Apr. 22—EFFINGHAM — The Equity is expanding its Farm and Home store in Effingham. The expansion will feature a new warehouse designed to store feed and other products, as well as allow patrons to load large orders under a roof instead of in the parking lot.
This "Customer Fulfillment Center" will allow Farm and Home store employees to more efficiently handle orders placed ahead of time for pickup. The current store has only a small awning where employees and customers can load large orders onto trucks.
The issue of loading has become more pressing since The Equity transferred its bagged feed pickup from their feed mill to the Farm and Home Store. This was done due to animal health concerns.
"Bags of feed take up a lot of space," Equity CEO Bruce Vernon said in an interview.
The new center will cost $450,000 to design and construct.
Because the expansion requires small portions of The Equity's land to be rezoned, the Effingham Plan Commission approved the expansion last week and the City Council later approved it.
"Due to COVID, we initiated curbside pickup for orders placed in advance and this sector continues to grow," said Vernon in a statement. "The rezoning of these lots will allow us to construct a new Customer Fulfillment Center, enhancing our customer experience and improving our service levels."
The center was designed and will be built by Milano & Grunloh Engineers and Akra Builders, according to Vernon.
This expansion is coming on the heel of a year of new things for The Equity and its store.
"A year and a half ago, we did a whole reset," said Thomas Perkins, the Farm and Home Store's manager.
This reset involved remodeling the checkout area of the store, installing a new, more space-efficient counter, and reorganizing the shelves to allow for better flow through the store and more endcaps to display products.
Perkins said this was to help reach customers interested in the "Home" section of the store's name. The store doubled sales over the past year, largely driven by people doing home-improvement projects during the pandemic, according to Vernon.
"We still want to take care of our core clients," said Perkins, referring to agricultural customers that make up the "Farm" part of the store.
In December, The Equity also moved into its new corporate headquarters on Third Avenue just north of Effingham, a former portion of Mid America Motorworks.
"This building worked out really well for us," said Vernon. "It's allowed us to get settled and really focus on the next 20 years."
One particular point of pride for Vernon: the mural painted by local artist Jamie Stang showing the history of The Equity. It features old-style feed trucks next to their modern descendants and the various facilities The Equity has had over the years.
"We've been in this community 100 years, so we have a story to tell," said Vernon.
Elsewhere in the office complex are prints of photographs taken by company employees.
The new facility houses the company's various support departments as well as executive staff, among others.
In addition to the new space, The Equity also purchased 23 acres of land, on which they plan to house several demonstration plots and host events like their Innovation Acre Day to raise awareness about their products.
The Equity is the largest independent agricultural cooperative in Illinois and does business in several areas beyond its storefront, including agronomy, feed and livestock, grain services and energy.
Andrew Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or firstname.lastname@example.org