Birdseed at the door, Canada-made crafts on barn-board shelves and gardening gadgets in the spacious back room.
There’s no vision statement or commitment-to-our-customers poster anywhere in sight.
But the solidity of promises kept is implicit in the longevity of Hyde Park Feed Country Store.
It is evident every time Charlie Frank lugs a bag of seed to a customer’s car or his brother Dave fixes a rival company’s feeder hanger that somehow snapped. They have been known to deliver birdseed to some elderly customer stalwarts and fill their feeders, too.
It’s not because these deeds generate revenue (they don’t), but because that’s just how people should treat people, they say.
“We’ve always been hands-on and whatever we’ve done . . . the buck has always stopped with us,” says Charlie.
“When customers come in, our ‘mission statement’ is to deal with each customer individually.”
The store celebrates its 60th birthday this year and is a second-generation business that has found its future in returning to its roots.
Photos of the early years of the business adorn a front wall: you can see little Dave and littler Charlie standing proudly in the back of their dad’s checkerboard-painted pickup truck.
That was in the days when their father Bill Frank was a Purina Feeds rep, when even the building sported that company’s iconic red-and-white pattern.
Bill and Margaret were dairy farmers who in 1955 set up a feed store in a corner of a barn, on Gainsborough Road just west of London. Bill added equipment soon after that, figuring that if he was selling feed to poultry farmers he should also equip their barns for it.
As the business grew, eventually adding a recreational vehicle operation on the side, Bill also bought neighbouring farms.
Their father encouraged the boys to attend college but they had already found their niche.
Charlie began to run the hog operations while Dave specialized in poultry, and was on the road a lot selling hatchery chicks to egg farmers.
Then in 2004, the brothers went back to the store’s roots, replacing the campers and trailers with squirrel-proof feeders and the poultry equipment with wild birdseed.
It quickly became apparent that there was a market for people craving a bit of the nature-loving life, people who appreciated buying from a couple of neighbourly guys who seemed to know what customers needed before they even asked.
“We could see the writing on the wall, that people were looking for a unique store,” says Dave.
After the diversity of the family’s various business ventures, it was time to return to a refreshed version of the feed store their father had started.
“We had the base of the business and what we had to do was take this base to the next level,” Charlie adds.
Most of the bird feeders are made in the area. Charlie’s wife Cathy sources the gift items, from local soy candles to cider, nature photography and honey.
Hers is also the face behind the busy Twitter feed (@HydeParkFeeds) and the store’s Facebook page: even at a rustic country store, customer relationships are both virtual and in-person.
Patriarch Bill Frank still drops in every day.
Charlie is usually the first person you’ll see at the store; Dave is frequently behind-the-scenes and is more often found in the workshop.
They’re friends, as well as brothers and business partners, and a question about how they resolve any disagreements seems to puzzle them. Disagreements? Maybe a few, but none serious enough to recall.
They’ve worked side-by-side for so long — they laugh at the shared memory of unloading tractor-trailer loads of dog food, lifting bag by back-breaking bag to the rafters of a rear building — that they know each other’s strengths and finish each other’s sentences.
Going from farming to retail was a leap, but a good one.
And it was easier, says Charlie, than the tough times of 1982 when interest rates topped 18 per cent and every day was a struggle to keep the farm afloat. “But we survived,” says Dave.
And even the recession of 2008 proved little barrier to the business, as people replaced trips down south for closer-to-home pursuits such as feeding “their” birds.
“The best decision was to do what we did in 2004. At that point we had no idea how that was going to take off,” Charlie says.
Bottled/tap water: bottled
Maple Leafs/Blue Jays: Maple Leafs
Port Stanley/Grand Bend: Grand Bend
Early bird/night owl: early bird
Country/rock/classical: easy listening
Bottled/tap water: Tap water
Maple Leafs/Blue Jays: Blue Jays
Port Stanley/Grand Bend: Grand Bend
Early bird/night owl: Early bird
Family: Wife Donna, two adults sons and a daughter
Family: Wife Cathy, who helps run the business, and two adult sons
At our stage of life, this is a fun business. People walk through the door and they’re happy because they’re doing something they enjoy.