Whistle Stop Feed Shop, Olean, NY

Whistle Stop Feed Shop

Start small and don’t be afraid to get funding because the right loan can change everything. These are key insights that Ashley Hatch has learned since she opened Whistle Stop Feed Shop on her family’s 90-acre cattle-and-crop farm.

“The Pursuit loan made a world of difference. For the first time, I could really focus on what we need to do to grow into a profitable business, rather than just hanging on,” Ashley says. “And it’s proof that you don’t have to take on a lot of debt for everything to change for the better.”

Focus on higher-profit goods and services

The store opened in 2014 in a corner of the farm’s machine shop to sell quality feed. In 2018, the store relocated down the road — still on the farm — to a new shop with nearly 1,300 square feet. And when they expanded their offerings to add larger equipment — specifically, zero-turn lawn mowers and custom-built Amish sheds — that’s when Ashley had her “aha” moment.

“I learned that the profit margins on equipment are so much better than on feed,” she explains. “Feed sales are extremely competitive, too, because there are so many retailers, so it’s hard to get a foot in that door. We’ll continue to sell it because it’s so important to who we are as a business, but now I know that the real growth opportunities are in the mowers and sheds.”

If you’re not familiar with the kind of mowers that Whistle Stop sells, they’re riding lawn mowers known for maneuverability and speed. They’re also sought-after by homeowners, farmers and landscapers who tend large lawns, and Whistle Stop offers two of the highest-quality brands, Spartan and Grasshopper.

Whistle Stop’s core customers come from the southern tier of Western New York, although the store’s reach is beginning to expand further north to Buffalo’s southern suburbs. Ashley says that her customers come from further away because they appreciate the personal attention they receive as well as the firsthand experience that her family offers, which has competitive advantages over big-box retailers.

“And definitely, the Grasshoppers and Spartans and sheds are a big draw, too,” Ashley admits.

Refinancing debt with a Pursuit loan to improve cash flow

Ashley credits a $10,000 SmartLoan from Pursuit as a game changer for her business.

“I had some high-cost debt for the business,” she explains, “and our cash flow was so tight that we couldn’t get ahead. I’d been working with our local SCORE chapter to learn more about how to manage finances and cash flow. They also helped me understand profit margins better and taught me QuickBooks. And they recommended Pursuit.”

Pursuit’s team worked with Ashley to consolidate and refinance high-interest debt with a lower-cost loan, which Ashley says immediately improved cash flow.

“It was such good luck to learn about Pursuit,” she says. “Our business advisor, Sherri, and the Pursuit team were easy to get in touch with and they came to see us to learn firsthand about what we’re doing.” In 2019, Whistle Stop was approved for the loan.

Pursuit’s Consulting Corps provides marketing help

“Pursuit helped in many ways. One was easy financing and another was through free services from the Consulting Corps. I got marketing help, including redesigning our website,” Ashley says. “Now, customers can make online inquiries and see financing options for mowers, which helps build relationships right away. The consultants also showed us how to develop more effective social media content. I’m not tech savvy, so this help was huge. And the positive impact was immediate.”

Planning for profitable growth

As a feed and farm store, Whistle Stop’s goods were essential through the pandemic and the store wasn’t negatively impacted by mandated closings as many businesses had been. 

“We struggled for so long, so we’re humbled that we got through the first year of the pandemic physically and financially well. From a business perspective, we had a good year, growing our revenue by about $280,000,” Ashley says.

She continues, “Looking ahead, I want to sell 60 sheds and 60 mowers this year and more than 100 of each annually in a couple of years. That’s really big growth for a shop that started in a tiny corner of an unheated barn and six kinds of feed!”

Pursuit can help your business grow

“Experiencing this growth is the most wonderful feeling,” Ashley admits. “If I had advice for other business owners, I’d say don’t be afraid to start small. Learn about your customers and what they need and want. Then, get the help you need to grow, like a loan from Pursuit. That’s when you can expand from an idea that you’re passionate about to a profitable business.”

To learn how we can help you, contact Pursuit today.

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