Major cities might be the cultural epicenters of the United States, but small towns are definitely the lifeblood of this country. Small towns radiate a certain charm fostered by their unique history, local economies, and the people that give back to their communities. For this week’s Retailer’s Spotlight, we turn our attention to Beeville, Texas and the Blue Ribbon Country Store. Beeville has a super special place in our hearts because our founder, Jenny Forks, was born and raised there. With a population of approximately 15,000 people, Beeville is the largest town and midway point between San Antonio and Corpus Christi. This part of Texas is unique in that the thick native grass grows taller than most men. In fact, anyone foolish enough to attempt trudging through the lush grass would have a hard time finding the ground. Because of the abundance of grass, this area is home to many ranchers, farmers, and thousands of livestock animals.
Due to the large number of ranches in the area, Blue Ribbon Country Store was built out of a necessity to support the ranchers and farmers of the area. However, within a year of opening, the store morphed into more of a community hub. The general manager, Danny Gomez (right), describes the store as the retail version of the television show Cheers. After interviewing Danny, alongside the store’s other essential managers: Megan Juranek the Receiving Manager (left), Katie Colvin the Feed Manager (center), and Meredith McKnight the Merchandiser (not pictured), we quickly surmised that Cheers might be an understatement.
Blue Ribbon Country Store is an ambitious concept that was spawned by a combination of ten owners (five couples): (pictured left to right) Jon and Kelly Whatley, Jim and Gina Sugarek, Wes and Jerica Thoms, Shambryn and Matt Huie, Beau & Morgan O’Brien. All five couples are local to the area comprised of ranchers, farmers, a banker, a vet, and a physical therapist. They saw a need for a store in Beeville, “Not a feed store, but a store like ours-a one stop shop,” explains Danny.
From the outside looking in, with this many cooks in the kitchen it seems like a slow boiling disaster waiting to happen, but that is the furthest thing from the truth. The ten ambitious owners hired a spunky group of managers to help bring the store to life. When we asked the managers about their favorite aspect of working at the store, Katie responded with, “Working for the people that we work for. We have awesome owners…. All of the owners kind of bring their own ideas as far as what they want the store to look like. With a collaboration that big of that many different people [coming from] that many different aspects of agriculture, it really helped to shape the store, what we carry, and what we look to carry in the future.” The managers were brought on early and quickly became essential cogs in the machine. Katie continues, “[The owners] also let us make a lot of decisions as far as the layout of the store and stuff like that. They knew that we were going to be more hands-on day to day working it.”
Danny mentions, “We were [all] here when it was just a construction zone....It gave us ownership of this place because it was like our baby. We saw it grow up.” On June 16, 2017, the doors of Blue Ribbon Country Store were opened for business. Danny recalls, “The night before we opened, we were all here super late. [We] probably got only an hour of sleep, and we had to be back here the next day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed because it was the day that we opened the door…. It was pretty cool because we were on an adrenaline high, and that is what kept us going.”
“The great thing about our store is it is pretty eclectic,” Meredith explains. “We have age groups from high school to all the way into their 60’s,” which fosters a unique collection of goods that cater to everyone. “There is nothing like this in Beeville, and there is nothing like this really anywhere around [here] where you can stop and get feed and get fencing and gate material, and then you can walk in and get outfits, jewelry and boots and jeans.”
Products aside, this store is far more than a retail space supplying goods and products to the town and surrounding areas. Megan explains, “We are small town people. We very much support shop local, shop small business, and we are definitely not a corporation.” Katie adds, “We try to contribute to as many local organizations as we can. We are really involved with donating back to the local stock shows as far as supplies and things like that.” When Blue Ribbon Country Store was designed, they carved out a room to host seminars and educational classes, 4-H meetings, county fair show board meetings, along with other local organizations' events. Danny puts a lot of time into working with the employees to go above and beyond the typical call of duty for customers.
Danny spent years working for larger, corporate western stores run on a series of processes and well-executed systems. Though he respects his former employers, when Danny took on the role of General Manager of Blue Ribbon Country Store, he attacked it in a very different way. “I tell all of my employees that [customers] can buy feed anywhere, and they can buy clothes anywhere… [but] I want them to come here for us.” His goal is to make Blue Ribbon Country Store a shopping experience like the television show Cheers. Katie adds, “We know every single customer that walks through that door, and if we do not, we know them by the time they leave.” Though customer service is key to any well-run store, Blue Ribbon’s customer service is a step above. Danny states, “Here in this kind of store, we deal with a lot of kids and their projects. We get to see them multiple times a week, sometimes twice in a day, and we get to see them grow up.” They spend time fostering friendships not because they have to, but because they want to.
Megan states, “Katie and I grew up here, and we know most of the town.” That is what really makes this store special. Blue Ribbon Country Store is run by locals for locals. As Megan explains it, they love “having the chance to work in their town, be close to their family, see their friends everyday, and do something they love!” Danny chimed in with, “Which I think is all of our consensus. We love what we do.”
Ultimately, The Blue Ribbon Country Store is super unique. Next time you drive through Beeville, we strongly encourage you to stop by the Blue Ribbon Country Store, grab a bag of popcorn, and say “Hi!” to Danny, Megan, Meredith, Katie and the Blue Ribbon Country Store team.