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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 27, 2019 1 month ago

Popular farm market — fresh off expansion — plans more customer-centric innovation

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Detwiler’s Farm Market opened a store on Clark Road in Sarasota in November.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

As Detwiler’s Farm Market prepared for the grand opening of its fifth store, the first customer showed up at 8 in front of the store. Not at 8 a.m. on the morning of the Nov. 20 opening — at 8 p.m. the night before.

He wanted to be the first person in line, Detwiler’s Farm Market President Sam Detwiler says. “We were all working late, and we got some pizza because our hot food wasn’t ready yet, and I ended up taking him some drinks and a whole pizza,” he says.

When Detwiler came back to the store on Clark Road in Sarasota at 6 or so the next morning, the parking lot was already packed, and the line of people had grown. Now the line wrapped around the building.

The customer response to the latest Detwiler’s store opening demonstrates an essential attribute of the company: People like Detwiler’s. A lot.

The family business is capitalizing on its popularity through continued growth, but that growth comes in a thoughtful, measured way. Detwiler’s wants, above all, to maintain the strong culture it’s built since Sam Detwiler’s parents, Henry and Natalie Detwiler, ran a produce stand at Sarasota’s Fruitville Grove.

The first Detwiler’s Farm Market store opened on Palmer Boulevard in Sarasota in 2008. That store is still operating, along with a location in Venice, one at University Parkway and Lockwood Ridge Road in Sarasota and a store in Palmetto, in Manatee County, that opened in July 2018. The company declines to disclose revenue figures. 

Detwiler says the Clark location showcases some improvements to the look of the company’s stores. Pendant lights illuminate signage for each department, and murals around the store are lit from the bottom, creating a much brighter store, he says. “We’re never OK with the last one,” Detwiler says. “We want to keep making it better.”

In 2019, Detwiler’s opened a wellness department at its University store because of positive results it saw with the department at its Palmetto store. The new Clark store, in a former Winn-Dixie, has a large wellness department. Detwiler says he sees wellness as a product category that will continue to grow for the company.

Lori Sax. The new Detwiler’s Farm Market store on Clark Road has a large wellness department and offers farm bowls that allow customers to choose a base, protein, toppings and sauces.

The Clark store also sells a new addition for Detwiler’s — farm bowls that allow customers to choose a base, protein, toppings and sauces. “We’ve talked about how our competitors have fried chicken and rotisserie chicken,” Detwiler says. “It’s not that we’re completely against doing something like that, but we want to be different.” The bowls have been popular so far, and if demand keeps up, he thinks they’ll be introduced at more stores.

In addition to opening the Clark store, Detwiler’s added to its leadership team in the past year. Since the company is growing, Detwiler says, it continues to add directors, such as a bakery director, who started in December. “We’re trying to make sure foundation-wise, we’re rock solid,” he says. “That’s been a focus — making sure we have the right key people in place.”

If a long line of people waiting for a store to open indicates customer demand, the number of job applications Detwiler’s received for the Clark store shows there’s demand on the employee side, too. For 120 new positions, it had over 800 applications to review. “It was definitely humbling to know there were that many people who said, ‘We want to work for you,’” he says.

Now that Detwiler’s has grown to five stores, the biggest challenge is maintaining the customer experience, including making sure new employees transition seamlessly into the team. “We’ve got to make sure they don’t just bring bad habits from other stores into our stores,” Detwiler says.

“We’re never OK with the last one. We want to keep making it better.” — Sam Detwiler, president, Detwiler’s Farm Market

Supply chain management presents a challenge, too. Detwiler says the future of distribution for the company will be a focus in 2020. If a grocery chain in the area has a distribution facility it’s outgrown, that could be ideal for Detwiler’s. “I would love to get my hands on any of our competitors’ warehouses,” he says.

As Detwiler’s looks to the future, it’s also started to work on customers being able to shop online and pick up their orders. It also hopes to pilot home delivery with one store in summer 2020. It considered working with an outside delivery service, but the family was leery of drivers they didn’t know delivering the orders. Offering delivery is a way the company can stay competitive with industry giants, Detwiler says.

By mid- to late-2020, Detwiler’s will know internally where its next store will be. Detwiler is confident the brand is strong enough for another store, but he and his family want to practice controlled growth to ensure the culture remains strong. He says, “We just want to make sure that no matter if we’re five stores or 500 stores someday, that when you shop at one of our stores, you’re treated like family and taken care of.”

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