"Farmers have to go somewhere to get their feed and seed," Lemmons said about Southern States' success in the state.
In the 1990s, West Virginia had more than 40 Southern States stores, and a good many remain. The merchandise, which focuses on a variety of things such as fertilizers, seeds, pet supplies and lawn care can be purchased in Summersville, Point Pleasant, Iaeger, Huntington, Parkersburg, Martinsburg and Morgantown, among many other places.
"We're like any other company ... we've combined, closed and relocated some operations," Gravitt said. "When you do that, some people think something may be wrong, but we're just trying to be more efficient and successful for members and the cooperative."
Just like Whitt's store has adapted and started selling more lawn and garden products, Southern States has developed a new marketing plan focused around their customers to help rebound from a tough year of unusual weather.
"Fiscal 2012 was an extremely challenging year for Southern States Cooperative," said President and CEO Thomas Scribner in a news release. "The winter of 2012 was the mildest since 1932 and the second warmest since 1895. The warm temperatures significantly impacted our earnings, as agricultural producers needed less feed related products and rural homeowners burned fewer gallons of home heating fuel."
Gravitt said Southern States plans to start looking at customers' needs in different ways.
"We're going to start taking a real strong look at our customer groups. We're not going to sell every customer the same way," he said. "We have rural America customers with more of a farm lifestyle and smaller farmers, but they still need some of the same products."
Whitt has already adapted to meet the needs of customers. He takes the time to educate his younger customers who might not know as much about the quality of Southern States merchandise because they didn't grow up farming.
"[Southern States] is a name people know and trust," he said.
Reach Kate White at kate.wh...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.