We were pleased to speak with Dana and Julie Huntington of North Haverhill Agway in North Haverhill New Hampshire. North Haverhill Agway is a family owned and operated business which carries a wide variety of products such as lawn and garden supplies, pet supplies, nursery plants, annuals, perennials, mulch, fencing, wood pellets, coal, and much more. Our conversation is a combination of responses from both Julie and Dana.
Q. When and how did you start your business?
A. We purchased the business twenty-six years ago. I (Dana) started right out of college in the Agway Management Training Program in July 1987. My first assignment was in White River Junction, Vermont which lasted about a year. The training program was all about getting to know all aspects of the Agway business from sweeping floors to making management decisions. In March of 1988, I was transferred to North Haverhill. The store at that time was still operated by Agway, Inc. The opportunity came up for us to purchase it around December of 1989 and we purchased it in February 1990. Agway, Inc. actually went bankrupt and sold the right to use the Agway name and logo to Southern States Cooperative out of Richmond, VA. To most people the Agway name is synonymous with their local store. However, there are no more corporately owned Agway stores. All of the retail stores are now independently owned. Agway realized that independently owned stores were more profitable and were run better. We are still an authorized Agway dealer and we still buy and sell Agway products but we are not required to do so.
Q. Where did the two of you grow up? Are you from a farming background?
A. We are both originally from southern New Hampshire. We both grew up on farms. Dana grew up on a dairy farm and I (Julie) grew up on a beef farm. We both went to college in Kansas and graduated from Kansas State. We started dating freshman year of college but knew each other before that through 4H.
Q. Have you seen your business change over the years?
A. Oh, yes. We still sell a lot of the products we sold in 1990 but also sell a lot more things. Now, we sell pool chemicals, gardening supplies, nursery items, fencing, pet supplies, landscaping supplies and much more. We still do sell a lot of feed and animal supplies. However, nowadays, our customer base has changed, not by us doing anything, but just by the nature of the business. We used to be relatively large in the farming industry. Each farmer would need to come to Agway to get their supplies. Now a lot of them buy from a “store on wheels” that fills a lot of their basic needs. We can’t blame them because the convenience is tremendous and the variety is much larger that what we can offer. We cater a lot more now to the “backyard” farmer. Pet supplies are also a big part of our business. Pet supplies actually encompass almost half of our retail space. Parts of our business are seasonal but people feed their pets all year round. We carry 25-30 brands of pet food and we try to do what we can for people if they need a specific type of pet food We have access to quite a few of them through our suppliers.
Q. What are your biggest business challenges?
A. People don’t always see the challenges we go through as a small business. Managing employees, scheduling employees and dealing with employee conflicts is difficult for a small business. Advertising is also challenging. It is a big deal trying to find the right mix of advertising. Advertising used to be simple but now there are endless opportunities especially with social media. Seasons are challenging too. For example, we need winter to happen and snow and ice so that we can sell the rock salt, sand, wood pellets and other winter supplies. However, spring is definitely huge for us. It is our “Christmas” season. We have to make most of our money in the spring. Balancing high and low seasons is a learned process that takes years.
Q. What advice would you give new businesses in our region?
A. The one big thing is to be part of the community. It is crucial. Church, Little League, whatever your involvement…get to know the people…delve into the community. Time commitment, hard work and patience are key. We didn’t take a vacation for the first five or six years that we owned the business. However, the business has provided us with many opportunities which we would not otherwise have had including being able to raise our family here.