California Riding Magazine • July, 2014

Tractor Supply Store -
Yeah or Neigh!
Small tack and feed stores face tough competition from big box stores.

by Cheryl Erpelding

Double S Tack and Feed Store's owner Rita Gallant didn't get much notice when she found out that the Tractor Supply Company (TSC) was well into the Major Use Permit process to put in an 18,000-square-foot store pretty much right across the street from her East San Diego County store. The application was filed with the county on April 14th and she found out about two weeks later. East San Diego County is home to 15 businesses that provide what TSC (a large chain of 19,000 stores across the country) plans to provide to this section of San Diego County that has a large rural customer base.

In a second meeting on June 4, with the Lakeside Community Planning Group, a large group of local citizens turned out to oppose the approval process. Store owners and some of the board members stated that TSC would have a negative impact and possibly put the smaller companies out of business. Others commented on the location on Old Highway 80 and Lake Jennings Road would create an additional 800 vehicle trips, and that a huge increase in traffic would cause major problems. Storm drainage from the grading of the four-acre property just east of the Burger King were also brought up as reasons not to approve the Major Use Permit for Tractor Supply's new store.


Tractor Supply Company goes in right across from Elston's Hay & Grain

The Planning Group board members went back and forth as many were not opposed to the new store coming to their area. Finally this motion passed 9-4: The Lakeside Planning Group recommended approval of the major use permit with restrictions (1) meet all requirements of the project's scoping checklist; (2) work with the county and the property owner across the street (site of the proposed Lake Jennings Marketplace) to plan and align a new intersection and (3) work with the applicant to reduce the bulk, scale and square footage of the building, so it is more compatible with the character of the community. 

Rita and others are not yet ready to give up the fight because she knows the big box type store will hugely impact her business. It's already been difficult to stay profitable through what have been challenging times for the horse industry as a whole. As we went to press Rita met with County Supervisor Dianne Jacob for over an hour bringing up concerns that TSC was not playing by the rules like others would have to if they wanted to open a feed store. Rita stated that the meeting was positive and that she and her associates were able to let Dianne's land use advisors know of the nearby business owners concerns, the project's environmental impacts, and make sure that the county holds TSC accountable to the requirements of allowing such a big project to move forward.


Rita of Double S Tack.

A new TSC is already in the construction process in Ramona, just 20 miles north of Lakeside. It is directly across from Elston's Hay and Feed and will be in competition with many other stores that offer the same products and services. Wayne Elston, the owner and from a family that has farmed and served San Diego County for several generations, is up for the challenge. He is already renegotiating with his vendors and believes his store and his good customer service will keep local horsemen shopping at both of his stores. He hired his daughter Alyssa, a recent college graduate, to run his Poway store and sees their businesses on a continued growth pattern.
 
"Big Boots To Fill!"

California Riding Magazine reached out on social media for comments from our readers about Tractor Supply and how they were going to meet the challenge. 

Marty Barnard, owner of East County Feed and Supply, stated that TSC comes into areas that have established businesses including feed, hardware, and lawnmower shops that are working hard to serve the area and meet the needs of the consumers. The smaller shops already have enough challenges in a tough economy and TSC will definitely hurt the smaller businesses that offer the same products and services. Marty said that TSC will impact the feed stores in San Diego's East County and their public records show that their revenues from feed are 43 percent of their business.

Denise Fraser of San Diego Saddlery suggested that another TSC would make things even tougher on the little guys, but claimed an edge in the small store's expertise and customers service.

"Horse people are a unique breed of people that combine sport, competition, and a love of animals," said Denise. "Large corporations don't understand that. They have a one-size-fits-all mentality.
Small, locally-owned tack and feed stores are the heart of our riding community. We know our customers and understand they are all individuals with different needs. If we don't have the right product, we will call another store down the street because we are small town people and we look out for one another.

"TSC is hoping to come here and succeed where another 'big box' store tried and ultimately failed. What will happen if we let them build here? Some of us may go out of business, and people will lose their jobs. But they won't ever replace us, because they can't do what we do. We may be small stores, but we have some mighty big boots to fill."

Brenda of Tack Warehouse in Northern California shared this: "In our experience, when Tractor came to our town, we had a very tough struggle to keep the doors of our brick and mortar store open because they had such buying power, they could offer veterinary products below what we could even get them for.  I think they may have ran them as a loss leader to get customers from the local feed and tack stores to shop there.  


Dennis Cody of East County Feed.

"I can say it now that we went there to buy our vet supplies because they were cheaper than our distributors' prices. We had to. Then we put the items out on the floor at what we paid for them, hoping to keep the customers happy so they would come back. We figured we had about a 20 percent hit from TSC.

"I'm not exactly sure if it was this or the recession. TSC opened in our town about two blocks away and then also in another town where a lot of our customers came from. At the time they carried a lot of tack, saddles, strap and major brands. After about two to three years, they started to drop the tack and our business picked up. Their prices came up to where we could compete on vet supplies.

"In my opinion, however, they hurt our local feed store. It is hard to know, but over the past 10 years we have become symbiotic and now send customers back and forth for what we do and do not have and things work well. I would estimate we send two customers a day their way for tractor parts, etc., and they send people in for bridles and bits. It was tough at first, but it may also draw people in to town if you have a tack store. Tack is very specific and you need to have one of a thousand different items specific to breed, size of horse, rider etc... It is not easy and takes a big inventory. Big stores like TSC work on five of one item. I am not sure if the same can be said for farm and feed stores. There is very, very little margin in horse feed and TSC private labels and is tough, I'd say double tough, on feed and the consumers are very fickle with dollars.

"Consumers do not realize that local businesses really invest in the community horse events from 4H to Pony Club and the money or dollar spent in a local store, in turn, is spent in the community three times over."

Let us know what you think about TSC expansion into the California tack and feed market. You can post your thoughts on our Facebook Page or send us an email to cheryl@ridingmagazine.com.