IT WASN’T TOO long ago when a farmer’s word and his handshake were as binding as any signed contract. And though business is conducted differently today, for some companies, such as Farmer’s Building, Feed & Garden Supply, doing business honestly with others in mind is still how you seal the deal.
“My dad had many connections in the community… when he gave his word on something, he did it and he completed it and I think that there was a lot of respect in that sense,” said Mark Stutzman, second-generation owner of Grants Pass, Or.,-based Farmer’s. “My dad taught me that you’re only as good as your word, and if you can’t live on what you say that you’re going to do then you won’t be as successful as what you would be if you continue down that road.”
Having been raised in Grants Pass watching his father and mother, Leon and Luella Stutzman, run the company in the early 1960s, Mark knows what it takes to build a successful company.
“I have put sweat equity into it. There was no job that could not be handled by us boys. We would separate the lumber out because at the time when I was a young boy, it would come in multiple stacks of 8s-14s in one stack and you would have to divide it out, and then it would come in 16s-20s and you would have to measure that all out. Then, of course, the mills started doing that themselves when they had the green chains, but those were part of the jobs that we did.”
Sixty years later, the Stutzman family has been involved with the company all but two years since it was founded. Leon and the pastor of the family’s church originally co-owned the hardware store until the pastor sold his shares of the company to Leon.
The Stutzman family currently owns 100% of the business. Leon and Luella own a little over 50%, while Mark owns just under 50% of the business. “I have been managing the store full time since my oldest brother passed away in 2016. I run this business and I run the other two (sister companies) as well—Illinois Valley Building Supply (Cave Junction, Or.) and Rogue Truss Systems (Grants Pass). I have all three of them now under me.”
Mark’s children are also involved in the business. His son, Grant, manages the marketing and advertising for the company, his eldest son is currently working at the truss plant along with his son-in-law, and his daughter, Mollie, who recently graduated from high school, is helping with advertising and social media.
Although the company has traditionally been stronger on the contractor side, it has more recently focused on the retail end. “We’ve switched more to a retail side now and have opened a garden center. We have added a door shop and rental, and repair different things in order to continue to drive people to the store,” Mark said.
All along, however, there’s been one large obstacle standing in their way to attract more customers—the Rogue River—which bisects Grants Pass.
“One thing about our store has been that we have been separated from downtown Grants Pass for our entire existence,” Mark explained. “The community of Grants Pass is separated by the Rogue River, which runs right in the middle of it. The city has worked to keep the businesses downtown vibrant and that’s been good, but I think they have missed a lot of us who have been on the other side of the river who have been a part of the community.”
Thankfully, things are looking up. “The town is starting to grow our way and so we’ve been in the heart of a lot of the uptake on the building and stuff… but as those people have gotten a little older, we’re having to work much harder in order to continue to attract people to come to the store.”
Yet, it’s the company’s honest approach to business and how they treat their customers, going above and beyond as much as possible to make others feel good, that has enabled Farmer’s to continue to attract new customers and retain its existing clientele.
“I almost always try to say good morning to somebody just to initiate a conversation or to talk to them and let them know that they are valuable,” Mark said. “Our customers are not just a number—they’re a valuable piece of the community and we want to serve them.”
He added, “We want to treat everyone the same way that we would like to be treated. Dad would go above and beyond. We live to serve and that’s been something that has been pounded into me since I was very small.”
The focus on serving and treating others well is not only a core foundation of the company, but of the Stutzman family as well. “I will tell you that we are a faith-based company. We’ve been a faith-based company… I think a lot of it is the strength of our faith and we believe in prayer and the power of prayer.”
In response, Farmer’s staff and customers have helped the company grow by suggesting new avenues of business for the company to pursue.
One successful addition has been the horse tack and equine supplies. Farmer’s staffer Danielle Sandgren loves horses and knows a lot about them. She encouraged the company to market to that specialized clientele. Today, the tack section is the most popular tack section in the area, according to Grant. “People come and seek it out specifically from all around. (Danielle), who works it, does a phenomenal job. We get a number of customers because we add in some of those niche markets.”
“I think sometimes finding those key individuals to put into those departments to run them helps us grow ourselves as to who we are,” Mark added.
Another way the company has grown is by responding to the needs of the surrounding communities.
Illinois Valley Building Supply, for instance, in the city of Cave Junction, is approximately 30 miles from Grants Pass. Illinois Valley only has two hardware stores, but one full lumberyard. The building supply store is the only full lumberyard dealer in the city. A transfer truck services the location every day.
Similarly, the Rogue Truss Systems plant was started after the local residents complained to Leon that they weren’t satisfied with the existing truss business owner in their community. Those customers asked Leon, “Why don’t you put up a truss plant? Let us buy trusses from you.”
Today, the truss plant services as far north as Roseburg, Or., nearly 70 miles away, and can accommodate trusses as large as 80 ft. “We’re about the only facility in the Southern Oregon area that can make something that big,” Mark added.
It was the company’s adaptability that helped Farmer’s succeed even when the competition entered the Grants Pass area. For instance, when Home Depot moved into town, people said Farmer’s was going to have a tough time competing. But Farmer’s knew differently.
“They’re on the other side of the river and their location is not very good. It’s tough to get into where things are at, and people do not like to cross the bridge because they know in town, it’s a headache. That’s why more stuff is coming to this side,” Mark explained.
Similarly, when the Grange Co-op moved right across the street, Leon asked Mark, “What are we going to do to fight those guys?” Mark’s reply was: “We’re going to let (them) bring the customers to us.”
And they did. When the Grange Co-op customers heard there was a feed store across the street, they began coming to Farmer’s. “We worked those customers as they stopped in, and we began to make lifelong friends that way and to service them the way that we do it out of what we’ve learned here at Farmer’s,” Mark added.
Yet, the Stutzmans never failed to show their competition respect.
“I went to school with one of the guys that’s a competitor in my town,” Mark explained. “He and I have never sparred words (with) each other. We know what it is to take one another’s customers away and we do it by the old fashioned way—the hard work of going after them and trying to service them and not bashing one another.”
Looking ahead, Mark said the company would like to grow the truss and the retail side of the business. In addition, it is looking to modernize its store, and improve its security systems. And although the company is taking notes from big box stores, Grant said, “We are trying not to adopt a big box store look because that would really play with who we are as an entity—it would really affect our soul and what people have known us to be—but we’re certainly taking some big box ideas and adapting them and making them Farmer’s appropriate.”
The company is also getting ready for its 50th anniversary on June 17 in Illinois Valley. “We made our (Farmer’s) anniversary about the community because the community has supported us for 60 years,” Grant said. “We’re going to do the same thing out in the Illinois Valley for the 50th anniversary. It’s going to be Illinois Valley Building Supply’s 50th, but it’s also going to be 50 years in the Illinois Valley—and here’s how the Illinois Valley has grown.”
It should be quite the anniversary celebration if the Stutzman family has anything to say about it. As the Stutzmans would tell you, “We’ll get ’er done because you only have what your word is.”