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Doyles celebrate 10 years as retail anchor

A decade can fly by in a heartbeat.

If you don't believe it, ask Pat Doyle, owner of Farm & Home in New Richmond. He and his wife, Tammy, celebrated their 10th anniversary in business last week.

"It's kind of surprising, but 10-year blocks can go by pretty fast," he said. "Thing is, I don't know how many 10-year blocks a guy has. They ratchet off fast."

The Doyles' most recent decade began with the purchase of Farm & Home in 1996. Pat Doyle worked for the previous owners of the business, U.S. Oil Company, who decided to divest themselves of five hardware store in Wisconsin.

As an employee of U.S. Oil, Doyle was assigned to the New Richmond store years before, in 1982 and 1983. He later oversaw operations of all the stores in the state.

When the opportunity to purchase his own business came along, Doyle jumped at the chance to buy New Richmond's store.

"I was familiar with this store and I saw the greatest potential here," he said. "We thought New Richmond was a nice community, and we still do, even though it's growing like crazy."

After purchasing the store, Doyle switched its affiliation to True Value for a short time. It turned out to be a mistake.

"They had an incentive package to help us purchase the store in a more timely manner," Doyle said.

But shortly after the switch, service levels from the corporate office declined and the store had difficulty stocking certain merchandise.

A few months later, Doyle switched to Ace Hardware.

"It turned out to be a good move," he said. "Ace is where we're staying."

Ever since the Doyles' start in New Richmond, Farm & Home has developed quite a loyal customer base.

Known for its customer service and varied selection, Farm & Home works hard to satisfy customers, Doyle said.

"I really view them as neighbors, not customers," he said. "There are a lot of other places people can go and shop, so I'm going to do whatever it takes to make people happy."

His recipe for keeping customers happy includes hiring knowledgeable employees who can answer a variety of questions, Doyle said. The store employs about 55 people throughout the year.

"We'll always have someone on duty who can answer your question," he said.

The store also hires younger employees, giving them a chance to learn work skills they will use for the rest of their lives.

In fact, Doyle said, many people in New Richmond have either worked at Farm & Home or had their kids work there over the years. They are all like an extended family.

"Some of the kids who worked for me back in 1982-83 now have kids," he said. "It kind of ages me."

His own family has grown up by working at the store as well. Sons Jeremy and Shawn have been helping out at the store since they were 12 years old. Jason, who is a senior at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, was never much interested in the business, however.

Doyle admits that more competition will make the store's second decade more of a challenge, but he's clearly up to the task.

"There is going to be a bigger population base as well," he said. "You just have to move with all the changes in the marketplace, and then I think we'll continue to thrive."

Among the changes the Doyles have instituted in the past couple years to capture new niches are premium paints, high-quality stains, expanded animal feed lines and a dollar department.

"The nice thing about owning your own business is you can change fast," he said. "You can make a decision in five minutes, and then do it. The big corporations can't do that."

Farm & Home has also expanded its pet department, which is known for miles around for its selection and unusual animals. It was about a third of its present size when Doyle bought the store.

"I call it the New Richmond Zoo," Doyle said with a smile, noting that kids like to come and look at the animals.

Doyle plans to add to the department even more in the future. Within four weeks, puppies will be for sale at Farm & Home.

Even though the store has expanded its selection over the years, Doyle admits he can't stock everything that people may want.

That's why his special order business has taken off in recent years. Farm & Home can order items from a wide range of companies outside of the Ace Hardware network, including snowmobile parts, automotive accessories and more.

"A lot of the big boxes can't do that," he said. "They don't have that flexibility."

When the new section of Highway 64 is completed this fall, Doyle said he's excited that Farm & Home's visibility will increase dramatically.

"I think the highway is going to be a positive thing for us," he said. "It will disrupt things this summer, but in the long run it will be good."

He added the store's entrance will be much safer once the frontage road and highway are complete. Cars crossing Highway 65 now have cross traffic coming at them from numerous directions.