Over time, the Linseisen’s phased out the groceries, added Stihl equipment and repairs, and steadily grew the animal health, gardening, and pet departments. “It’s hard to know when to make changes to keep up with the times. But if you pay attention to what customers are asking for, you’ll know,” adds Keith Linseisen. “Cattle feed sales are stronger today, but the business as a whole is much more diversified and retail-oriented.”
The Linseisen’s building was originally built in the 1950's by Craddocks’ chick hatchery. There are still faint reminders of that time, where the floor dips slightly from the drains the hatchery used for sanitation and the green cinder blocks in the old warehouse area. Through the years as the business grew, the warehouse and the retail space were renovated and expanded to make room for new inventory. Updates in 2001 brought more retail space, an exterior facelift, and a wide wraparound porch. The floors, shelves, sales counter, and offices were all torn down and redesigned in 2008 to give the interior more sales space. In spring of 2012 a bright new retail greenhouse defined the garden center area.
Running a feed store came naturally to Ed and Rita, who both came from agricultural backgrounds. Ed is a graduate of Texas A&M with a degree in Ag Economics and grew up on a large family farm in Hockley; Rita's family operated their own dairy in Klein. Their children, Connie, Keith, and Carrie, each worked at the store as they grew up, while attending Bellville schools and showing animals in 4-H and FFA.
Keith, who was 6 years old when his parents opened the store, graduated from Bellville High School and Texas A&M and worked in other areas before returning to the store in 2000. In 2005, he and his wife, Becky, purchased the business and moved to Bellville. Their sons, Brett and Blake, now 13 and 9 years old, can be seen most mornings playing ball at the store before going to school for the day.
We asked Ed, Rita, and Keith some questions:
What surprised you most about the feed store business?
Ed: The variety of products that we are able to sell.
Rita: Relationships with customers.
Keith: The evolution into a modern, retail oriented setting.
What was the best improvement or addition to the business?
Ed: Paving the parking lot.
Rita: Adding the pitched roof. The flat roof leaked every time it rained!
Keith: Replacing the roof and adding the porches to make the building more modern and inviting.
What was the biggest failure or disappointment?
Ed: Trying to repair the old roof.
Rita: Bulk fertilizer. We had an utter disaster when floor of the warehouse we were using collapsed.
Keith: The drought of the past 10 years has really eroded cattle numbers in our area.
What has been the biggest challenge over the years?
Ed: Keeping up with changes in feed and products.
Rita: Keeping accurate inventory on feeds – having enough of the right feed, and fresh, at the right time for every customer.
Keith: Balancing family and work.
What was the most memorable moment for you over the years?
Ed: We held a cattle producer’s meeting at Coshatte Hall where we used live cattle for part of a demonstration. One of the cows didn’t like the pen – so she pushed the panels over and took off down Coshatte Road. Our Purina rep had to continue the meeting without me as I chased down that cow. Didn’t get her back til the next day!
Rita: When we closed on purchasing the business, Ed was out of the country for his previous job, and a storm came through. Here I was, trying to manage a business transaction on a damaged building and 3 little kids, and him not here to help!
Keith: Unloading rail cars. Feed used to come in on the train, and when it arrived you had about a day to unload an entire rail car full of 100 lb sacks of feed, without pallets or dollies.
What items are sold in the store now that would never have sold 40 years ago?
Ed: YETI coolers and bottled water.
Rita: So many pet supplies and variety of dog foods!
Keith: Bagged soil, dog toys & clothes
What items did you sell when the business opened that would never sell now?
Ed: 100-pound bags of feed.
Rita: Hundreds of straight-run baby chicks…
Keith: Tons of pig feed. Very few people keep hogs today.
What items sell as well today as they did 40 years ago?
Ed: Quality products.
Rita: Not much!
Keith: Bagged fertilizer, poultry feeds
How has the business changed since 1974?
Ed: Customers research products and have a better understanding prior to shopping.
Rita: We now have a large segment of customers with small ranches here, who either live in Houston and visit on weekends, or commute into Houston for work. Their needs and expectations are different than those who grew up on farms in the area.
Keith: There’s been a big shift from just “feed and seed” to retail.
What do you think are the main factors that have kept the business successful for 40 years?
Ed: 40 years of good, hardworking, honest people: employees and customers.
Rita: Not just selling feed, but adding gifts, toys, etc. while keeping it a small town country store atmosphere.
Keith: Hard work, good employees, and trying to have the foresight to change with the times.
What are you looking forward to?
Ed: Continuing to sell high quality products.
Rita: May 3rd, 3 pm.
Keith: Continuing to serve the people of our area. I look forward to meeting and making friendships with newcomers as they join our community, while being thankful for relationships forged over years with long-time customers. The customers are the reason we’re here, and hopefully are for many more years to come.