Meet a family who’s using its love of farming to provide customers with a variety of feed and supply needs. Ostrich and zebra chow are just the beginning.
Curt Luckey remembers the first day he waited, seated on his forklift, for the delivery truck to pull up to the loading dock at his place of business.
“It was pretty surreal,” says softspoken Curt, who, along with wife Anita, owns Cherry Valley Feed & Supplies. “I wasn’t used to being on that end of a delivery.”
For 17 years, Luckey spent his weeks on the road, working as a truck driver who delivered supplies from Chicago to Minneapolis. It was a grind, he says, and a change was in order.
So when the original owner of Cherry Valley Feed & Supplies, Robert Kramer, retired, Curt and Anita took a leap of faith and purchased the 11-year-old business. Anita had worked at the store for eight years, the past six as manager.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Curt says.
Cherry Valley Feed & Supplies, 1595 S. Bell School Road, Cherry Valley, Ill., carries pet supplies, wild bird products, feed for exotic animals, tack, animal health products, grooming supplies, bedding and much more.
Curt and Anita grew up on local farms and own a 150-acre farm in Cherry Valley, where they grow hay and corn, and tend to their horses, dogs, cats, donkey and goose. They have five adult daughters who help out at the store when they can.
“Curt and I were looking for something to do together,” Anita says. “Bob was serious about selling, so we asked ourselves, ‘Why not us?’”
The Luckeys employ three part-time people and pet groomer Sheila Highland, whose friendly miniature schnauzer, Kozmo, prances through the store looking for customers to greet.
From aardvark to zebra chow, Cherry Valley Feed & Supplies can order most any product that local pet owners need. When the circus came to town, organizers came in looking to buy elephant chow.
“You just never know what people are going to come through the front door asking for,” Anita says. “Worm chow is weird, but if they want it, I’m happy to order it.”
The store carries more than just critter feed. It sells a wide variety of western shirts and cowboy hats made by Resistol. There are Wrangler jeans; sheepskin-lined slippers; accessories such as belts, wallets, buckles, toys, baseball caps, backpacks and picture frames; and western-themed purses and jewelry for the ladies.
The Luckeys believe in stocking better brands. “We sell quality throughout the store,” Curt says. Customers often come in to shop for Christmas gifts.
The store also carries the Amish Wedding Foods brand of jams, jellies, pickles, relishes, salsa and popcorn, along with a line of soaps. Anita says one customer comes in just to buy boysenberry jam.
Customers often say they’re surprised to find such a variety of products at a feed and supply store. “A lot of customers who come in to buy dog food will say, “Wow, you have boots, hats and jewelry, too?” Anita says. “It started out as a country-type store. Besides pet food, the store sold hardware items, rope, chains, anything you needed if you were a rancher or a farmer. But it didn’t work for this store, because of the surplus of nearby big-box stores.”
The idea to expand inventory came when the store’s staff attended a Purina trade show a few years ago, where they were introduced to new product lines by participating vendors.
“That’s where the idea to sell Amish products came from,” Anita says. “We’ve always tried new things to see what works and what doesn’t work. That’s how we’ve got to where we are today.”
Providing good service is everything at Cherry Valley Feed & Supplies, says Anita. From offering customers candy to carrying each purchase, big or small, out to the customer’s car, taking care of the customer is job No. 1.
“Good customer service is a lost art,” Anita says. “Here, they don’t have to struggle carrying out that 20- or 50-pound bag of feed. We just do it. And it means a lot to them.”
Most customers are horse and pet owners from across the region. Curt and Anita even make deliveries to clients living in the Chicago suburbs.
Karen Alunni started shopping at Cherry Valley Feed & Supplies shortly after moving to Rockford three years ago. She’s become a faithful customer, shopping once or twice a week for bird seed, pet food and treats for her rescue animals.
“I can’t find a store like it anywhere else,” says Alunni, who often brings her pets with her to the store. “Not only is the store unique, but the customer service and friendless is beyond anything I’ve received before. I can’t say enough about Curt and Anita. They give 150 percent to their business and to their customers.”
The store sells 6 to 7 tons of horse feed each week, and ranks fourth in the U.S. in this category, for highest-selling Purina Mills outlets. In addition, Cherry Valley Feed & Supplies is the top-ranked overall dealer for the Purina Mills Exclusive dog food brand. In all, the store carries 14 different brands of pet food. And while it costs more to buy high-quality pet food, the result is keeping pets healthier, says Curt.
“People treat their pets like their children,” he says. “We offer a good product and we have good product knowledge.”
Over the years, Cherry Valley Feed & Supplies has weathered rough economic times, but the new owners are optimistic.
“It’s about having a positive attitude and outlook,” Anita says. “You can’t think negatively, or bad things will happen. We have to continue to deliver high-quality products and good customer service, and to work through the hard times.”
Since acquiring the business, the Luckeys have made few changes, except to increase inventory. More changes are in the works, however. They plan to host horse owner workshops, to donate to charitable organizations like PAWS, and to lend a hand to area 4-H clubs. The store has a blog on its website that’s packed with tips, strategies and stories for customers, such as how to keep senior horses active and how to prepare your animals for show season.
“We have a wonderful customer base, but our biggest hurdle is reaching people who don’t know we’re here,” Anita says.
After spending most of his career working on a farm or driving a flatbed truck, Curt concedes it’s a learning curve to understand the inner workings of the retail industry. But he enjoys the change of pace and the regular interaction with customers.
Even when the clock reads 7 p.m. and the lights are turned off, the new owner isn’t always ready to call it a day.
“I really enjoy coming to work these days,” he says.