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Editor's Note: Blake Fohl is vice president of advertising and marketing for Tractor Supply Company, Nashville, Tenn. Fohl joined the company in 1992, initially working as a buyer in the company's Merchandising Department. He then became director of marketing and in 1996 was named vice president of marketing.

AM: How has the rural lifestyle movement affected TSC's growth?

BF: Tractor Supply Company was founded in 1938 in Minot, N.D., as a mail order catalog business offering tractor parts to America's family farmers. As American agriculture began to change and equipment became larger, farmers weren't tearing down and rebuilding machinery as much. TSC began placing its emphasis on serving people who live the rural lifestyle. Over the past 25 years, that lifestyle has continued to increase into what we call a "mega trend." People who once migrated into cities are now moving back to rural communities. We, and our concept, work exceptionally well one ring out from major metro areas such as Columbus, Ohio; Houston; Dallas; Nashville, Tenn., etc. - primarily C and D counties within America.

We provide a unique, eclectic collection of products geared for people who live a certain way, which we call the rural lifestyle. Eight to 10 percent of our customers are full-time production farmers and ranchers, 15 percent are small, part-time farmers, and the balance is those who want to live in smaller-town America. Most of them have something to do with land and animals, especially equine. For example, less than one percent of the American population owns horses, but about 30 percent of our core customers own horses.

As the movement of people returning to smaller towns grows, so does our concept, our stores and the company. In 2002, we bought our largest competitor, Quality Farm and Country, and opened 87 of its stores in Ohio, Michigan and New York. This year, large growth is taking place in the Northeast, and we will open three stores in California, which is our first foray west of the Rocky Mountains.

AM: What are some of the unique marketing and advertising campaigns that Tractor Supply has created?

BF: Tractor Supply's marketing programs are very targeted. We gear our marketing to touch the people who have the greatest potential to shop in our stores. We produce 10 million circulars 20 times per year. This is a cause/effect marketing program where we showcase the depth and breadth of our products.

We also are branding and communicating through the "Stuff You Need Out Here" advertising campaign on about 18 national cable networks. The commercials' main feature is the store since the brand touches the customer at the store. TSC is also about seasoned advice, so every commercial features a real-life store manager. In the spots, we present a situation along with our unique products, and we solve the problem. With these products and the seasoned advice that you get at one of our stores, we can make your life better out here.

In addition, we have a large direct mail database of customers and their shopping categories. We reach out and touch them with a messaging system about the products that they shop for, with offers for specific categories such as welding or equine.

AM: What part does the store manager play in the success of your company?

BF: We hire our customers - we hire farmers and ranchers, welders and horse owners. When you have a store filled with these backgrounds, no matter what product is in the store, we have good advice and can help you with your product. It's a retail environment filled with people who live the lifestyle and understand it. They have the expertise to help get a job done right.

AM: What makes TSC unique from other retailers? What brings customers back to your stores?

BF: Our mission statement is: "To work hard, have fun and make money by providing legendary service and great products at everyday low prices." In addition, our number one value is ethics. We believe in doing the right, honest and ethical thing at all times, and every team member is empowered to do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, which is different from most retailers. An emotional connection to TSC is what we are really striving for, taking us to a level greater than what most retailers think and/or want with their customers. Customers say, "This company understands me, my way of life and exceeds my level of expectation every time." There's just a different feel in our stores. AM

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