It is never easy to take a business in a new direction, but the process has paid off for CountryMax, Retail Operations Manager Brad Payne says. “We’re able to change with the demands of the consumer,” he says.
The family owned CountryMax operates 15 locations in New York that sell lawn and garden-related items and pet supplies. Originally, Payne explains, CountryMax started operations in 1984 as a franchise of Agway, selling lawn and garden items.
When it broke away from the company as an independent entity in 1986, it rebranded itself as Farmington Farm and Garden. In the years that followed, it changed its name to CountryMax, and added pet supplies to the shelves of its stores.
“We’re big now in dog food, dog supplies [and items for] any pet,” he says, but asserts that the company’s lawn and garden sales are still strong. The company opened its 15th location in this past May.
One of the biggest distinctions between CountryMax and other stores that sell pet supplies is that it has three individual rooms dedicated to small animals, reptiles and fish, Payne says. Each, he notes, are climate controlled for each animal’s specific needs.
In addition, all of its locations have a “Wild Bird Center,” where customers can choose from a variety of birdseed, suet and nectar, as well as birdbaths, houses and feeders.
The stores also feature an “Equine Center,” which offer customers horse supplies and equine equipment, such as stable and grooming supplies, cribbing and muzzles, whips and crops, and vitamin and mineral supplements to help promote the animals’ health.
Although CountryMax operates in a very competitive market, the stores have earned loyal customers, Payne says. He notes that more than half of the business is from repeat clients.
“We have a rapport with them that is personalizing our stores,” Payne says, noting that the majority of its clients return to it time and time again. “We don’t get many people who come in, buy something and never come back.”
The Family Connection
The Payne family owns CountryMax, which has given Brad Payne a lifelong connection to the company. However, “It’s been 10 years now since I’ve started working with them,” he says, noting that his father and uncles are managers at CountryMax, while his grandfather, George Payne, is president.
The family involvement benefits the work environment, Payne says. “We are a big family and everyone does a lot,” he says. “Having a family connection and trust gives you an advantage over people who only know each other through work.”
The use of new technologies has aided CountryMax, Payne says. “Fifteen years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to have the kind of presence we have [now],” he says, noting that the company has increased connectivity between each of its stores and their managers.
“Through our website portals, we have a fully functional website store,” he says. The company lately has been devoting more attention to its web store and is always looking for ways to expand its reach. Having a good website gives it the opportunity to expand outside of its physical locations.
It also has a strong inventory sales system. “We’re learning every day how to make the system better,” he says.
CountryMax plans for further expansion, Payne says. Next spring, the company will open a location in Fairport, N.Y. “We’re [also moving] our Cicero, [N.Y.], location to a spot we think has more visibility,” he says, noting that the new location will open in the second half of August.
The firm also has implemented marketing initiatives to better teach customers about its stores. Payne notes that this is primarily being conducted through print media, since the company has seen a stronger return on investment in that format. Many of its customers respond well and look for physical copies of sales fliers in their mail or newspapers. Although the world is changing with the digital options available, CountryMax still has a good following in print.
“At the same time, we’re working on some TV ads,” he says. “With [our] renewed interest in our Web site, we’re trying to take a look at advertising on-line with banner ads. Our strategy right now is to get our name out there as best we can.”
Payne is positive about CountryMax’s future. “I think we’ve hit on something that’s a pretty successful store [with its] atmosphere and product mix,” he says.
While the company still has some stores that need to be updated, that will soon change, Payne says. “We’re moving forward and opening stores as we are revamping the older stores right now,” he says.