Father-son animal feed business in Fawn still thriving after 97 years
J.P. Stark & Son Inc. has stood the test of time.
The animal feed store on Thompson Road in Fawn has been around for nearly a century, having survived a fire and the loss of small family farms that used to make up a majority of its business.
Without adapting to the changing economy and maintaining relationships with customers, owners Buzz and Ron Stark aren’t sure they’d still be around.
“Our biggest business is taking care of horses. There are a lot of horses in the area,” said Ron Stark, 61. “If it wasn’t for horses, we wouldn’t survive.”
The 97-year-old store has been in the Stark family for three generations.
Ron’s grandfather, Jesse Stark, bought the business in 1922. Ron’s dad, Buzz Stark, took it over in 1962, and Ron took it over when Buzz retired in 1996.
The original building was built in the 1840s. It burned in a fire in January 1946. Jesse Stark rebuilt it and had it up and running again by the end of that year.
In the 1950s, roughly 75% of the store’s business came from feeding egg-laying chickens, but those farms have since closed down.
Now, food and bedding for horses are its biggest moneymakers.
The Starks work at the store with one employee, Rich Morgan.
Despite retiring, Buzz Stark, who is 86, regularly comes to the store to help his son out.
“He’s here about 50 hours a week,” Ron Stark said of his dad.
In addition to horses, the store sells food and bedding for farm and domestic animals such as birds, cows, pigs, rats, cats, dogs and guinea pigs. People have come from as far as New York and Johnstown to shop.
“We get things for any kind of animal,” Ron Stark said.
The Starks used to mill chicken, cow and pig feed but stopped last year because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration changed its food safety rules for feed milling.
“Whether we were making our own feed or doing custom feed for a farmer, we had to keep lot numbers for it, we had to keep samples of everything, we had to do all kinds of paperwork,” Ron Stark said of the updated rules. “We had talked about quitting, so they kind of pushed us over the edge.”
Between 50% and 60% of the business is delivery based. Ron Stark spends the majority of the work week on the road, delivering feed, hay and bedding to roughly 300 customers within a 40- to 50-mile radius.
Ron Stark said the reason for the deliveries is customer convenience.
“I know what they need, what they use. I’ve had customers that really didn’t know how much feed they used from one week to the next. They would call me and tell me what they had left, and I would know what to bring them,” Ron Stark said.
The Starks believe the relationship they have with their customers has made them successful.
They treat customers like family or friends, chatting and joking with them. Thirty years ago, it wasn’t unusual for four or five farmers to sit around the store and tell stories on rainy or snowy days.
“We’re always joking with people. People joke with us,” Ron Stark said. “One lady told me one day she didn’t only come here for the product, she came for the entertainment.”
Phil Massalsky and his wife, Sara, of West Deer last week went to the store to buy bird feed.
“You come here for that, but also because it’s a nice place to come,” Phil Massalsky said.
Ron Stark has no plans to retire soon or sell the business. He hopes to work at least 10 more years.
“There’s not one morning that I get up that I don’t want to go to work. I love what I do,” he said.