Mills Fleet Farm

Another Farm & Home

I recently wrote about the Farm & Home retail concept (3.11.17) and two companies Rural King and Family Farm & Home.

Mills Fleet Farm is headquartered in Brainerd, MN and has 37 stores in MN, WI, IA and ND.

There are certainly more of these regional chains that are “country/farm oriented” and most likely compete well with Walmart.

Life Time Value

Keeping Customers

It costs a lot to get a new customer. Business from a repeat customer is much less costly. The answer to keeping customers is to understand the Life Time Value (LTV) concept.

LTV is the amount of business generated in a “life time” of a business-customer relationship.

A former insurance executive reminded me of LTV….one of the fundamental principles of insurance is to always maintain contact with the client/customer….whether through birthday/Christmas cards or interacting at a civic or recreational event. 

While we had a mail list….maintaining contact was not a priority….looking back that is something we should have done better. The One-on-One Customer experience and LTV was greatly expanded on by Don Peppers-Martha Rogers in their first book – The One to One Future (1996)….long after we left the business.

Busisness Fudamentals

Not as Simple

From The Grand Rapids Business Journal:

“We will see more closings because there was a big rush of people getting into this industry all at once, and they can’t all succeed. It’s a business, and not all businesses succeed,” he said. “Many will fail because they weren’t managed properly, marketed properly or didn’t make good beer.”

The article also stated that –  “among the characteristics for potential failure of small breweries includes the many challenges all small businesses face: long hours, business strategy, lower-than-expected profits or longer horizon to profitability than expected, and under capitalization.”

All of the above reasons for success or failure revert to understanding business fundamentals. New ventures also have some degree of risk….that’s the business environment. To reduce the risk….know the basics….understand the market/customer….produce a good product….give the customer value.

Business Model


Like other professions, being a dentist means more than just being a dentist. There must be many business models for establishing a dental practice…..and more than likely numerous consultants to help accomplish this.

 A new dentist once indicated that there is little taught in the dental school on establishing a practice or even understanding the business side of a professional practice.

Reading the local life-style publications shows that at least in the Raleigh area….the high-end style practice has a market. These practices show highly stylized photos of the staff and office and seem to offer a wide variety of services apart from a traditional practice.

Fortunately we found a more traditional practice….pleasant office….friendly staff….but not glamorous (just professional).


Optical Technology

The 2017 Photonics buyers guide arrived recently…..880 pages of information on lasers, optics, fiber optics, light sources, imaging, sensors, spectroscopy, and materials & coatings.

I started receiving this guide and monthly magazine years ago. While not an expert on Photonics….the buyers guide provides an insight to optical technology and to the more than 4000 photonics companies and the 1700+ products and services that make up this industry.

Rural King

Off the Radar


There are numerous regional brands that mostly are off the business radar screen….Rural King being one of them until recently….they purchased a closed Walmart….in order to expand in Michigan.

For many years, Quality Farm and Fleet (QFF) was headquartered in Muskegon. QFF was a successful business that understood the rural and farm market. Unfortunately, it merged into another farm-type retailer and ceased to survive.

However, that wasn’t the end of the farm/home concept as one of the former executives of QFF resurrected the idea and founded Family Farm and Home again headquartered in Muskegon….with 53 locations (nearly 20 in 2011) in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.

There is room in the marketplace for another competitor like Rural King….after all competition is what makes (or should make) companies perform better.


Path to Excellence


From Tom Peters:

“Want to learn about Excellence? Forget the Fortune 100. Find five great companies with less than 50 employees near you. Make friends. Sponge up ideas.”

From my experience this is one leg of a triangle for leading a business/organization….the other two….leveraging experience and learning from the best business thinkers.

In our business, we were always ready to try new ideas….whether our own or others. I visited competitor’s and was well attuned to what others were doing throughout the industry. 

The real test for some businesses is the willingness to listen and take advice. No matter how successful a business or organization there are always ways to be better and different.

Pricing Strategy

How Much?


On a recent radio program….the discusion was on pricing a medical like product. Untill recently this product sold at specialized providers offices….any where from $1,500-$3,000.

Now variations of this product can be purchased at Costco for $500. Similarity, glasses are very good values at Costco compared to those of specialty providers.

Pricing was always a constant in our business….just about every competitor was in line with pricing as most used the traditional markup. On certain items we were very competitive….to give the customer an exceptional value relative to price.

While we constantly evaluated pricing strategies….the bottom line was the bottom line….we had to show a profit at the end of the year….that’s just good business.

Public Relations




“An Asian Cuisine, which closed its doors Jan. 30, is an extension of Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary and owned by Ann Goodnight. Each were named defendants on the lawsuit, as was SAS Institute and N.C. Culinary Ventures.”

It seems that this is not the kind of public relations that The Umstead Hotel and SAS would want. I would be very surprised if this case went to trial. If anything it should have been resolved prior to any lawsuit. 

Of course, businesses do have some litigation from time to time….however there is always the trade-off between litigating and favorable public relations. The key factor in this case is that a similar case was settled in 2011. 

Note: The Umstead Hotel is a 5 Star hotel and SAS is a highly successful global software company in Cary, NC.


Expanding Value


American Grease Stick (AGS) has had a presence in Muskegon Heights since 1931. The early products were simply grease sticks….basic lubrication items such as the “White Grease Crayon” in the photo.

AGS was recently acquired by a private equity firm….Three Rivers Capital.

While AGS has been a successful business…..the acquisition gives it greater access to capital markets and the expertise of Three Rivers.

It seems like this is a good decision for AGS and for Three Rivers.