ST. CLAIRSVILLE - There is a unique relationship between Rural King and many of the employees at its new store at the Ohio Valley Mall.
Like only four of its other locations in the chain - a growing company that currently boasts 58 stores throughout seven Midwestern states - the St. Clairsville Rural King is owned by the employees. What's even more unique than the employees' investment into the company is the way the local department store got connected with its workforce.
Store manager Larry Pickett has worked all around the country for decades with many different retail stores. He's no stranger to the new Rural King facility, which is housed in the former Hills department store location on the Ohio Valley Mall's perimeter. About 30 years ago, Pickett worked as the manager of that very Hills store.
Ag Department Manager Sara Paquette speaks with assistant manager Evan Schimmel in preparation of Rural King’s opening in the former Hills department store building at the Ohio Valley Mall in St. Clairsville.
The past three decades have taken Pickett across the nation, and this recent store opening for Rural King brought him back to the Ohio Valley. He has since relocated from Indiana to a home in Yorkville.
Rural King is a fast-growing farm supply company with department store locations that specializes in everything from livestock feed to farm equipment, agricultural parts, lawn mowers, workwear and clothing for people of all ages, housewares, automotive, hardware, toys, consumables, sporting goods, pet supplies, lawn and garden items, and more. The Mattoon, Ill.-based company also sells merchandise on its Web site, in addition to in-store sales at the growing number of retail locations across the Midwest.
"It's like a tractor supply store on steroids," said Pickett. "There's a little bit of everything, but it's geared toward the farming community and a rural, working demographic."
The new store's location provides a perfect setting for Rural King, according to Pickett, who noted that the local community has been quite accommodating in terms of getting ready for the opening. The store's soft opening is set for Monday, with grand opening activities planned for Oct. 31 through Nov. 3.
Several months ago, the building was in need of renovation, and the company needed to assemble a staff for the new store.
"When I first got here, I came down to the chamber of commerce in St. Clairsville," said Pickett. "They referred me to the Connections office."
Pickett said he called Mike Schlanz, director of the Connections One-Stop Employment and Training Center in Martins Ferry. At that time, the old Hills building was undergoing a much-needed roof replacement and both interior and exterior renovations to the 70,000-square-foot building in preparation for Rural King's debut in the Ohio Valley, so it was somewhat difficult to find a suitable space at the site where members of the management team could work to recruit employees and conduct other business.
Schlanz told Pickett to let him know if they needed a room to conduct interviews and other business, and Pickett did just that. Rural King worked with the Connections staff, set up shop in a conference room at the Connections office in Martins Ferry and was able to interview employees and hire several members of its current staff.
Information about Rural King's job openings was also posted on the Connections Web site, and a flood of inquiries was received right away.
"I can't say enough about what Mike and the folks at Connections have done for us," said Pickett. "We had quite a few applicants - about 400 people."
Several people were hired through Connections' job postings and interviews conducted there at the One-Stop Employment and Training Center, including everyone from an assistant manager to a shipping and receiving manager, department heads and part-time employees as well.
In all, there will be up to 60 employees at the new Rural King location at the Ohio Valley Mall when the store opens. There will be a total of around 20 full-time associates at first, but Pickett said they plan to build the business from here and add more employees as they grow.
Even after the initial interviews, Connections continued to provide assistance in getting Rural King up and running in the Ohio Valley, posting additional job openings on its Web site.
"That's an undiscovered avenue in many regards," said Pickett. "A lot of people don't understand how Connections can help them, or they simply don't take advantage of what's available and utilize their resources."
Pickett said Rural King executives were impressed with the help they've received at the local Connections office and are now looking forward to working with other similar One-Stop Employment and Training Centers at other locations in Ohio where they are developing new Rural King stores. The company's goal is to have 100 stores up and running by 2016, Pickett said.
The fact that employees are investing in these stores is a good sign that grassroots growth is paying off for Rural King.
"It's definitely a good operation," said Pickett. "It's a very unique, very family-oriented company, and it's doing well."
In fact, a $2,500 investment into Rural King stock by a management team member five years ago is valued at around $78,000 today, Pickett said.
Rural King - "America's Farm and Home Store" - offers its customers free popcorn and coffee every day, and details about the grand opening celebration are expected to be announced soon.
Visit www.ruralking.com for more information, or stop by the new Rural King local at the Ohio Valley Mall beginning this Monday. Store hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, or call (740) 695-2520.
For more information on Belmont County Connections, visit online at www.belmontcountyconnections.com, stop by the office at 302 Walnut St. in Martins Ferry between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, or call (740) 633-JOBS (5627).