Family legacy of feed sales continues at Rankin's Hope

By Jenna Lookner | Nov 22, 2012
Photo by: Jenna Lookner A small portion of the various grains and feeds on  offer at Rankin's Hope.

Hope — A local household name in hardware and fourth-generation family business, Rankin's, Inc. celebrated 60 years of business earlier this year. Coinciding with their anniversary, under the direction of Frank Rankin's grandson Michael Burgess, Rankin's also began the process of reintroducing animal feed to the merchandise mix.  Rankin's Hope location began carrying an ever-expanding selection of animal feed in April 2012.

When Frank Rankin, 79, first began working at F.J. Wiley, the Camden-based grain company that was the predecessor to Rankin's, he said he was "just a kid." Rankin's parents, Edna and Austin, both worked for proprietor Frank Wiley in the shop that sold primarily grain as well as some basic hardware and household provisions, Rankin explained. After Wiley's death in the early 1950s, Austin Rankin took over the business, ultimately renaming it Rankin Grain. In 1955, when Frank Rankin returned from studying machine construction at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston and serving in the United States Army he went to work at Rankin Grain full-time. As demand for grain fell, the store entered a "transitional period," according to Frank Rankin's daughter Lisa Burgess. The store expanded to carry hardware in 1962 and grain was eventually phased out.

After receiving authorization from his mother and grandfather, Michael Burgess, 28, said he began to stock some feed at Rankin's Hope in April 2012. Burgess said the demand for grain — particularly in the rural location — is burgeoning. He said he started out with chicken feed and "a little horse stuff." He has since expanded his offerings to include numerous options in horse grain, dog and cat food, chicken feed and livestock feed. Burgess said he even special orders the high-quality "elephant chow" that Dr. Jim Laurita of Hope Elephants feeds to the town's resident pachyderms Rosie and Opal, which he sells to the organization at wholesale cost.

"If the customer wants it and they're going to be buying it, I'll get it," Burgess explained of his customer-driven philosophy.

He said when he called his supplier to inquire about elephant feed, the supplier reacted with skepticism.

"When I called to order [elephant feed] my supplier was like 'yeah, sure,'" Burgess recounted with a laugh.

Burgess, like his mother and grandfather, left the area and returned to the family business following college. He grew up in Rockland and attended Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle.

"It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from the window," said Burgess of Presque Isle.

Rankin's Hope was originally opened in 1986 as a warehouse and store. Lisa Burgess explained that the company's masonry items, such as brick and rock, were stored in Hope and the former chicken barn afforded the space to store those masonry supplies under cover.

"We always had a small store in [Hope]," Lisa Burgess explained. "It's just grown."

She and Rankin said they were both slightly skeptical when Michael Burgess suggested re-entering the grain business.

"I didn't think there would be that much demand for it," Rankin explained while seated in his office at Rankin's Camden. Rankin pointed out various antique photographs of the store and Rankin family adorning the walls. Up high on a far corner of the wall a vintage sign advertising chicken feed pays homage to the bygone days of Rankin Grain. From the various drawers within the office Rankin and Burgess produced documents including an F.J. Wiley receipt from 1924 detailing a sale of oats and corn to the Camden company P.G. Willey. Burgess said she recalls childhood memories of accompanying her father to meet a train in Thomaston when he was picking up grain for the store. As though it were yesterday, Rankin can recall the delivery schedule and what towns received grain deliveries on each day of the week.

Lisa Burgess noted that Rankin's Camden carries chicken layer pellets, but not a comprehensive grain selection.

"We just don't get as much call for it," she said, adding that Rankin's Camden can order grain from Rankin's Hope if a customer requests it.

Michael Burgess said that Hope General Store owner Andrew Stewart helped him determine what grains to stock initially. He said Stewart used social media to reach out to locals about what their needs were and what brands of feed they'd most wanted to see at Rankin's Hope. Burgess added he saw an opportunity to stock grain after Camden Farmer's Union closed. He explained that with the price of fuel on the rise he realized that Rankin's Hope could provide a helpful resource for the many farmers and pet owners nearby if they carried the requisite supplies.

Rankin's currently carries products primarily from Purina Mills and Poulin Grain. Burgess said the large lines of products produced by those companies give him numerous options, and he said he is still learning about the various nutritional benefits of each type of feed. He said he's also learned through trial and error, during the summer he had several bags of horse feed go bad on the shelf.

"There are some learning curves when it comes to that stuff," he said, noting that he has learned how to time his orders so that he has enough — but not too much — feed in stock for his customer base. He also has noticed that demand for certain feeds varies seasonally, for example he sells more more grower pellets for young chicks in the springtime.

Burgess also said Rankin's works to keep grain affordable, pricing their products to stay competitive in the local market. He routinely special orders products for various customers, negotiating the logistics of timing and strict order minimums in the process.

Dog food brands, such as Taste of the Wild, he said he acquired because multiple customers requested it. Same goes for the variety of organic feed options (for various species) that Rankin's has on hand for customers who raise animals using organic practices. Burgess says he also does a great deal of research on grain dealer websites to educate himself about popular products and help him choose those he feels will best suit Rankin's' customer base.

"A lot of it has been on my own, just figuring it out, just doing it," said Burgess of choosing products.

In addition to hardware, building supplies and feed, Rankin's Hope also stocks products such as flea and tick preventatives, feed and water dispensers, some fencing, buckets, treats, kitty litter and various specialty items for cats, dogs, horses and chickens. Rankin's Hope also stocks products from smaller companies, such as Pennsylvania-based Uncle Jimmy's.

"When you call to place an order it's [Jimmy's] voice on the phone," said Burgess.

Burgess said he plans to attend an educational program offered by Purina Mills in the near future.

Rankin's Hope is located at 160 Robbins Road.

Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at jlookner@courierpublicationsllc.com.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Bill Packard | Nov 22, 2012 22:10

Edna and Austin Rankin were my aunt and uncle. Sometime in the 70's I worked there doing deliveries for a short time.  It just wasn't for me.  When we didn't have deliveries, we were in the yard for customers and if nothing was going on, Austin would ask if we could help with the grain.  He would direct us to move the pig feed to where the chicken feed was and the chicken feed to where the pig feed was.  It troubled him to have employees that didn't always have something to do.  Great news and good luck to Rankin's



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