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    Diamond Jubilee | Summer 2013 Out Here Magazine

    Tractor Supply celebrates 75 years of customer service

    the first Tractor Supply store

    From Work Hard, Have Fun, Make Money: The Tractor Supply Story

    This was the very first Tractor Supply, located in Minot, N.D. Now there are nearly 1,200 stores coast to coast.
    Out Here

    By Carol Davis

     

    Tractor Supply Diamond Anniversary logo

    When Charles E. Schmidt started a mail-order business to supply fairly priced tractor replacement parts to frugal farmers, his ingenuity, hard work, planning, and preparation practically guaranteed success.

    But even he probably never imagined that his humble business, seeded with just a few thousand dollars and started from his dining room table in Chicago, would eventually become a multi-billion-dollar business and leading-edge retailer.

    Today, 75 years after Charles Schmidt established Tractor Supply Co., it is the largest retail farm and ranch store chain in the United States. The company operates nearly 1,200 retail stores in 45 states, employs more than 17,000 team members, and is headquartered in Brentwood, Tenn.

    MATTER OF CONVENIENCE

    Tractor Supply's mail-order business was designed to get supplies to the farmers as quickly as possible. So rather than stocking inventory in a central warehouse, Tractor Supply placed warehouses in heavy-farming communities, one of which was Minot, N.D., located about 1,000 miles from the company's headquarters.

    "The concept was to have warehouses in farming areas, which is why Minot was such a critical piece," says Richard Schmidt, son of Tractor Supply's founder.

    Indeed, Charles Schmidt's exhaustive research and county-by-county analysis of tractor ownership revealed that Texas and Saskatchewan, Canada, represented the two biggest potential targets for Tractor Supply. Minot is just 55 miles from the Canadian border.

    "It was the farming belt," Richard Schmidt explains, "the idea being that when mail orders came into Chicago, we would send the orders to the local warehouses, which were very local to the farming communities."

    Orders shipped from those local warehouses would get there days earlier than shipping from a central warehouse, he says.

    "They could turn orders into deliveries in a very short time," he says.

    After the mail-order business proved successful, opening a retail store was a natural evolution, Richard Schmidt says.

    "Rather than turn a mail order around in two or three or four days, people could come right into the store and get what they needed," he says.

    Stores were added over the years and by the time the Schmidt family sold their interest in Tractor Supply in 1969, the mail-order company that Charles Schmidt started on a shoestring had grown to about 160 retail stores, his son says.

    Since then, the Schmidt family — Charles died in 1996 at age 83 — has seen Tractor Supply continue to grow and evolve.

    "Probably the biggest change is having it originally conceived as a mail order farm implement business, which dealt strictly in hard farm machinery and supplies and things farmers needed to run their farms," he says, ticking off a list of early inventory: planter wheels, picker rollers, plowshares, and components to rebuild engines from major manufactures.

    "Now," he says, "it's more of a lifestyle-driven business."

    Now, Minot and Tractor Supply's other stores stock livestock feed, pet food, tools, riding tractors, lawn and garden supplies, clothing, and much more. One thing, however, that's remained unchanged at Tractor Supply for more than seven decades is the customer service provided by team members and managers.

    ON THE FRONT LINES

    Kenny Erickson knows how Tractor Supply and its customers have evolved. He saw it first-hand during the 36 years and five months he waited on shoppers and stocked shelves at the Minot store before retiring Sept. 15, 2012.

    "When I started, mainly just farmers came in," he says.

    In his early days on the job, the biggest sellers were gaskets and piston sets for overhauling tractors, combine parts, tractor cabs, gravity boxes, wagons, cultivator shovels and spikes, three-point hitches, and tractor tires.

    One big seller, thanks to North Dakota's bitter winters and below-freezing temperatures, was antifreeze, sold in bulk, Erickson says.

    "Customers would bring in their old container and we had to fill that up from a tank of antifreeze," he recalls. "We sold a lot of that."

    As the years passed and the store's inventory changed, farmers were joined by new customers looking for supplies to take care of their hobby farms and yards.

    Now, Minot and Tractor Supply's other stores stock livestock feed, pet food, tools, riding tractors, lawn and garden supplies, clothing, and much more.

    One thing, however, that's remained unchanged at Tractor Supply for more than seven decades is the customer service provided by team members and managers.

    Erickson recalls one such instance many years ago, in which a customer called him at home on a Sunday, in need of a water pump to replace one that had broken. Back then, Tractor Supply stores were closed on Sundays.

    "I went up to the store and opened it up and sold them a water pump," Erickson says.

    Erickson knew the caller as a good customer and happily accommodated him. "To me, it is very important to treat the customer right and they will treat you right," he says. "I really enjoyed it. I guess that's why I spent 36 years there."

    Carol Davis is editor of Out Here.

     

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