Farm market near Lansing still popular after decades
DELTA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — It’s a Saturday afternoon in April and the produce section inside Horrocks Farm Market is thick with people.
It’s 30 degrees outside, less-than-perfect weather for a typical farm market, but the store’s parking lot is nearly full.
Inside, the wide variety of goods for sale isn’t typical of any other farm market in the area.
Customers sip coffee, wine and beer while they shop the 70,000-square-foot store. They walk among the wooden displays filled with fruits and vegetables, while employees carefully, but quickly maneuver their delivery carts through the crowd.
There are lines at a counter where people are waiting to sample different flavors of specialty popcorn popped and packaged just a few feet from where they’re standing.
Some customers are there for Horrocks’ fresh cut flowers, others for 1,200 different beers and thousands of wine selections. Or candy made and coffee roasted on site, alongside fresh soup, sushi or pizza, steps away from seasonal gifts and plants, or the latest in organic foods. And of course farm fresh produce.
The Lansing State Journal reports that Horrocks Farm Market today is a destination attraction. It employs just shy of 500 people at stores in Delta Township, Battle Creek and Grand Rapids.
The flagship store stands out among the more than 700 retail and manufacturing businesses in Delta Township because it consistently draws in customers from outside the township’s 35 square miles, Delta Township Economic Development Coordinator Ed Reed said.
There’s simply nothing else like it in the region, said Delta Township Supervisor Ken Fletcher.
“It’s become the kind of place you can go, not just to shop, but to spend the afternoon,” he said.
If you want to understand how Horrocks became what it is, and anticipate where it’s headed, first take a closer look at the Horrocks family and their humble beginnings.
The business started small. Kim Horrocks, 72, can show you exactly where.
The interior of the original building is a short walk through the Delta Township store, past the produce, cheeses and breads and up a slight incline, where a cool draft wafts out of a refrigerated room filled with milk, yogurt and other dairy items.
In 1959, the building wasn’t much, “a box,” Kim Horrocks said, with a wide, garage-like front door that rolled up to create an open feel.
He was 15 when it opened, and remembers wondering if anyone at all would shop there. His father, Jerald Horrocks, had already spent more than a decade planning to open his own farm market.
He assured his family the swampy piece of property they’d settled on — 1.5 acres they’d spent all of their winter savings to buy and develop just off Saginaw Highway — was the perfect spot.
“The city’s going to come this way,” Jerald Horrocks told his wife and kids.
He was right.
Patricia Horrocks cried the first time she saw the land her husband bought. Today, Delta Township is home to more than 33,000 people, and the corner of Saginaw Highway and Canal Road is a bustling intersection. But in 1958, the area was rural farmland as far as the eye could see.
Now 92, she didn’t see how the low-lying property could be developed at all.
“It was a pond with cattails growing all around it,” she said. “It took loads and loads of dirt to fill it.”
But she was 12 years into her marriage to Jerald Horrocks, and the couple had already weathered plenty of hardship together.
They were married in 1945, six months after they met at a community dance in her hometown of Belding. Jerald Horrocks’ family farmed but was far from wealthy.
His charisma more than made up for that. He was “solid,” Patricia said, and she never doubted he would take care of her.
Their first farmhouse on 80 acres north of Muir had no electricity, running water or indoor bathroom. There was no sink in the kitchen, but they bought a gas stove, refrigerator and a lamp to carry around from room to room.
They had enough money to buy an irrigation system for the property, Patricia said, and that’s where they planted their first fruit and vegetable crops.
“We didn’t have anything much,” she said. “We had a few dishes and I had the things my mother had given me. I made homemade cakes because we had eggs and we had milk and we had wonderful cream, and homemade pies.”
During their first year on the property, part of the home’s roof caved in.
The Horrocks sold their fruits and vegetables at the Lansing City Market, an hour-and-a-half drive from the farm.
When an entire field of strawberries was wiped out during a freeze one season, Jerald Horrocks decided to start buying produce at a larger market in Benton Harbor. He sold what he bought alongside whatever the family grew on their farm.
They were a frugal couple, Patricia said, skipping opportunities to go out with friends and see a movie so they could buy food for the dinner table and save money.
Jerald had long-term plans, Kim Horrocks said.
“He always had a dream of having his own market instead of having to go to someone else’s market,” he said.
The property in Delta Township presented that opportunity. The family emptied their savings, money they used to get through the winter season, and took out a loan for just under $12,000 develop the land.
It was the only time, to this day, they ever borrowed money, Patricia said.
The modest, 3,000-square-foot farm market opened in 1959, selling fruits and vegetables and very little else. Patricia and Jerald Horrocks worked there, along with a business partner who eventually sold his portion of the business to the family, and their two sons, including Kim’s brother Kirk, who now helps run the business.
In those first few years their customer base was nothing like it is today.
“There was no crowd,” Kim Horrocks said. “It was a few people.”
Patricia Horrocks never doubted their ability to make the business work. Jerald Horrocks “always made the right decision,” she said, and possessed what she described as the “Horrocks’ gene.”
“Horrocks are very strong,” she said. “They have a gene in there that, honest to God, has gone down clear to the grandchildren...stubborn, determination, that’s what it is.”
But it was the extension of Interstate 96 in the late 1960s, taking it right past the family’s once bare corner, which helped position Horrocks Farm Market for real growth.
“My dad always said, ‘You’ve got to have the courage of your convictions,’” Kim Horrocks said. “If he was convinced about something he just went forward on it.”
So Horrocks started growing, a little at a time. They expanded their footprint in Delta Township, buying property as they grew.
The building more than doubled in size in the 1980s — from 6,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet.
The most significant build-out came after they added 1.5 acres right at the corner of Saginaw Highway and Canal Road.
“It gave us a presence on both roads,” Kim Horrocks said. “It’s good to be on the corner.”
No one is sure just how many additions have been added at the Delta Township store in its 59 years.
There have been at least 30, Kim Horrocks said. Those happened whenever the family could afford to expand, and that’s why the building has so many distinctive sections, built at different times by different contractors.
Store Manager Dan Dunn, who’s worked there for nearly a decade, said the Horrocks family built out the business with a farmer’s mentality.
“If you drive down any country road in Michigan you’ll see an odd assortment of buildings, or an odd assortment of additions on to buildings,” Dunn said. “The idea behind a well-run farm operation is that when you get enough money, you use cash to build. This was built exactly like a family farm. When the money was there, the next addition was built, and we figure out how to make it fit.”
Autumn Horrocks, Kim’s daughter, calls it “growth of necessity.” New ventures, like coffee roasting, started slowly and sometimes took years to develop.
“Every time we do something new, we go, ‘Yeah, it’d sure be nice to have such and such,’ and then you figure out how to make that work.”
Like her father, Autumn Horrocks, 42, grew up in the business. She bagged groceries while standing on two milk cartons before she was tall enough to reach the counters, pushed carts and helped stock shelves. Her childhood memories are intertwined with the business and its staff — from roller-skating through the store to sitting on a counter near employees and helping to take thorns off roses with a jack knife.
She went off to college and pursued other things for a few years but always knew she’d come back to the family business. Today, she runs the Grand Rapids store, which opened 15 years ago. It’s the newest location, built up around an old grocery store.
Like the Delta Township store and the Battle Creek store, which opened in 1992, it expanded gradually as they developed more offerings. Each location is unique, and each one offers something a little different.
On a tour of the Grand Rapids store in April, Autumn Horrocks chatted with customers while she walked among the flats of flowers outside, picking dead buds off them as she went.
“The way people feel when they come into a place has so much to do with their enjoyment,” she said.
At Horrocks, the goal is to help people have that good experience, she said. It’s something her grandfather and her father taught her.
“A lot of those things just become ingrained,” Autumn Horrocks said. “My favorite part is what’s happening that day. At Valentine’s, my favorite part is wrapping flowers for people. In spring, my favorite part is being outside and being into that. It’s whatever’s the busiest part of the store that day.”
Kim said the quality merchandise comes from the more than 1,000 farmers and suppliers they work with. Some of them have had products at Horrocks for more than 50 years. Others supply only a few items.
“We don’t buy from a warehouse,” Kim said. “We are as direct as you can get.”
Jerald Horrocks always held the belief that something should always be “going on” at the stores, Autumn Horrocks said. It’s why the smell of popcorn filters through the Delta Township store, and why the prettiest-smelling flowers often greet customers first when they walk into a greenhouse there.
“There are two things that I think are really important to business,” Kim Horrocks said. “Art and economics. With art, if you’re either involved in it, or you look at it long enough, you just know what works. You know that will catch somebody’s eye or it won’t. You have to have that. You have to have this ‘wow’ factor, and then you’ve got to have the numbers to back it up.”
Jerald Horrocks was adept at doing that. He played music from a grand piano in the store and often handed out roses to customers.
“If I wasn’t a rose, it was an apple, or something else that was great that day,” Autumn Horrocks said. “You ask any customer that’s walked through here, everyone knows. He was the guy who handed you roses, called you ‘young lady’ and meant every word of it.”
He never failed to reinvent the business, either, and his family followed in his footsteps.
Jerald Horrocks died four years ago, on April 21.
Sons Kim and Kirk run the business now, with Autumn and Kirk’s son, Adam. The only outside partner, with partial ownership at the Grand Rapids store, is longtime employee Roy Fedewa.
Employees, 225 of which are in Lansing, say the Horrocks run their business like a family.
Debbie Church, 66, has worked at all three stores over the last three decades. Today she works in Grand Rapids, managing the floral department she helped establish there and commuting daily from her home in Grand Ledge.
Church was a stay-at-home mom when she started working at the Delta Township store, at first part-time and then as a cashier. Her responsibilities grew with the business. She helped establish the flagship store’s gift department and painted colorful murals on the walls inside the Grand Rapids store.
“There’s a lot of respect for people,” Church said. “For the customers and for the workers. We work hard here. We create stuff and develop stuff.”
And they always feel supported, said Nidia Cedillo, 35, who’s been at the Grand Rapids store for 11 years. She moved to the area from Mexico when she was 16.
“I didn’t speak a lot of English when I started working here,” Cedillo said. “Everything was new to me. Every season you live it to the max here. Christmas, its sparkles, Christmas trees ... in the fall it’s beautiful with the mums outside. I’ve learned that here at Horrocks, how to live every season.”
Eric Panlener, a garden center manager who has worked in the Delta Township store for more than a decade, said the Horrocks family works alongside them every day.
“They’re getting their hands just as dirty as you are,” Panlener said. “They’re doing the same exact things that you are. They’re hands on, and they care about it.”
Kim Horrocks said their employees are Horrocks’ greatest asset.
“If you want to grow your business and be successful, surround yourself with people who are better than you are, and get out of their way,” he said.
From a greenhouse at the Delta Township store a few weeks before Mother’s Day — the store’s busiest weekend of the year — Kim Horrocks looked over a new shipment of tropical plants and flowers delivered from a supplier in Florida.
Hydragas, hyacinths, diplopias and ferns were among the haul.
“That’s the best smell in the whole world right there,” he said.
An abnormally cold April slowed the start of their spring floral business, but by the end of April, Horrocks was booming. It’s an annual tradition at the business.
“This is Michigan,” Kim Horrocks said. “When the weather gets decent, people are into it.”
Autumn Horrocks motioned to the rows of plants in the greenhouse. “This is just scratching the surface,” she said. “Shipment number one of the very, very beginning of something that’s going to explode pretty soon — spring and summer.”
Growth is gradual at the business, but in the last four years, there’s been plenty of it at the Delta Township store.
A tavern was built in 2014, tucked in a corner of the store and decorated with old family photos. It offers wine or beer to sip or sample while you shop. Then an outdoor patio was opened a year later facing Saginaw Highway.
In-house popcorn was added in the fall of 2016, and earlier this year the family added a two-story, 5,000-square-foot addition to the back end of the property with its own entrance, additional first-floor shopping space and second-floor employee offices.
Now, the Horrocks are getting ready for their next new thing — a partnership with Iorio’s Gelato, a business with locations in East Lansing and Ann Arbor, to bring a “gelateria” to the Delta Township store. The creamy treat will be made on site and sold by the container and the cup. That should be operational this month, Kim Horrocks said.
It’s the latest offering, but the Horrocks family is already thinking about what they should add next. Those ideas usually make for good business, Autumn Horrocks said, even if they make describing the business to newcomers increasingly difficult.
“It is so hard to describe to somebody this place,” she said. “It is next to impossible to paint the picture of what it’s really like in here.”
The best description her family has come up with, she said, is “a European-style open air market.”
“They can understand it’s not just another grocery store, where you’re just seeing things in lines. And then I try to say, but it’s really, really big.”
At its core, Horrocks will always be a farm market, Kim Horrocks said.
Her sons and grandchildren have the same understanding of the business that its founder did, Patricia Horrocks said.
Their foresight is a testament to Jerald Horrocks’ legacy, she said.
“Somebody has to dream up all that stuff that they’re doing, because it’s exciting to people who come in and see something new going on.”
Growth is only natural, Patricia Horrocks said.
“It happened like it should happen,” she said. “That’s how it happened.”
Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com