When BSE struck in 2003, the ‘local’ market for the Spenst family’s cattle operation slammed shut — they farm along the U.S. border. So they decided to put their future in the hands of a more distant market — a store 12 miles north in Winkler.
“It is just such a different mindset when you have a store, because on the farm, it is a global market,” Paul Spenst told the recent Take the Leap conference here. “What I am getting paid for wheat depends on Russia. When you have a store in Winkler, it is a local market. You can buy something and you get to sell it for more money and everyone is happy. It is totally foreign to the farmer in me.”
“Things were going really well and then BSE happened. When the border closed to cattle, it just took the life right out of us,” said Spenst, who runs 360 head on 1,000 acres. “Mom and Dad had their farm assets secure but my brother, Garreth, and I were working nights to keep going. It was a pretty tough time for us.”
With confidence in the quality of their product, the Spenst family positioned their store kitty-corner to Winkler’s brand-new Superstore.
Knowing that they could not compete with their Goliath counterpart on price, the Spenst Bros. built their store on the basis that people would appreciate knowing where their food was coming from.
“You need to have a clear understanding of what your advantage is over that guy. Your advantage is going to come in one of three ways; you have them on price, product or service. I am pretty sure it’s not going to win on price, so you need to focus on product and service.”
The Spenst Bros. shop opened a few weeks after the Superstore and the town was abuzz.
“People in town started talking and laughing. I found out later that there were some bets going around about how long this store would last. If you have an idea and you know that it is good, you believe that it is good, don’t be afraid to be laughed at,” Spenst said. “But the people in Winkler decided that they were going to support us and they came in and bought ground beef.”
Focused on offering food the way Mom made it, Spenst Bros. offers homegrown meats, raised without added hormones and steroids and served fresh.
“We raise our own beef and try to get around 650 head through the store every year,” said Spenst. “At our store you can buy ground beef that is cut every day, fresh. All of the deli meat we make in the store. Speciality sausage, we make it all right there.”
Starting with fresh cuts, the store has quickly diversified into offering sausages, hamburger patties, smoked meats, BBQ-ready products, baked goods, pizza and recently expanded to offer catering services.
“We love what we have become, what we have evolved into or what we think we are trying to be and that is a family of food. Food the way Mom makes it. We are proud to make food that we want to feed our kids,” Spenst said.