Don Jewitt gets a little ribbing from his customers these days when he answers the phone saying, “Elmira Feed and Supply.”
The business has been Sharpe Farm Supplies for over a week, but a habit of 14 years is hard to break.
Jewitt sold Elmira Feed and Supply to Sharpe on Dec. 1, but he’s staying on as manager of the Elmira store. It speaks to the smoothness of the transition that the hardest part has been adjusting his phone greeting.
Jewitt bought the business 14 years ago from Paul Schwindt. A sales manager for Purina at the time, he missed having face-to-face interaction with customers and was looking for the chance to be self-employed.
Owning a business also provided opportunities for his family to be involved; all three of his kids worked at Elmira Feed and Supply over the years.
Jewitt said the nature of the business – selling livestock feed and agricultural supplies – hasn’t changed much since he bought it. What has changed is the technology involved in the nutritional services. Now each farmer gets a ration customized for his or her needs, sometimes changed on a monthly basis. When visiting dairy farms, for example, the sales reps carry laptops to work out the best ration on the farm.
Despite the technological changes, Jewitt said it will continue to be a people-driven business.
“The technology may have changed, but having capable individuals doing business with our farmers hasn’t changed.”
New ownership will bring a few changes to the Elmira store: Sharpe is a large equine dealer, so there will be a wider range of equine products available. There is also the opportunity to expand the selection of non-feed farm supplies, which in the past was limited by the available warehouse space.
Sharpe Farm Supplies was started in 1987 by Bill Sharpe and is now run by Bill and his three sons. Sharpe has stores in Guelph, Fergus and Moffat, as well as a fertilizer plant and feed mill.
Bill Sharpe first approached Jewitt with an offer to buy Elmira Feed nearly two years ago. At that time, Jewitt declined; his youngest son Rob had shown interest in the business. But over the summer, Rob concluded he didn’t want to be involved in the long-term and Jewitt decided it was the right time to sell.
“I never bought this business with the hope my children would take it over,” Jewitt said. “I bought it because it was something I enjoyed.”
Sharpe’s offer was contingent on Jewitt continuing to be involved, and the role of manager was a perfect fit for him.
“I’m too young to retire, but I was getting to the age where I didn’t want to invest a significant amount going forward.”
Jewitt is looking forward to being involved with Sharpe’s sales team on a regular basis, something he’s missed from his days as a sales manager for Purina. Other than that, his responsibilities will stay largely the same, except that he won’t be doing financial management.
“So I get to do the fun things,” he grinned.
Becoming the manager also allayed the biggest concern he heard from customers: that he continue to be involved with the business.
“Over 14 years, my customers have become like friends.”