Price County Daily Newspaper Article

Joe n Lori_Homepage

Photo by Stephanie Daniels

Animal Supply, Feed Business
Sets up Shop on “Country Corner”

Reprinted from .com Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 9:19 am | Updated: 10:52 am, Wed Feb 29, 2012.

Guests stroll into the restored farm house, some of them stopping to knock at the door before entering. Knocking isn’t necessary Joe Bejcek assures those who come by. Despite the country home feel, this is a business after all–Joe’s Country Corner, to be precise. The pet and feed supply store is located a bit south of Phillips on the east side of Highway 13.

Along with Joe and his wife, Lori, customers are greeted by Daisy, a black and white spotted cat, and Peanut, her friendly mouser friend full of swirls and stripes of all conceivable feline colors. Then there’s Mocha Grande, a chocolate lab as honking big and brown as the name implies, clunking around between the shelves. He’s gentle, if a little clumsy.

Joe said that the transition to running a shop stocked with pet and feed supplies was natural given the presence of this fuzzy menagerie in the family’s daily life and the time they’ve devoted to hunting and gardening.

“We basically have lived all the things we sell,” Joe said. “It’s kind of an extension of ourselves.”

Pet supplies, including food, toys and a little bit of everything else to keep animal companions healthy and active, make up the biggest line of products offered at Joe’s Country Corner. The Bejceks have a policy of only selling pet food products made in the United States in light of recent recalls of some widely available foods that were found to have been laced with potentially deadly substances.

Other items in their diverse product selection include suet and seeds for wild birds, hobby farm feeds, bins heaped with bear bait, seed to plant feeding plots for wildlife, and even one-of-a kind and often handmade gift items with a country flair. Come spring and summer, the Bejceks also plan to sell fresh produce, mainly goods grown by the Amish and Mennonite communities in central Wisconsin, though they may supply some of the fresh foods from their own garden.

Aside from the expertise garnered from living their products, past work and business experiences of the pair helped the two through the start up process and continues to serve them in day-to-day operations.

Lori taught kindergarten in the Prentice School District for 11 years, giving her a lot of experience working with people-something that serves her well in a customer service environment, Joe said.

Joe has a background in small business spanning three decades. For almost 20 years of that time he ran a floral shop in Phillips. From there he transitioned into work heading a greenhouse and garden center business he built in Lugerville.

It is Joe’s hope that he can bring the same level of product quality and service to the new shop as he delivered in these past business ventures, he said.

Beyond their experience, existing retail offerings in the city of Phillips shaped the Bejceks’ vision as they struck out plans for a new business.

Lori said she figures every small town ought to have a feed and supply store, a feature Phillips was missing.

“There certainly is a need in Phillips for a store like this. We felt that it was a great location for a business that was doing something for the area, supplying a product that basically nobody else in town is doing,” Joe said.

As a seasoned business man, Joe was ready for a lot of the usual headaches that come in the start-up phases, but one big challenge popped up in the two months or so since the Bejceks opened their business that they could not have foreseen; counter-intuitively, it’s the inviting, homey atmosphere of the shop. Some folks in the area think that people are still living there, and aren’t aware that the business is up and running inside, Joe said.

A family was, in fact, still living in the 1930s farmhouse until last August, when the Bejceks began their work, gutting and revamping the old building-“a classic,” as Joe puts it. The work continues, as does the real-life educational process for the husband and wife business partners, who officially opened their shop doors back in December.

“We’ve done a lot of learning,” Lori said.

Many lessons come from interactions with the customers themselves. The store is full of general-purpose merchandise, but customer feedback carries a lot of weight as the Bejceks work to build the stock.

Joe said it gives him a good feeling whenever he can help out customers with special concerns, such as allergies that leave a pet in need of a certain type of food. The biggest reward for Joe is “always the satisfaction of the customers. If you don’t enjoy that in a small business, there’s no sense in having it,” Joe said.

Customers also offer a rich source of interesting tales, from wildlife encounters to the escapades of beloved pets, according to Joe.

“Just hearing the stories from our customers in general has been very interesting,” Joe said.

Beyond being receptive to customer input, getting to know the ins and the outs of available products to meet animal feeding and care needs is a big part of the Bejceks’ work. Joe said that he and Lori have done their homework to figure out the best quality products to keep stacked in the shelves of their shop and pallets of their shed, which stands just to the side of the parking lot.

The space devoted to parking here is perhaps one of the most visible examples, at least from the outside, of the hard work that went into getting the buildings and surrounding areas ready for customers. Joe and Lori dug the lot out from what was formerly all lawn and a simple double drive.

One thing that could have made for a big bump in the road to get the business up and running-the permitting process to switch what was considered a residential property over to a commercial designation-was a smooth ride thanks to the help of local municipalities, the town of Worcester in particular, according to Joe.

Lori still does a bit of substitute teaching in the area from time to time. She chuckles, recalling how some of her students remembered her as “the pumpkin lady” from when she sold pumpkins in one vein of the family’s business pursuits.

This kind of instant recognition is exactly what they are seeking for their new business, which they are hoping will stand out from the country landscape a little more once people find out it’s there.

“We’re just trying to get the word out there that this is us,” Joe said.

Once people do find their way to the store, their reactions suggest they are walking into a hidden treasure of the Phillips business community.

“I would say in general the customers are pleasantly surprised when they walk in,” Joe said.

Winter hours for Joe’s Country Corner are: Monday through Friday, from 8:30a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.