SPRING HILL — Rural King, which opens its first Florida store on Monday along busy Commercial Way, aims not only to equip and clothe local farmers, but those who tend a lawn, feed their pets and feathered fly-ins, make their own home repairs or ply skills in a hobby or commercial workshop.
The goal for first-time visitors to Rural King, says store manager Jeff Hixon, is "the wow effect."
"When people walk around," Hixon said, "it's, 'Wow, we never knew you had these things.' "
Not just the product lines, said regional manager Kyle Banks. "It's customer service we pride ourselves on," he said.
And if prices aren't always the lowest around, Banks said, they are competitive for hard-to-get goods.
Billing itself since 1960 as "America's Farm and Home Store," the family-owned Rural King chain owns and operates 68 stores in eight states, said president Alex Melvin from the company's corporate office in Mattoon, Ill. Offerings target working needs rather than niceties and the fashionable.
Melvin and the local managers say they have tweaked the Spring Hill store's offerings for Florida — more air-conditioner coolant, more saltwater than freshwater fishing gear, not much in the heating department or cold weather wear.
Melvin expects that one popular item when the store opens will be its supply of ammunition, "a quarter-million dollars worth," he said of a product that has been in short supply around the United States in recent months.
On a store walk-through last week, Hixon noted, too, hulking closet-sized gun safes, adding, "Eventually, we will have guns."
Nearby, Hixon gestured to "a whole aisle of camping supplies."
Banks pointed to "tons of pet food," explaining: "We've definitely got a lot of pet customers around here."
A few steps farther they take note of "the most birdseed of anybody. A lot of our customers love birds."
And, Hixon pointed out, "You'd be surprised with the amount of tools we have. Basically, it's a mini-hardware store within our store."
Walking on, shoppers will find automotive supplies; plumbing units; tractor parts; tires for lawn mowers, golf carts and on-road vehicles; and sturdy and spiffy truck bed boxes.
"We probably have the best price on batteries around," Banks said, mentioning batteries for watercraft, trucks, even hearing aids.
There's outdoor equipment of all sorts and an outdoor garden area. Also available for the outdoors are rabbits from a local breeder; chicks will be available come cooler weather.
For indoors or out, work clothes occupy a large space in the store space.
About 80 part-time and full-time employees have been hired from the local workforce.
Said one of them, apparel worker Pam Morton, 59, of Spring Hill: "They've hired a large amount of older people. That was excellent. We're from the generation of hard workers."
Banks, 25, a Rural King transplant from Charleston, Ill., said the hires range from age 18 to 73. Many have retail experience; some are specialists in their fields. He mentioned the nursery manager, a 30-year gardener, and a former veterinary technician in the pet food department.
Hixon, 53, has relocated to Hernando from Rural King's Jefferson, Ind., store.
Both Banks and Hixon have moved with their wives to Spring Hill.
The Rural King site housed a Kmart until about 10 years ago and has sat empty since. Purchased for $1.6 million, the building remodeling was costly, Melvin said. It had been gutted of air-conditioning, copper and wiring, he said.
As they step inside, customers will see an open, no-frills store with spacious aisles, bright lighting and a practical concrete floor.
Free coffee and popcorn are offered.
Melvin said the company is planning to open its second store in Florida in January, in Leesburg.
Beth Gray can be reached at [email protected]