Bill Mintiens
The Redmond Spokesman

WILCO FARM STORE

1649 Odem Medo Way; Redmond

Open: Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

Phone: 541-548-8345

Web site: www.farmstore.com

A new “farm store” opened its doors in Redmond last week.

Farmer-owned Wilco held a grand opening for its 20th cooperative, located at 1649 Odem Medo Way. All of its stores are within Oregon and Washington.

This is Mt. Angel-based Wilco’s third Central Oregon store since it purchased and developed two stores in 2013 from the Round Butte Seed Company, one in east Bend, one in Prineville.

While you may be familiar with a Wilco store, you may not be aware of Wilco’s business model as a cooperative.

So what is Wilco?

During an Aug. 28 media tour, Sam Bugarsky, Wilco’s retail stores president, made clear what Wilco, short for Willamette Valley Cooperatives, is not.

“We are the farthest thing from a corporate chain store,” he said. “Being a cooperative, every dollar of profit we make either gets reinvested in the business or gets distributed to the farmers and ranchers. There is no fat cat owner.”

Wilco is comprised of five divisions. The Hazelnut Growers of Oregon is a marketing and processing cooperative. “Ninety-nine percent of the U.S. production of hazelnuts is grown in Oregon,” Bugarsky said. “We process about a third of that 99 percent.”

Wilco’s agricultural business serves commercial ag customers with crop protection products and services. There are seven plants in Oregon and Washington that serve cooperative members.

The petroleum division delivers commercial fuel, diesel, gas, lubricants and propane in the Willamette Valley.

And then theres the farm store division. Operated separately from the other businesses, the farm stores serve both cooperative members and the general public.

“The farm stores are really designed to serve the small farm, rural living families and our farmer/rancher members,” Bugarsky said.

The farm store business is the most profitable division for Wilco.

“It’s the business that really doesn’t serve as much of the membership directly like the Ag or Petroleum businesses do,” Bugarsky said.

Growth in Wilco’s farm store business has come about because of non-farm products.

“Farming is our core business but our non-farm customers, regardless of home size or acreage owned, have dogs and cats,” Bugarsky said. “Our pet departments, like our other departments, meet the needs of these customers.”

Opening stores in Central Oregon

Given Central Oregon’s rural agricultural base, along with the influx of new residents seeking the “country living lifestyle,” it might seem odd that Wilco executives were worried about opening stores here.

“We were a little nervous at the time because we had never been out of the (Willamette) Valley, some in our company thought it was a little risky because the customers are a little bit different, the climate’s different, but it’s gone really well in both locations,” Bugarsky said. “Farm store business has tripled in Bend, doubled in Prineville, since 2013.”

Wilco feels that the new Redmond location is perfectly situated in the middle of the Central Oregon agricultural market.

“A lot of our best customers come from the north side of Bend and also Sisters,” Sam Bugarsky said. “Our loyalty data (in-store purchase data) tells us that they want closer access, so this was a natural next step.”

Redmond store features new decor package

Wilco’s standard store model includes five signature departments — Livestock, pet, garden, lifestyle clothing and a True Value hardware store.

“We’re really not just a farm store, all our departments are really stores-within-stores,” Bugarsky said.

Square footage-wise, the Redmond store, at 22,000 interior square feet, is about 10-percent larger than the Bend store.

“Most of that extra space is display so we have more flexibility,” said T.J. Colson, director of store operations. “Actual merchandising space is almost identical to the Bend store.”

New signage, displays and color schemes are part of Wilco’s new decor package.

“This is the first Oregon store to have this new decor package, it really makes the store feel a lot more homey, a lot more welcoming,” said Nicole Anderson, promotions and events manager. “I think it fits a lot better with our customers who live the lifestyle that we serve here.”

Staffing the new store

The Redmond store is fully staffed with about 40 full and part-time employees. Two of them transferred from the Valley, with the rest hired locally.

“We have a really nice blend of internal transfers from other stores as well as new employees,” Colson

said. “Bobby Grinder, our store manager, is coming to us after working for the Coastal store for five years.”

Wilco estimates that about 90 percent of Redmond employees are women.

“A lot of our skilled and technically-qualified folks at this store, people who have experience with the (farm) lifestyle, are female,” Colson said.

Wilco feels its wages and benefits are competitive with the local market. Packages of benefits are offered to both full and part-time employees.

“Wage varies by position of course but we start a lot of our part-time people between $12 and $13 per hour,” Colson said.

“We are known as an employer of choice,” Sam Bugarsky added.

Grinder started in May and hiring for the more technical positions began in early June with additional positions added as the summer progressed. Staff training, a combination of internal cultural and product-specific training, has been ongoing throughout the summer.

Association with FFA and 4-H

Wilco works closely with both the Oregon and Washington state FFA youth ag organizations.

FFA Forever is Wilco’s campaign to raise money and awareness for Oregon and Washington FFA. The program started in 2012, shortly after Oregon FFA lost state funding. Wilco and several other ag-focused organizations agreed to help privately fund the Oregon FFA Foundation and FFA Forever was born.

“We’ve been wildly successful with our programs for FFA and 4-H kids,” marketing director Jake Wilson said. “They get special discounts and, at the end of each fair season, we send out gift card rebates based on how much they bought to help them jump-start their program for the following year. And with our FFA Forever program we’re closing-in on $1 million for the FFA since 2013.”

Local community promotions

Wilco doesn’t toot its own horn a lot about local community tie-ins.

“We don’t talk about it a lot but we just finished 21 county fair auctions in Oregon and Washington,” Wilson said. “We also do well over 1,000 donations in local markets and a couple hundred sponsorships.”

As the Redmond store ramps-up, the company plans to be involved in local grass roots community efforts like dog parks and community gardens.

And with the summer agricultural season winding down, the company has several local events on the schedule, including full-box produce sale and an animal celebration and pet days, Wilson said.

New store to stimulate more development in that area?

The stores in the Wilco-area of Odem Medo Way have seen quite a bit of change over the years. Formerly the site of a Rite Aid store and the Oregon DMV, the new Wilco store looks to draw customers back to the shopping center, where an Albertsons store also recently closed.

Ken Streater, partner and principal broker with the NAI Cascade commercial real estate company, has been working with the property owners and feels good about the prospects.

“There are good positive indicators that new tenants are on the horizon.”

Working with the city of Redmond

Opening any new store comes with challenges. Wilco officials had nothing but positive comments about working through the challenges with Redmond. Bugarsky said the city helped Wilco work through a code challenge on connecting the former Rite Aid and DMV.

“Very cooperative, it was very refreshing working with the city,” he said. “We had a couple of very unique challenges here with this building that they helped us work through.”

Bugarsky said Wilco plans to open one to four new Wilco stores each year, but did not reveal where.

— Reporter: 541-548-2185, bmintiens@redmondspokesman.com

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