By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.
Oh, there’s the doorbell. Here’s your delivery. No, it’s not UPS or the pizza man, it’s groceries. Here are milk, juice, cereal, meat, fruit, and fresh vegetables, all delivered to your door. What a remarkable service, having groceries delivered to your home. Service to customers has been a fundamental part of the success of this home-owned grocery business in a rural community.
Brenda Johnson is owner and manager of Hometown Market in Bird City, Kansas. Hometown Market is one of those surprising stores which has been able to survive, in spite of the many challenges facing rural grocery stores.
Bird City is a rural community of 472 people. That’s rural – but there’s more. Brenda grew up at Hill City. Then Brenda lived at McDonald, where her aunt had a grocery store, and Brenda worked for her there. When her aunt retired, Brenda took over the store.
Then the grocery store in nearby Bird City closed, and Brenda was asked to take it over. The Bird City Century II Development Foundation remodeled the store and Brenda stocked it and opened it as Hometown Market in 2003. It is supplied by Affiliated Foods Midwest.
At a time when many rural grocery stores are struggling and closing their doors, how in the world does a person manage to open and sustain a store in such challenging times?
“They know we’re here for them,” Brenda said, as she greeted customers by name. “Be personal with them.” Over time, the store has diversified and innovated to respond to its customers.
Hometown Market offers a full range of typical grocery products, including meat, dairy, frozen foods, snacks, household needs, health and beauty products, and produce. An in-store meat cutter still cuts and grinds fresh meat products daily.
The store offers other features such as video rental, greeting cards, gifts, and helium balloons for special occasions. There are t-shirts for sale, promoting Bird City and the local school. In the back corner of the store is a cluster of chairs around a table, coffee pot, and a television set.
Hometown Market has now launched a rewards card, through which frequent shoppers can accumulate points toward free items. The store also serves lunches at noon.
Remarkably, this rural grocery store is online. Not only does this site include a video greeting from Brenda, there are links to customer request and customer comment forms, weekly ads, a printable shopping checklist and a link for an online order form.
Online order form? Yes, this innovative store offers a printable store order form on the website. That form has space to list the products that the customer wants to purchase, plus a place to mark whether the customer will be picking up the order at the store or if the order will be delivered to home or to work.
Delivered to home or work? Yes, Hometown Market will deliver the grocery order to the customer’s home or workplace. The printable form includes a place to list item, size, price, and quantity, plus a delivery address. This form can be mailed, faxed, or phoned in to the store.
“We have several customers that we deliver to weekly,” Brenda said. “They just call in a list every week. I bought a golf cart so I can run around town making my deliveries,” she said.
Brenda’s store now places orders for five other stores in the region: One in Nebraska, one in Colorado, two in St. Francis, and one in Brewster, population 280 people. Now, that’s rural. These rural stores can help sustain themselves by placing group orders wholesale.
“When I had the store in McDonald, other stores let me place orders with them, so I’m glad to do this for other stores now,” Brenda said. “I love helping out others.”
There’s the doorbell. Sure enough, it is your grocery order, delivered right to your door. We commend Brenda Johnson and the people of Hometown Market for making a difference by offering this personal service to their customers. Not only is this market in these customers’ hometown, it is virtually at their doorstep.
The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves. The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Unit. A photo of Ron Wilson is available. Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are also available. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development.