Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Feeding a need

Feeding a need
Local country supply store to host gala grand opening despite sour economy, rising costs
By Richard Bammer
Article Launched: 09/28/2008

Roland Higby (left), Scott Hulbert (center), and Luke Van Laningham of Higby's Country Feed, stand inside the store's large new location on Curry Road. (Rick Roach / The Reporter)

Spirits are beginning to soar at Higby's Country Feed, Inc., which awaits an Oct. 4 grand opening, but the owner tempers his feelings with the gloomy reality show that is the soured U.S. economy, saying 2008 revenues are about the same as last year but sales are down.

"By the same token, we're doing OK," said Roland Higby, who newly expanded his Dixon feed, fencing and clothing store from a relatively small 1,500 square feet to 7,200. The store is a cheerful forest green steel building, with three smaller adjacent hay and feed barns, at 8470 Currey Road."

Tenuous bottom lines plague feed stores up and down California and across the United States, he noted, adding that increased hay and feed prices - which have doubled over the past year - are forcing horse, pig, chicken and pet owners to cut back on their buying and, in some cases, to give up or sell their animals. He acknowledged that some product sales at his store have dropped off.

"I know some (stores) are going to go out of business," said Higby. "You're going to lose some of them and some will survive, hopefully, on the other side and be better for it."

Still, he looks forward to the all-day grand opening event, which includes prize giveaways, kids activities and on-site product experts. And customers are generally excited by his new store's more spacious, well-lighted interior layout - about the size of a small airplane hangar - the new merchandise, and the 20-space parking lot, added Higby, who, with wife Denise, opened the business in April 1984.

"It's very shopper-friendly," he said. "Customers like the whole new layout. It's easy to shop. Our old store was cramped and it was difficult to shop - it was hard to find stuff under other stuff. A lot of stuff in this store was in the other. We just spread it out."

A quick scan of the merchandise, shelved or hung along wide aisles or on the ample walls, reveals virtually every kind of horse product, English and Western tack and some veterinarian supplies; cattle supplies (ear tags, fly repellent, salt blocks, etc.); dog, cat, bird and rabbit food and assorted pet supplies; chicken and goat food; mesh wire and electric fencing, metal fencing stakes and green wooden fence posts; Western clothing, including boots, coats, gloves, shirts and denim jeans for men and women; assorted handmade soaps and other gifts.

The hay barn, just a stone's throw from the entrance, boasts six different kinds of hay, including rye, alfalfa and oats, stacked in bales that reach more than two stories. Among his customers, Higby noted, are the University of California, Davis, Equine Center, the Sacramento Zoo and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo.

"We do lots of deliveries," he said.

Higby, 54, who lives in a one-story ranch house on the 4-acre property, said building the new facility, with its time-consuming county and city permit process and reviews, "was a challenge," a couple of years in the making. He started the actual building in January but kept the old store intact - where the new cement parking lot is today - until Aug. 4.

As his business has expanded, Higby has hired more employees. Today, he employs 17 people, half full time, half part time. He incorporated his business in 2004 and said his biggest concerns, like those of countless small-business owners, are inflation and the costs of health insurance and energy.

Born in Fairfield but raised in Dixon, Higby said longtime customers enjoy the "country feel" the store offers. He called them "good people" and, through the years, has naturally come to call them by their first names.

"You get to know their families," he added, smiling.

But some of the families are cutting back on their feed purchases, or adhering to a fixed budget, a casualty of the poor economy or, in some cases, job loss, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture officials. Recent reports indicate that higher feed prices are the result of higher energy and production costs and tightening supplies.

A market reporter for USDA, Jack Getz said high-quality hay sells for up to $300 a ton, up by about $40 to $60 per ton from last year. He said a lot of corn, which used to be used for feed, has instead been diverted to ethanol production.

Getz noted that in California, the problem is worsened because fewer acres are devoted to hay, which requires lots of costly water. Farmers instead have begun planting more permanent crops such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts.

Additionally, he noted, American feed supplies will likely tighten because of increasing demand for milk from Asian countries, such as China and India.

Higby somewhat lamented the rapidly changing nature of his business, its pressures brought on by the new global economy, but is clearly more focused on the Oct. 4 grand opening, saying he feels "overwhelmed."

"I still have to get ready, we're still wrapping up the construction," he said. "We're cleaning up the edges around the construction. It'll be nice when all this stuff is done."

Higby's Country Feed on Curry Road in Dixon has a new 7,200-square-foot facility offering a wide selection of western dress, ranch supplies, hats and feed. (Rick Roach/The Reporter)

What: Higby's Country Feed, Inc.
Address: 8470 Currey Road, Dixon
Phone: 678-9007
Web site: www.higbyfeed.com
Owner: Roland Higby
Hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; and 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays
Services, products: Supplies and feed for farm and ranch animals and pets, Western and English tack and horse-riding clothing, electric fencing, and gifts
Number of employees: 17
Grand opening: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. on Oct. 4