New feed and pet supply store in New Glarus is Top Notch
NEW GLARUS – Until recently, Duane Yaun didn’t see himself in the livestock feed and farm store business, but a few years ago the stars aligned and he was thrown into it. Now he couldn’t see himself doing anything else.
Yaun spent 40 years in the business of supplying construction materials to builders all over the state – drywall, insulation, steel studs among them. Many of the projects he supplied were large ones – hotels, motels and even the new construction at Madison Area Technical College on the city’s east side.
A few years ago a feed store operator asked him to build a new retail and warehouse facility in the New Glarus business park in southwest Wisconsin. When that business got off to a rocky start, Duane and his sons Jeremy and Chad took it over. In the few years since then, they have built it into a successful part of the local community.
Jeremy, a co-owner and partner with his Dad, takes care of inventory and delivery in a truck emblazoned with the business name – “Top Notch Feed & Pet Supply.” Recently a farm supply business in the Portage area closed and they have been getting calls from former customers of that store. So now Jeremy’s delivery radius has expanded to cover an even larger area.
Duane’s oldest son Chad is also a partner in the New Glarus store and also continues to manage one of the six locations of the building supply operation that was part of the business Duane sold in 2015. Chad runs the one that is headquartered in Madison.
Top Notch Feed & Pet Supply, which got started in 2017, caters to farmers and to local residents who stop in for bird seed and pet food. The ample retail space is backed up by a large attached warehouse space.
Their store carries just about everything else anyone might need. “We built this business on service. We have everything from cat and dog food to swine, cattle and horse feed. Many of our customers have chickens, goats, llamas and rabbits,” he said. “If we don’t have it, we try to get it.”
Duane is a New Glarus native, having grown up on a dairy farm in the area. While running his building supply business he lived in the Belleville area from 1979 to 2009.
These days he has about 50 Angus cow/calf pairs on a property near Brooklyn where he and his sons raise and finish cattle and sell beef directly to consumers. They can keep it all in the family, he said, since his sister runs Hoesly Meats, a local meat processor and market. “She married into the Hoesly business,” he said.
He finds that people are beginning to appreciate that they may be better off if they buy a half of beef, pay for the processing and have that meat at home. Those are the folks he sells his Angus beef to.
In addition to the beef, Duane raises a sizeable chicken flock and knows just where to get good chicken feed.
A few years ago Duane purchased some farm land near Brooklyn, about 15 minutes away from his New Glarus store. He and his wife Lori built a house, a machine shed and a shed with a lean-to for his cattle. He hires a custom operator to take care of the crop acreage. The land allows him the opportunity to pasture his herd of cows.
His customers tell him that they love the idea that his Top Notch store is a one-stop shop and he appreciates the daily banter with his customers and his staff. “We have become a nice, tight-knit little family here.”
Part of that family is a once-feral cat that appeared one day and seemed to adopt the store as her domain. They named her “Notch” both because she made her home with the “Top Notch” family but also because her ear was notched – a practice that tells everyone that a feral cat has been spayed or neutered.
However, she surprised them with a litter of kittens soon after her arrival. So much for that ear notch! She has since been spayed and takes very seriously her job of keeping watch over the store, greeting customers as they arrive.
“Some people come in the store just to see the cat,” says the store’s general manager Amanda (Flannery) Gill, who has been with the feed store family for the last three years.
Notch often sits in view of the front door as people walk in, and purrs loudly until she gets their attention.
Before Duane built the building that eventually became his business, the space was an empty lot with nothing around it. Now that they have been at it for four years, many customers appreciate that they are able to “buy local,” he said. “They don’t want to go to the box stores. They thank us for being here and allowing them to buy locally. First-time customers have told us they are done driving to Madison and will be back here.”
Many of the area’s smaller dairy, beef and hog farmers come into the store personally to place their orders and pick up feed, shavings and some of the specialty livestock equipment that he carries.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, they instituted curbside pickup at the store. People swiped their credit card or wrote a check and his staff wheeled products right to their customers’ waiting vehicles, which people were happy with, he said.
“We have been pretty lucky through Covid and have held our own through it,” he says. His three full-time and three part-time workers all wear masks around their necks so they are ready to pull them up if they come in contact with customers, since the store is now back open for people to come inside. (Having indoor customers has also made the cat happier.)
“It is an interesting business and it’s more relaxed than what I used to do,” says Duane. “You meet different people and they have become friends.”
Variety of customers
He estimates that about half of their business is made up of customers who have dairy, beef, sheep and goats, with smaller shares of the business made up of pet supplies, and horse feed and supplies.
As they built the business, Duane and Jeremy have worked to get involved in supplying feed and bedding supplies for area fairs and other livestock events. Though last year’s Midwest Horse Fair was cancelled and so is this year’s, he has worked to get involved in supplying some of those larger events. He said they will supply an Amish horse auction at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison which is scheduled for April.
Just before the pandemic cut off county fair activities, they had been asked to supply several of those in southern Wisconsin. He hopes that once things return to normal that his business can take advantage of more of those opportunities.
They have also forged relationships with goat associations and when those kinds of shows re-emerge after the pandemic, he expects to be part of them too.
Any customers who have questions can pick the brain of the store’s general manager Amanda Gill who has been helping run the store for three years. “I love that it’s local and family owned,” she said. Having earned a degree at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in animal science and ag business, she said the job suits her perfectly.
And if customers have questions about horses, she is the one to ask. “My cup of tea is horses.” She’s not one to toot her own horn but she was recently named National Champion in the American Ranch Horse Association – a discipline that allows horses and riders to compete in reining, trail, patterns and cattle work like cutting and roping.
She competed in 15 shows in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri and Illinois to win that national championship. “We were lucky that the shows could go on because we were outdoors and it was judged to be safe for all involved,” she said.
The Ranch Horse Association doesn’t specify what kind of horse riders must compete on (except that they can’t be gaited). She competed on a 13-year-old Quarter Horse gelding that she got only a year ago. They had an immediate bond and “clicked” when it came to these competitions.