Feed in the family: Hendricks Feed & Seed sells service for nearly 100 years

Scott Hendricks, sales manager at Hendricks Feed & Seed in Dubuque, works on stocking product. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

Retail stores might not look the way they did during the Great Depression era, but Hendricks Feed & Seed Co., a family-owned operation in Dubuque, retains a time-honored standard of service and offers specialty products for customers.

It even portrayed a small-town store in a Hollywood production. Bill Hendricks, owner and president, said, “A ‘Field of Dreams’ movie scene was filmed here in 1988 … when Kevin Costner went to town to buy supplies. The scene featured my father and several customers as extras.”

Hendrick’s father, Bill Sr., the store’s second owner (along with his brother), knew this role well. Their father, Albert, founded the store in 1929.

It was a financially volatile time to start a business. Albert already had lost his farm.

“(Albert) borrowed some money on an insurance policy and sold ‘shares’ to farmers at $5 each to raise capital,” said Hendricks. “In exchange, the shareholders received 15 cents per cwt (hundredweight) discount on all feed purchases.”

The store’s original location was at the intersection of U.S. 20/61 and the Julien Dubuque Bridge. Today, it stands on Central Avenue near Dubuque’s Millwork District and riverfront.

“We remodeled in 2014 with a whole new storefront that makes the customer feel right at home … bringing back the old wood floors and brick walls to their pristine condition from the old days,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks began working there when he was 14 years old. He said his favorite aspect is being his own boss and making decisions right for the business. His responsibilities include overseeing operations, bookkeeping and purchasing/inventory control.

Since its inception, Hendricks Feed has continued to diversify product offerings. The store started with feed byproducts like bran, midds, red dog, tankage and oilmeal.

“Farmers brought their grain in their wagons and the feed was ground, bagged and tied,” according to the store’s website.

“(For example), bran was selling for $13 a ton (current price $400). In the 1930s, annual tonnage of 100-200 was considered good. It is not unusual to move 100-200 tons in a week now.”

Hendricks has added gardening, landscaping and lawn products. This includes fertilizer, bird seed and feeders, pet food, fertilizer and lawn chemicals. To maintain service, the business delivers on call to customers in cities and on farms.

For Hendricks, a usual day involves ordering inventory and waiting on trade customers.

“I typically don’t have to monitor my employees,” he said. “They are excellent and are self-motivated. They like to keep busy, so even if we are slow, they look at projects they can do.”

The store employs seven full-time staff plus part-time workers to assist during winter months with ice melt products. Staff includes long-term employee Rodney Schroeder, manager/supervisor, whom Hendrick’s father hired in 1984.

Schroeder has done about every job needed at Hendricks Feed, and it’s the only place he has ever worked.

“I came from a family farm and wanted to stay in the agriculture business,” he said. “(I enjoy) the people I work with, the customers I deal with and the family I work for.”

Schroeder has watched the store transition from serving small family farms to larger operations plus selling products to urban dwellers. He was working during the “Field of Dreams” filming.

“One of the most unique things that has happened to me over the years is when the movie was filmed,” Schroeder said. “It was amazing all the work and preparation that goes into a 30-second scene.”

Hendricks Feed employees were right for the role. Since 1929, Hendricks said they work to make personal customer connections and fulfill product requests at the lowest price possible. They continue to load customers’ vehicles and know many customers by name.

The operation also sells custom products.

“We manufacture and bag on site our proprietary ice melt product called ‘Hendricks Choice.’ We also manufacture and bag our own lawn and garden fertilizers,” Hendricks said.

One staffer in sales, Jason Waller, travels to farms throughout the area to assist customers. Feed sales today include soybean seed, alfalfa seed, small grains and seed corn plus lawn and bird seed.

Hendricks Feed also offers products on its website and receives orders each day. However, if online orders weigh more than 50 pounds, online order growth is limited due to shipping costs.

As for onsite customers, Hendricks said, “It varies from the traditional farmer to the hobby farmer to the person who feeds the birds or does their own lawn work to contractors building a new home. We see all ages and I would say our walk-in trade is 50-50 male-female.”

Modern challenges have impacted the business, including how to function during the COVID-19 pandemic. Deemed an essential business, the store has stayed open, but countertops now feature plastic shields and posters explain sanitizing rules. Customers no longer sign for transactions.

“When the virus outbreak first started, I split my crew in shifts for less contact with one another. As a small business, we try to remain vigilant,” Hendricks said.

Additionally, the labor shortage is impacting the store’s ability to hire staff. Hendricks noted that a competitive market and increasing governmental/insurance regulations require more resources to address.

Hendricks does hope to keep the business in the family into the future.

“My son Scott is interested in running the business. He helps me out substantially now and is learning the ropes,” Hendricks said. “If he does take over, he would be the fourth generation of Hendricks.”

Scott is participating in many aspects of the trade, helping with counter and phone sales. He also assists with accounting, paperwork and stocking inventory — plus manages the website.

Until the future comes, Schroeder said the Hendricks family makes work enjoyable and appreciates their employees. It’s an operation based on a tradition of service and diversification that is working for both customers and staff.