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Layton farm store reaping its reward

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LAYTON -- A short drive from the glittering shops and restaurants of an increasingly urban Layton, a plain-looking store sits back from the bustle of Main Street.

Instead of big signs and neon lights, it announces its presence in simple painted letters on a smallish building.But people seem to find Layton Farm Supply. And whether they are looking for rat traps or horse tack, their first visit is rarely their last.

The little store at 164 S. Main is surviving -- in fact, thriving -- during an era that should logically bring its demise. Farmland along the Wasatch Front is more likely to sprout homes than crops these days. And so-called "big box" stores, with their gargantuan buildings and parking lots, promise low prices on everything a consumer could possibly want.

But what they cannot offer, Layton Farm Supply's employees and customers say, is old-time, farm-store atmosphere -- the chance to chat with a neighbor about the weather while meandering through narrow aisles stacked floor to ceiling with everything from fuses to fertilizer.

"We try to pride ourselves in getting to know our customers on a first-name basis," said Neil Christensen, store manager. "They're not just our customers, they're our friends."

Korry Green, owner of Layton Farm Supply, has seen those friends change a little over the years.

His father, Dallas Green, opened the Dallas Green Farm Service store in Hooper, Weber County, in 1954.

"I've been sweeping floors since I was able to walk," Korry Green said.

In 1972, Dallas Green decided to open another store in Layton, with Korry Green at the helm. And even though his mother thought it would just draw business away from the Hooper location, Korry Green said both stores and a separate Green Wholesale business keep ringing up strong sales and putting food on the family table.

Korry Green, who spends most of his time at the Hooper store now, said family is an important part of the enterprise's success. But even though brothers, wives and children are among the 30 employees at the three businesses, it is not solely a family operation.

Christensen, for example, started working at the Layton store part time after returning from his church mission about 20 years ago. Eventually he was asked to manage the store, and he said he still "thoroughly enjoys" his job.

That enjoyment shows for both Green and Christensen in their easy conversation with customers and their pride in what the store has to offer.

"We pack it in as tight as we can," Green said. "We've probably got several thousand dollars in merchandise up on the ceiling."

Some of the store's staples have survived the changes to Davis County. For example, Green said, the company still sells its own blends of fertilizer, dog food and water softener salt, makes its own fencing with a machine built from scrap iron by his father and bags its own garden seeds.

Layton Farm Supply also boasts that it sells nuts and bolts by weight and welding rods by the pound. It offers about 50 sizes of tarps, compared to the dozen or so available at most stores.

"We've tried to keep stuff in stock that you won't find any place else, even if we only sell one or two a year," Green said. "A big box store wouldn't do that."

"We do carry a lot of oddball things that don't have a lot of turns," Christensen agreed.

The business has added or expanded some product lines to adapt to changing times. For example, it offers more chemicals for home gardening now, and it recently gave more shelf space to "designer" pet food.

"We wouldn't even have thought of selling $40 per bag pet food (in the past)," Green said.

But Christensen said the store's "bread and butter customer" now is a person with a newer house who lives on five acres or less and has a horse or a few other animals.

"As far as the big farmers, they've about had it," he said. "Now (we see) mostly just backyard farmers."

Whether they are large-scale farmers or gardeners, customers have remained loyal to the store. Green said he worried that his regulars would be lured away when the national chains came to town. But after experimenting for a month or two, the novelty of the big stores wore off, he said, and the regulars came back.

In fact, Christensen said, the Layton store's sales increased from about $1 million five years ago to almost $1.5 million last year.

"If you converted that to dollars per square foot, it would put the box stores to shame," Green said.

He said Layton Farm Supply seems to have nostalgia on its side in the battle for customer dollars, and Roger Ogzewalla agrees.

Ogzewalla of Salt City Sales has supplied the store with gloves for about 15 years. He said he likes Layton Farm because its employees are knowledgeable and friendly, and they do not mind if customers use the store as a place to shoot the breeze.

"They cater to kind of a dying breed, but it's exciting, because it's got that old farm-store attitude," Ogzewalla said.

John Borski, who runs an organic farm near Kaysville, said he visits the store because it gives him the chance to meet and talk to other farmers who can relate to his challenges and successes.

"If you move down to this area, you find the farm supply store if you're a farmer," Borski said.

Even if they are not farming hundreds of acres, people will always need a store that offers a certain hard-to-find tool or special mix of grass seed. And Christensen and Green said they think people will continue to crave that old farm-store atmosphere.

"I was talking to a customer about how I wanted to carpet the store, and she said, 'Don't do that. It would ruin your image,' " Christensen said.

In other words, Green said, changes outside Layton Farm Supply will not bring an altered attitude inside.

"We're not going to be owning a corporate jet or anything like that . . . ," Green said. "As long as we're feeding families and being successful, we'll continue on."