It all started with a sign, a newspaper ad, a vendor’s licence, and a semi load of feed sold out of their two-car garage on Dec. 1, 1972.
John and Marina Gerber aren’t ashamed of their business’s humble beginnings. The son of a Swiss farmer and the daughter of a Steinbach storekeeper, they opened Emo Feed five years after they were married.
“We started from scratch,” she said Monday afternoon in the back room of the store while her husband looked after the customers outside.
“John had dreams back in his homeland of Switzerland of running a feed business,” she said, noting her husband’s family moved to Canada when he was 19.
“He had no formal training but he did have a strong work ethic," she continued. "I’m pretty proud of John. Not having grown up in this country, I really feel he’s done pretty good.”
Although they started out strictly as a feed store, Gerber said it was hard not to diversify. Now, the shelves also carry nuts and bolts, fencing equipment, tack, bird feed, peanuts, and even a grocery section of imported foods.
“It has the feel of a general country store," she added, noting the business has operated for many years under the slogan, "Your one stop farm shop.”
“We sell several tons of bird feed," she said. "The fastest-growing Canadian hobby is bird-feeding.”
The business also operates heavily on trust, she added. One of the reasons it’s been so successful is customers trust them, Gerber said, and they, in turn, trust their customers.
One such incident involved a 4:30 a.m. phone call when one of the Emo Feed regulars was putting in a culvert and needed a piece of drainage pipe right away.
“John said, ‘Go in and pick it up. Just remind me to bill you for it later,’" Gerber recalled. "That’s the kind of trust we have.”
(This isn’t to give any of their customers ideas about phoning the house late at night, she added. She and her husband prefer doing business in the daytime as opposed to 4 a.m.)
While its uncertain if the couple will be a part of Emo Feed for another 25 years, Gerber said it likely will be a while before they retire.
“[John] can’t grow old doing what he does because he likes very much to have the contact with the customers and mastering the buying and the selling,” she said.
“We definitely feel it’s the grace of God that we could continue business for a quarter-century," she added. "The Lord helped us every step of the way.”