I came across this Bloomberg Businessweek feature on Tractor Supply*. It reads like a curious anthropological study, where big city journalists make cultural learnings of a primitive society in which people trek to physical stores to buy things. Yuck, haven’t these savages heard of Amazon??
The article describes the customer base as Rural America, backwards folk who need gun safes and log splitters, who use lubricants in the garage instead of the bedroom. Wait a minute — I shop at Tractor Supply! I shopped there even when I lived in Mountain View, because there happens to be a store in Silicon Valley. Granted, it’s the ass-end of Silicon Valley (where 101 meets 152, the highway to Los Banos!), but rural American I am not.
I go there because because a 50-pound sack of chicken feed costs twelve dollars and a 20-pound sack of rabbit bedding costs five dollars. Both are available on Amazon, but shipping kills the deal. Even without animals I needed seed for my bird feeder, fertilizer for my lawn, buckets for storage -– stuff that might be relevant to anyone with a backyard, but city people wouldn’t know what one is.
Tractor Supply is good for stuff that’s too cheap to ship. Heck, I went there today to pick up a 6-foot folding table. It would seem that this is a market that’s immune to digital disruption, but all is not well. Says Bloomberg:
When Tractor Supply is confronted with risks, they tend to be tied to the macro economy. Its fortunes can rise and fall on farming operations in rural America and the fluctuating prices of corn, soybeans, and other crops…The escalating trade war with China is shaping up to be a mess for Tractor Supply’s customer base.
Will Beijing’s tariffs prevent soybean farmers from exporting their crop?? I don’t know, but production-scale farmers probably aren’t buying their seed tonnage from a retail store. Gimme a break. Tractor Supply customers are comfortable suburbanites who have the luxury of treating their livestock like pets and their pets like people.
There is another risk though: Whenever I flip through a Tractor Supply circular, I can’t help but notice how *unbearably white* it is. White people… baling hay. White people… mowing a lawn. White people… driving a tractor. It’s almost like opening an Abercrombie catalog, if Abercrombie was in the business of selling coveralls and tack gear. Come to think of it, has anyone heard from Abercrombie & Fitch since 2004? They were sued by the NAACP for discriminating against people of color, and had to pay $40 million to minorities. It’s only a matter of time before diversity warriors storm in and take up this cause; demand that Tractor Supply feature some damn minorities in their catalogs. People of color… pushing a wheelbarrow. People of color… raking muck. People of color… pick—-
Okay never mind.
Tractor Supply is good. Sometimes they send me a coupon for a free Coke from the store fridge.
*Yes, I realize the story is from 3 weeks ago. I’m a bit slow these days.