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Asking for the business

Marshall Farmers Cooperative’s General Store fills a need for consumers in fast-growing Chapel Hill
Story and photo by Chris Villines 5/24/2018

 

Marshall Farmers Cooperative celebrated the grand opening of its new concept, The General Store, on April 20 in Chapel Hill. First opened to customers on March 30, The General Store is targeted to meet the demands of a growing non-farm consumer market in the area.
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Like much of the 40-mile perimeter around Nashville, Chapel Hill is experiencing explosive growth. Builders either constructed or broke ground on more than 1,000 homes in the past 12 months, with many more developments on the planning table.

This influx of consumers in a retail-starved market created a need. Marshall Farmers Cooperative has stepped up to the plate and made a significant investment to fill that void with its new endeavor, The General Store, which opened on March 30. The Co-op held Grand Opening festivities on April 20.

The store, which has 22 full- and part-time employees, is open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., closing at a later time in order to accommodate those in the community who work traditional office hours, mostly in surrounding cities.

Once home to a Walmart Neighborhood Market, the new store at 4718 Nashville Highway means there are now two Co-op locations in the town. The existing Chapel Hill branch store at 2304 Unionville Road will remain open as a farm center and car care center.

“We opened The General Store as a way to increase our presence in a rapidly growing marketplace where the majority of people moving in are not involved in farming,” says Brian Ladd, general manager of Marshall Farmers Cooperative. “The General Store helps us to service homeowners, gardeners, beekeepers, handymen, contractors, and others who were buying products out of town because it wasn’t offered here in much capacity.

“Through our research and the input we received, the Chapel Hill community was asking for a business like this. It’s an investment on our part that we believe will pay off rather quickly.”

With an attractive marquee promoting “Hardware•Sport-ing•Garden•Pet•Farm,” the 10,000-square-foot facility came together in lightning-fast fashion. Marshall Farmers closed on the property March 12 and it was open for business just 18 days later to serve customers getting started on their spring projects.

“I cannot speak highly enough about the drive and dedication of the people who helped get this place open,” says Rebecca Clayton, who, along with Chapel Hill native Will Bowman, was selected to manage The General Store. “It took a team working 12- to 13-hour days every day for almost three weeks to make it happen. And every day since we’ve opened, at least one person stops me and says, ‘We’re so glad you’re here. We’ve needed this for a long time, and now it saves me from driving 25 miles to get what I want.’”

Housed inside The General Store are a diverse mix of neatly displayed products, such as plumbing supplies, fishing, hunting, and camping gear, hardware, paint, apparel and footwear, pet food and supplies, garden seed and plants, and much more. Those perusing the aisles at the Grand Opening celebration were encouraged by what they saw and grateful to have a nearby shopping option in their hometown.

“I’m so glad to see a store like this here,” said Diane Curtis, a Chapel Hill resident who was accompanied by her husband, Ronnie. “There’s a good variety of everything, and if they don’t have it they’ll get it for you. That’s the way it’s always been at the other Co-op store in town. Both places have friendly folks who are eager to help you in any way they can. That keeps me coming back.”

The Curtises’ Chapel Hill neighbors, Monica and Joe Sedlak, demonstrated their satisfaction with The General Store through their well-stocked shopping cart.

“This store is something that has long been needed in the area,” said Joe. “It’s following right in the footsteps of the Co-op that’s been here for years. Good customer service makes all the difference.”

As shoppers browsed, the tempting aroma of freshly prepared baked goods and other food items wafted through the air of The General Store’s café. This area, unique among Co-op locations and housed at the front of the store, is open from 6-10 a.m. for breakfast and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch.

Other “quick stop” features available at the new location include 24-hour gas pumps, and soft drink coolers plus numerous candy/snack options near the checkout counters.

 “The reality is that Chapel Hill is growing houses instead of corn now, so The General Store is our Co-op’s way of transitioning the business model to capture this market,” says Sam Smith, board chairman of Marshall Farmers Cooperative. “As there are fewer full-time farmers in the county, our hope is that this location will be profitable and can help subsidize some things for those who do still farm full time. For example, this store can help us pay for services like our bulk fuel delivery that we want to be able to provide to our farmer members, who are still the core of our business.”

Early returns are encouraging, says Ladd. The General Store is steadily increasing daily sales, and a soon-to-be-installed road sign will increase the businesses’ visibility even more.

“We feel that it will be a highly successful store,” Ladd says. “We’re excited about how well it’s been received by the community. They wanted this, so it made perfect sense to do it.”

And, he stresses, the plan is to keep both Co-op locations operating.

“We don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future,” says Ladd. “As certain items are phased out at the existing Co-op, we’ll transition them to The General Store, like bulk mulch, garden plants, and bagged soils. This is a way to positively reinvest in the area and expand our operations, and the community’s support has been tremendous.”

 
 
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