There were a few moments of trepidation when Terry and Sandra O’Neill were in the midst of restructuring and re-branding their popular, well-respected and growing farm supply business. Would their loyal customers keep coming back, would they think the products and customer-focused, ‘go the extra mile’ service would go by the wayside?
Well, the O’Neill’s needn’t have worried. When the business changed from O’Neill’s Farm Supply to TCO Agromart about nine years ago, the transition was practically seamless, as was the move three years ago to a larger facility just off Highway 41 on Pleasant Drive in Selby.
“Basically, we just changed the structure of the business in 2007, although the name didn’t change right away. The important thing for us, and being a part of this community, is that we’re still running this business like we did when we bought it back in 1994. We have taken on a corporate partner and we are also now part owners of another business in Trenton that is very similar to ours. But the day-to-day operations are run by us still. And it’s funny because the change really has been so negligible that we still get lots of customers calling us O’Neill’s,” said Sandra O’Neill.
“The good thing about the new structure is that we have a lot more support and back-up for various aspects of the business. The Agronomy Company is the corporate partner and they run the Agromart Group, which is how that came to be part of the name. And they bring a lot of value to the table. There are 22 Agromarts across Canada and they are very focused on the crop input business – crop protection, crop nutrients and seed.
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“And we were always very strong on the feed side and that’s still going very well for us, but now we have a little more support and strength on the crop side of things. So there’s more buying power and through Agromart we have more resources at our fingertip for things like health and safety and other administrative issues. We still do all the work here but now we have more support behind it all.”
TCO Agromart’s customers are many of the same farm operations that they have been dealing with for the past 23 years, although O’Neill said there has been a change in the focus of many of these farmers.
“Farmers from the area are our main customers, but we also deal with your everyday consumer who is looking for some of the things we sell, like farm hardware. A lot of the farmers are still dairy focused but that’s changed a lot in recent years. Dairy and beef farms are still very important to the region, but there are more backyard and hobby farmers,” she said.
“Cash crops are one of the big things on the rise around here. Many of the dairy farmers were switching over, or if they sold their farm, the new owners switched to cash crops. So that part of our business has really grown. But, really, all segments of our business continued to grow, before and after the change, and it’s gotten even busier since we moved to the new bigger location.”
The 15-acre plot of land features a 22,000 square-foot warehouse and lots of space outside for storage, and walk-in traffic continues to be on the upswing.
“We were a little concerned about the move to Selby, but we’re in a good location that’s central to a lot of our area customers,” O’Neill said, adding that TCO Agromart works with farmers from just east of Belleville, through Prince Edward County and almost to Gananoque in the east, as well as to Highway 7 and a little beyond (Cloyne and Northbrook) to the north.
O’Neill said she, Terry and their staff have always tried to excel at every aspect of customer service, which is why she believes they have such a loyal and expanding clientele.
“We really have a good team here. I think our goal is to always treat our customers like they are part of our family. The farm community is just that, a community. We try to get to know them well and we go the extra mile to provide service that’s above and beyond, because we really do want them to feel welcome and that they are supported. And, even with all the changes in technology and how people can now email and text us, it’s still the same level of service, there’s just more avenues to provide it,” she said.
Terry O’Neill was born and raised in L&A County, while Sandra grew up on a dairy farm in Maxville, not far from Ottawa. They met while at the University of Guelph and moved to Napanee in 1990 when Terry was made manager of the former Top Notch Feeds operation. Four years later, they owned the company, and haven’t looked back.
“In 1994 they decided to close their doors. The company that owned them said they were changing focus and closing the feed dealerships in most of Ontario. They offered Terry a job out west or in western Ontario, be we’re both from eastern Ontario and didn’t want to leave the area. So they gave us the option to buy,” Sandra explained.
“We were both 27 years old, with a second child on the way and no money, but somehow it all came together – determination I guess. We had support from one of our main suppliers; they could see an advantage in having us take it over. And we felt there was a lot of potential for growth that we could attain if given the chance. Luckily, we had a good banker who also supported us and we were able to make it happen. And it’s grown so much since then.”
A second generation of O’Neill’s, son Patrick, has now joined the business and is being groomed to perhaps take over some day.
“He has grown up around this business and we hope he will carry it on. And that’s another thing that’s very nice about our structure now. It’s a little easier for someone like our son to gradually work his way into a leadership role and allow us to step back someday – although we’re not ready for that yet.”
For more information, visit www.tcoagromart.com.