Titgemeier's Feed & Garden Center

The Story of Titgemeier's Part 2
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Racing pigeons was a hobby of a large group of Polish and German men.  Breeding the pigeons, and racing them required a very special diet that was carefully monitored.  The store carried over thirty varieties of feeds to satisfy this trade.  If the pigeons didn't win, the blame was often attributed to the mix bought at Titgemeiers!  Of course the customer was right, and there was always another blend to sell that might produce a winner.  A customer once brought back a bag of feed that he said was so poor he wanted it replaced.  Another bag was supplied - the bag returned was set aside - untouched.  One week later the same man looked at the identical bag he had returned and said, "Now THAT is what I call good feed!" and bought it! 

The store captured the growing trend of offering a variety of foods, treats, cages, toys, collars, and remedies and needs for all pets, catering to customers who thought their pets were their children.  One day, a lady came in with her dog to buy a Christmas present for her pet.  An attractive net stocking full of toys and treats was a best seller, so it seemed logical to hold it up so the customer could see it better.  She quickly exclaimed, "Oh, don't let her see her Christmas gift!" 

The sale of vegetable and flower plants was an important party of spring and summer business.  In the early days, these were received from the grower's directly seeded into flats of 100.  For smaller sales of less than full flats, plants were dug, and wrapped in newspaper for the customer.  Today, the suppliers grow plants in cell packs of various sizes, which eliminates time and labor.  Vegetable plants for the home gardener were popular, as well as bulk seeds that were displayed in attractive glass jars.  Sales were often in micro-ounce quantities.  Titgemeier's frequently carried 20 varieties of tomato plants.  It was not uncommon for a customer to come in the store, and not knowing which one they had bought and enjoyed last summer, expect the owners to remember which variety of tomatoes they sold to them.  A sale was made, whether it was the right one or not! 

A personal approach, knowledge of products, and a reputation for quality helped the business grow.  Jim Stelzer expressed interest in staying with the company.  Sons of Don and Bob, Mark and Tom, were both too young to make career decisions, so Jim was made an equal partner when the business incorporated in 1968. 

In 1979, the building was purchased from Harry.  Three properties were purchased adjacent to the store, as they became available.  Houses on the lots were torn down, and after nearly two years, the city approved re-zoning the lots from residential to commercial.  A 40 X 70 foot addition was built to accommodate the expanding business.  The second floor apartment became office space and storage. 

There were fourteen children in the three families.  Don's six, Jim's four, and Bob's four nearly all worked at the store part time during their school years, gaining appreciation for their Dads, as well as earning money and retail experience.  Bob's son Tom worked part time, and eventually became a full time employee.  Don's daughter, Aimee was the first employee hired to increase the growing wholesale market for pet supplies outside the store, and Bob's daughter Ann served as a full-time employee for five years, following graduation from Albion College.  Jim's wife, JoAnn joined the firm as part time bookkeeper, in 1983.  She continued in that capacity until Jim's retirement in 1997.  Bob retired in 1984, but continued to work some until 1987, the same year that Harry Titgemeier died at the age of 95. 

As sales continued to grow, it was obvious that two businesses were developing.  In 1988, it was split into two separate, independent units.  Jim became the sole owner of Titgemeier's, the original retail store.  Don, with his two daughters, Chris and Aimee, became the wholesale distributors for Iams Pet Foods, and related pet supplies.  This business was called Paws and Claws. 

Tom, a full time employee at the original store, recommended adding home brewing to the inventory.  In a short time, the store carried a full line of supplies needed to make many varieties of beer and wine.  Tom's family, including wife Debbie, worked, as needs arose.  

In 1998, Jim retired, and Tom bought the business, making him the fourth generation owner. 

A small business continues to face new challenges, but will change, as the economy, whims, and demands of customers dictate.