How a family-owned business embraces change and, as a result, has enjoyed
33 years of success—and counting—in a competitive market.
BY LIZE TT BOND
As a farm family, George and Avis Payne and their sons, Don, Doug and Tom, have been in the dairy business, planted crops, raised hogs, and grown
corn, wheat, soy and hay. Farm life is hard work, and the
Paynes, owners of CountryMax, which has 16 locations
in New York state, understand the benefits of taking
measured risks, and the power in diversity.
Firmly ensconced in the world of agriculture, George
Payne began investigating the retail side of the industry
in 1984. At the time, the farm coop Agway Inc. offered a
retail franchising program, and the family subsequently
purchased property and opened a location in Farmington,
N. Y. When George’s son Don returned from college, he
stepped in as primary clerk for the endeavor.
“Agway went out of business within a couple of years,
and at that point, we were no longer a franchise but a true
independent, and we continued from there,” Payne said.
This turn of events necessitated a name change, and in
those early years, the company adopted “Farm and Garden,” with each store named for the community in which
it resided—Farmington Farm and Garden, for example.
“‘Farm and Garden’ was such a common name, and
as we began looking down the road, we wanted to dis-
tinguish ourselves with something more unique,” Payne
said. “By the time we opened our fourth store, Country-
Max had been selected.”
The original Farmington store featured 3,000 feet of
retail space, 3,500 square feet of warehouse and a wide ar-
ray of product. During its 33 years in business, the Coun-
tryMax enterprise has taken a slow-growth approach to
reach its current number of locations.
“Our store footprint goes back to those early days
of offering supplies for the hobby farmer, lawn and
garden items, pet and livestock supplies, wild bird
product and various other needs, such as clothing, and
a little bit of hardware,” Payne said. “So our primary
departments were developed initially, and we just fol-
lowed the path from there.”
Today, new stores measure in at approximately 25,000
square feet and continue to meet a broad range of com-
“CountryMax is a feed store to some people, a pet
store to others, and to someone else it might be a mulch
store,” Payne said. “That’s what brings everything togeth-
er—it all intertwines—and chances are good that a lawn
and garden customer owns a dog.”
The company embraces a do-it-yourself attitude. Land
is purchased, and a construction manager, who came on
board in 2008, oversees all development, creating a uni-
form look in each new location.
“We have this farmer mentality of ‘Let’s try to do it all
if we can,’” Payne said. “We are able to plan and scheme
a lot of different designs, and with our construction man-
ager, we are only limited by our imagination.”
Older facilities are being updated to conform with the
appearance and layout of newer stores.
“We have definitely morphed into how we are building today; it’s kind of like an archeological dig as we go
back into the stores we initially built,” he said. “That is our
challenge with some of the older facilities: to bring them
into the more modern fold.”
WE CAN DO THAT
Payne noted that developing an atmosphere and environment unique to CountryMax is key, and this goal is realized through the use of interior structures and formats,
incorporating designs into fixtures, utilizing colorful
photos and signage, and custom-built display cases. This
eye-pleasing ambience is conceptualized by the company’s construction team, which uses its own woodshop.
“Our display cases are designed around the product to
show it off,” Payne said. “We get together and ask ‘What
if?’ or ‘Can we?’ and our team says ‘We can do that.’”
Beginning in 2008, new builds present the farm and
country appeal of a barn-front exterior and the warm
ambience of rough-cut wood. Shoppers enter the store
through a homey, porchlike entrance.
Inside, large photo posts identify specific departments, visible throughout the clean, well-lit and spacious sales floor.
In addition, unique exhibits often reflect the history
of each locale. For example, at the location in Henrietta,
MERCHANDISING & STORE DESIGN
YEAR of the
Locations: 16 stores in New York state
Co-owners: George, Avis, Doug, Tom and Don Payne
Employees: 50 full time, 300 part time
Years in business: 33
Average square feet: 15,000 to 25,000
Products and services: Dog and cat food and supplies, self-serve dog
wash, small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and aquariums, wild bird,
lawn and garden, barn and stable, backyard pond supplies, clothing,
food, hardware, adoption days, vaccination and microchipping clinics,
carry-out service, online sales
COUNTRYMAX AT A GLANCE CountryMax designs its display cases and fixtures specifically
around the products.