, reliable and efficient service department at all of our locations. We feel like Ideal is key in this with all of the customer service features it provides for us.”
Jon: “We’re really excited because we’ve had some strong years. We really believe in technology. It makes everybody’s lives more efficient and easier. We love the idea of the mobile app. We think the possibilities of that app are endless as more development is made. We’re glad that Ideal is taking note of our suggestions because we feel like that could change the dynamics of how we operate.”
What advice would you give to someone that is looking to grow their business?
Blake: “If you put a good business model out there and are courteous to your customers, your business is going to grow. It’s all about our relationships with Ideal, our other vendors, and our customers. As long as those relationships are strong, our business will grow.”
Jerod: “In our business we’re really lucky to have other departments helping with profitability even if we don’t have the best season with power equipment. We respect other outdoor power equipment businesses and realize that not everyone has that luxury. One thing we can say to them is embrace and acknowledge the changes of the outdoor power equipment industry. There are those who refuse to change and are still hand writing everything and it’s not going to work out well. If you invest time and diversify and look at what technology is available, it will make a difference.”
Jon: “This business evolved so quickly. You can be set in your ways or embrace change and utilize technology. It’s huge for everyone.”