Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Jana Mathia
Gazette Reporter 

Torry's Country Store: Shepherds buy St. John Primeland store business

 

April 4, 2019

Torry and Amy Shepherd are ready for business at Torry's County Store, formerly CHS Primeland, in St. John.

Almost six years ago, Torry Shepherd stepped in as manager of the CHS Primeland store in St. John. He knew what changes needed to be made to make the business successful. However, the corporation's stringent rules hobbled him and Torry was never able to do what he felt was needed to make the business prosper.

Until now.

"Big corporation does not work in a small town," he said, sitting at the lawn table and chair on display in the store, wearing a brand new tan shirt. The pocket logo on the shirt reads Torry's Country Store.

April 1, 2019, Shepherd took over the now former Primeland business as the new owner.

A March 26 letter from CHS made the official announcement.

"As we evaluated the retail store at St. John, Washington, we determined this location would better serve the community through local ownership," the letter states. It later explains, "Shepherd will rent the building from us, but the fuel and agronomy business at this location will still be operated by CHS Primeland."

Before coming to Whitman County, Shepherd and his family lived on the west side of the state. He had a background in retail and worked for 10 years in the paint industry, home and industrial use. The family moved to Oakesdale in 2004 for Torry to attend WSU with the plan to get into veterinarian school. He earned his undergraduate in livestock management and nutrition and worked for CHS selling livestock feed for two and a half years. During that time, he visited the St. John store and saw things that could be changed to improve the store, so he offered to help. A year later, he took over as the manager and moved to St. John.

Shepherd started making progress on the store, but there was a change in the CHS upper management and he found himself restricted again by big business formulas that didn't really add up in a small town. He noted CHS strengths are in grain and agronomy, not retail.

When CHS approached him four months ago about buying the business, Shepherd was not thrilled at first, he confessed. He was not sure he could make it work after losing so much business due to the CHS operations and rules.

Strong community support convinced him to take it on. People who had issues with Primeland pledged support to him, area farmers promised to back him and the community rallied around. With the support of his family, friends and neighbors, Shepherd agreed to buy the business.

Shepherd only owns the store business, but hopes to buy more of the operation down the road.

"I need to make the store profitable before I take on the pumps," he said.

At the helm alongside Shepherd is his wife, Amy, who is doing the bookwork as office manager.

She also brings an addition to the store, Amy's Crafty Consignment Corner, which will allow local crafters to showcase and sell their work.

Shepherd said his focus will be on growing the feed sales and tire shop. He plans to bring the tire truck back to make field service calls and get an alignment rack in the shop. The shop will continue to provide oil changes; tire mounting, regardless where they are purchased, and free installation on most batteries.

Shepherd will continue to carry the Payback brand feed at the store, but is working on carrying bulk feed. They also provide forage analysis so producers can best determine their nutritional needs.

The new owners are planning to revitalize the paint department with a new paint mixer, new paint variety and a modern color display.

The hardest part is not going to come from within the walls of the store.

"Getting people to give us a shot again," is what Shepherd sees as the biggest challenge.

A lot of things in the store will not change in regards to inventory, including the selling of fishing and hunting licenses. Once the liquor license is approved, beer and liquor will be available; until then, those shelves will be empty and the inventory locked up. The Primeland liquor license cannot be transferred to a different owner.

The Shepherds will also make some accounting changes and put up a website so people can order online and pick up items at the store.

"Open to suggestions, especially in the buying," Amy said. They want to know what people want and need them to carry.

The grand opening for Torry's Country Store is this Saturday, April 6, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be door prizes and drawings for all who attend. Store hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hours may change depending on need.

CHS bought the business in 2009 from St. John Grain Supply which had the building constructed in the early 1990s.

 
 

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