DeKalb Farmers Coop will be under new management soon.
Effective October 1, the coop will become a branch of Rutherford Farmers Coop.
The local board of directors of DeKalb Farmers Coop recently voted to enter into a five year lease agreement with Rutherford to run the day to day operations of the business. The local coop will retain ownership and receive lease payments from Rutherford. The local board will continue to exist and manage the property and assets.
Representatives of the co-op made the announcement Thursday night during a public meeting held at the Whorton Springs Baptist Church annex building
Gilbert Martin, who has been the local manager for several years, will be taking on another position with the coop, but many of the store employees are expected to remain.
Martin told WJLE that while demand remains strong for products and services offered by the co-op, agriculture practices in this area have changed drastically in recent years. He said the decision by the board to enter into this lease with Rutherford will strengthen the local operation financially and expand services for the people of this community. "We're doing this to basically preserve our coop in DeKalb County where farmers can get their supplies at a reliable place. If we had not done this, we really felt that we would be chewing into our equity and eventually wouldn't be a viable entity anymore. That is the driving force behind this. But there is still over three million dollars worth of demand for the products that we sell," said Martin.
DeKalb Farmers Coop has a membership of approximately 800 members who elect a board of directors to oversee the operation, according to Martin. "We have an annual meeting every year, just like the telephone coop, and we elect directors to the board. Those directors give direction on the policy and overall management of the coop. DeKalb Farmers Coop will still exist. DeKalb Farmers Coop will own the building and the property that the coop sets on. We'll receive lease payments from Rutherford and Rutherford will run the operation of the store. The local board will still exist and it will manage the assets that the coop has, "said Martin.
John Henderson, General Manager of the Rutherford Farmers Coop, said his operation maintains two coop locations in Rutherford County and one in Cannon County. "We're in Woodbury and Eagleville. Of course our Murfreesboro store is our main store. Actually in Murfreesboro, we're located on both sides of the street. We have a farm and home location. We've got a tire shop. We've got a farm equipment location and we have what we call our pro-ag division which is mainly services for the professional farmer," said Henderson
While this lease arrangement is a new venture for Rutherford Farmers Coop, Henderson said it is a concept that has already been tried elsewhere. "Its definitely not the first. I know of two or three other coops that have had ventures like this. It is something we're all looking at with today's economic climate. As tough as it is, we're all looking at ways to be more efficient," said Henderson
According to Henderson this arrangement is expected to be a win-win for both Rutherford and DeKalb Farmers Coop, offering an opportunity to expand services and increase sales. "Its clearly an opportunity for us to increase our sales. Its an opportunity for us to spread out our overhead. We have a certain amount of fixed costs with this instant growth in business. We can spread our overhead costs to another location and it should help us be a little more efficient. That's one of the advantages of a larger coop. With our balance sheet and what we can do with our operating money, we have access to more funds to be able to do that. One of the most asked questions is are we going to handle diesel in Smithville? We are. We're going to put in a farm diesel tank. We hope to have that in before the end of the year. We plan to put some more farm equipment up here. We offer custom application spraying. We have a farm tire service truck., we'll do farm delivery fuel, grain handling and grain hauling services. This lease takes effect October 1, which falls on a Saturday. It looks like we'll be closed October 1. We'll re-open on Monday, October 3. We'll be open six days a week , Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and Saturday from 7:00 a.m. until twelve noon. We'll have a soft opening and get some more inventory in here but somewhere down the road, hopefully before Christmas we're planning on having a customer appreciation grand opening. We're going to put on a pretty big shindig and hope everybody will come out and see us," said Henderson.
Henderson said coop members will continue to benefit and the role of the local board will remain important to the operation."As far as membership, if you're a farmer and trading with your coop and its profitable, then those profits will come back to the customer. In the last few years its been tough to pay back what we call patronage but I think this is one step closer to making us more efficient and more profitable so hopefully we can pay back some of our profits. The local board will strictly manage the property and the dividends they receive back from Tennessee Farmers and the lease with us so the DeKalb board will still have its place," said Henderson.
Mack Wilhite, the new manager of the coop, said he is looking forward to serving the people of DeKalb and surrounding counties. ‘I've had a lot of experience with the coop. I've worked at White County, Woodbury, and Warren County so this will be the fourth coop that I've worked at. I started with the coop in 1984 so I've been around coops quite a bit. Everyone that is employed here now had the opportunity to stay. We had a couple of employees who decided they wanted to look at other opportunities. Of course we've left the door open for them but basically its going to be the same group of employees," said Wilhite.
Henderson added that "Gilbert (Martin) is going to work in outside sales for us. We're going to get him a pickup truck and he's going to ride the roads, beat the bushes and try to sell something for us and service our customers."
DeKalb Farmers Coop has been in operation for 50 years, since 1961.