Putting People first
April 9, 2012
Sitting in Old Town Fort Collins, Colo., is a building that was built in 1910. The building itself is brick, and the original material still stands. The floor is worn from decades of traffic, both the 2-footed and 4-footed kind. Customers bring their dogs to play while they catch up, and the sounds of chicks are always present.
Northern Colorado Feeder’s Supply was created in 1971, and has been in the same building on Linden Street since it’s beginning. Originally a flour-mill through both world wars, the building now houses a unique feed store that is as much of a feed store as it is a place for people to come relax.
Dennis Nater bought a share of the building and the business in 1973, and by 1978 was able to buy the rest of the business. He has owned and operated the business ever since.
While attending Colorado State University and majoring in Poultry Science, Nater worked for Ralston Purina as a salesman. Upon graduation, Nater decided to buy the business in Fort Collins because it was his favorite dealer, and he no longer wanted to travel.
“I liked people more than I liked the traveling. When I looked at owning a feed store, I thought boy, would that be fun. I’ve enjoyed it,” said Nater.
Nater has a background in nutrition, and formulated all of the rations that they make on site. “We still do all the formulations for the feed right here. Coming out of CSU and working for Ralston Purina, after what they put you through, there isn’t much we can’t formulate,” he said.
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Now, Nater works with manager Ben Seger to formulate the rations, and they still mix their rations on site. “I don’t think the formulation matters as much as knowing what’s going into it, and with our stuff we can show the customer everything we put into it. People still want to teach their kids where their food comes from,” said Seger.
In addition to feed, the store also carries chickens year-round. However, it has been in the last 10 years that the chicken part of the business has really taken off.
“When we started out, we had one set of brooders, and we would sell some chickens as people ordered them. The more people ordered, the more people wanted them. Then I bought another set of brooders, and we had them seasonally from February through May. Then we decided to carry them year-round. The foxes and coyotes work year around, so why shouldn’t we,” said Nater.
He continued, “The first four to six weeks you need to keep them warm and inside anyway, so it doesn’t really matter when you buy.”
This model has allowed the store to sell thousands of birds a year. In fact, it is estimated that they sell roughly 20,0000 chickens, ducks and turkeys a year.
Having the chickens is about much more than simply having another product to sell, however. “To me that is the neat thing about this, no matter what animal. Teaching people how to raise their own animals if they have a place for it, that is one of the neatest things. You teach people how to do it, and then they get the reward of filling up their freezer,” said Nater.
The store sells livestock feed, both brand name and feed they make on site, as well as bird-seed, plant seeds, pet products and live poultry. However, it is not the feed that draws people in and keeps them coming back: it is the atmosphere.
“We still run things on good old fashioned customer service. A lot of the reason why we can compete with bigger feed stores is because we treat people how they want to be treated, and they come back because of that,” said Danielle Nater, daughter of Dennis Nater, and an employee at the store.
Seger added, “Someone only has one experience the first time he goes into a place, so it’s important to try not to give a bad experience. A lot of people come back because of the experience. We know 90 percent of our customers by name, and I know people appreciate that.”
This attitude towards people is reflected through each employee, as well as through the products they sell. This past fall, Danielle Nater decided to open up a pet supply store in the back part of the feed store called Barkington’s.
“I started it because I was so disgusted at the way that pet stores took advantage of their customers by charging outrageous prices for things that made their pets happy. I want people to be able to spoil their pets, and give them things for their health for a reasonable price. After working at the vet clinic I work at, I really learned how much people care about their pets, and I think it’s a pretty cool thing. I love my animals, and want to do everything I can to help others feel the same,” she said.
In addition to the selling feed, the store also hosts different workshops throughout the year including a chicken owner’s, horse owner’s and dog days workshop. People can come to learn about how to feed their livestock, as well as enjoy free food and goodies.
“It sets us up to be a place where people can come to get any of their questions answered. It shows that we have the knowledge to share, and that we want to spend the time to help people get the best results that they can out of any of their animals,” said Seger.
He added, “We all have pets and most of us have or have had livestock, so we all have personal experience, and can give advice based on that.”
One of the issues that the historic store is facing is moving, because of plans that the city of Fort Collins has for the area. “If we are forced out, we will go wherever we can find a place in Larimer County. We want to stay in this area though. A lot of our customers are third and fourth generation, and we want to be able to serve them,” said Dennis Nater.
The biggest goal for this store is to help customers, no matter where they end up. “As long as this continues to work for our customers, we don’t see any reason to change it. A lot of places want you in, and then want you out. We don’t even care about making money. As long as everyone gets paid and we can pay our expenses and we can take care of our customers, that’s what matters to me,” said Dennis Nater.