RKO: Old-fashioned meets modern

All the wares plus 'shoppertainment' at Rural King Ohio

By BOBBY WARRENStaff Writer Published:

How does one describe what Rural King Ohio is?

A person can go in and pick up some snacks, soaps, detergents, cleaners, socks, jeans, hunting gear, bird seed, pet food, new tires, car batteries, regular batteries, stuff to build a fence on a farm, hardware, wood burners, barbecue grills and smokers and tractors. Don't forget popcorn.

Owner/manager Tom White likes to say, "We are an old-fashioned general store for the 20th century."

RKO has been on East Lincoln Way in Wooster for nine years, and White and his partners opened another location in Elyria in September 2011. Things have been going well for the businesses, White said.

White tries to offer customers what he calls "shoppertainment." There are events throughout the year that cater to pets and their owners, and this past weekend Santa Claus visited to take pictures with the children.

But, the most popular thing is the popcorn. The free, movie-theater-like popcorn popper runs all day.

"It is going 364 days a year from the time we open until the time we close," White said. "It's often the first place people visit when they come in and the last place they visit before they leave to get some fresh popcorn for the road. It appeals to both young and old.

"They ask me if I have a recipe and what do we do so special that makes it taste so good. Our secret is we use canola oil."

The target audience for the store is the farmer and the do-it-yourself person. The farmer cawn use just about everything in the store, and others come for the items they need. It also attracts those who like the rural lifestyle. White recently received an email from a customer who wanted him to know the store had run out of the socks that he likes. In the email, the man said he lived on seven acres, had some pets, along with a goat and a donkey.

"People like him are every bit our customer as the guy who has a 1,000-acre farm," White said.

Incidentally, the email triggered a call by White to his vendor wanting to know where the socks were. During that conversation, it was discovered White was sending in orders, but there was a problem in the "electronic data interchange," and the vendor was not receiving the orders.

White said that was an example of the personal service he and the staff offer customers. "It shows you can talk to someone (at our stores) who can make a difference," he said. "We want people to feel like this is their store, and we are going to get it right whether it is a pair of socks or a $10,000 tractor."

While smaller stores have found it difficult to compete with big-box stores on price, White said Rural King provides the best of both worlds. Rural King stores are part of a large buying group, which allows them to get good prices on the merchandise stocked in their stores. Yet, at the same time, each Rural King store is a local, autonomous business where decisions can be made much quicker.

"If someone has an issue, you have to be available," White said. "What we do with personal services will make the difference."

One of the fastest-growing areas of the business is pet food and bird seed, White said. His store probably has the largest inventory of jeans in the area. It has a little bit of everything, including lawn mowers, riding mowers and heating stoves in season.

White has discovered over the years, Rural King Ohio has sort of turned into a hub of social activity.

"You see neighbors talking to neighbors and friends talking to friends," White said. "You go up to them and ask, 'Can I help you?' and they say, 'No, we're just getting caught up.'"

Reporter Bobby Warren can be reached at 330-287-1639 or bwarren@the-daily-record.com. He is @BobbyWarrenTDR on Twitter.

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