Growing the family business
SOUTH DENNIS — Growing up, siblings Josh and Jessica Wile worked at the family store, Agway of Cape Cod, but didn’t feel any pressure to take over the business from their parents.
“Our parents were really great,” said Jessica Wile, now Jessica Thomas. “Our dad (was) so supportive; whatever we wanted to do is what he supported. They never assumed we would do anything. He’s always been so low-key.”
But after both went to college, that’s just where they ended up — and in 2017, they officially took ownership of the business and its three locations, becoming their family’s third generation to own a farm and feed store.
“Without saying anything or asking us, he knew how much we enjoyed it when we worked at the store,” Josh Wile said of his father, Peter. “I think he probably knew we would end up back here.”
Agway of Cape Cod is celebrating its 25th anniversary on the Cape this year, although the store’s roots date back to the 1960s when Roger Wile, Peter’s dad and Josh and Jessica’s grandfather, opened an Agway store in Northboro.
Peter and Susan Wile took over that store but eventually sold it and moved his family to the Cape, where, in 1993, he opened the first Agway of Cape Cod location in Orleans. The store expanded to locations in Chatham and South Dennis, where the company is now headquartered.
Both Josh, 39, and Jessica, 35, have worked in every corner of the business, starting as children when Josh, then 14, was responsible for breaking down cardboard boxes when the first truck rolled into the Orleans location. Jessica, then 10, was in charge of “deadheading” geraniums and cutting off their wilted blooms.
“I really can’t look at geraniums the same way,” Jessica said. “I have never brought home a geranium.”
“I didn’t play too many sports, so this was kind of my recreational activity,” Josh said of working at the store. “I felt a great sense of pride — this was my mom and dad’s store, and I really enjoyed helping it grow. I always felt fortunate to do that.”
Although its roots are as a grain and feed store, the company’s sales are now fairly evenly divided between pet food and supplies, lawn and garden merchandise and the nursery, where the Cape business sees the most activity in the spring and early summer.
“We just started with a shade arbor in the middle of our parking lot, and it grew and grew,” Jessica said. “There was demand, we responded. There was more demand, we responded. It just kept on growing and growing. It was just a natural progression.”
What is the most important thing your business does? Jessica: “Maintaining a familial relationship with our customers. We feel a personal responsibility to their pets and homes.”
Josh: “That they feel comfortable coming in to our store and are welcomed and satisfied, and that they leave feeling good about themselves and that purchase and want to come back.”
How long have you been in business? Josh: “We took over in the beginning of 2017, but the Cape store opened in 1993.”
What did you do before? Both went to business school before coming back to the business.
How big is your staff? Jessica: “At our peak, over 100.”
What changes have you made to the business since you took over? Jessica: “We started our own nonprofit foundation so we could run our Paw Palooza as a full nonprofit fundraising event and to solidify our mission of supporting the community and try to have an organized approach to the donations and charitable giving we try to participate in.” (This year’s Paw Palooza, a family-friendly dog festival, is scheduled for July 14 and 15 at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, 210 Station Ave., South Yarmouth; visit pawpaloozacapecod.com for more details.)
What’s something about your business people would be surprised to learn? Jessica: “I think a lot of people still don’t know we’re not a franchise or a chain. (Agway) is really just a distribution network; it’s a supplier chain for us. But we have no one telling us what products to carry or how to market or supporting us with marketing resources and human resources.”
What’s your most memorable moment with this business? Jessica: “For me, Paw Palooza, the first year, standing there at 10 a.m. and seeing a line of 100 people. I got immediately overwhelmed. I never thought I was capable of pulling something like that off.”
Josh: “Our 20th anniversary was pretty cool; we had a dunk tank and food trucks in the Orleans store parking lot. We gave out free T-shirts; it was a cool day.”
What advice do you have for someone starting out in business? Jessica: “Don’t think of other businesses that overlap with you as competition. We are such a tight-knit community on the Cape; you’re friends with everyone, and everyone can help support their businesses and help everyone thrive. There’s no reason to view anyone as competition; that’s just going to hurt everyone. And never stop learning; you could be 60 and have done it for 35 years, and there’s always something new to learn.
Josh: “I think it’s get ready to get your hands dirty and work your behind off. Most people getting into business have that mentality anyway, but you have to be in that frame of mind and be willing to work 60-plus hours a week.”
What’s the biggest challenge about having a business on Cape Cod? Jessica: “The seasonality has a trickle-down effect to maintaining a good, solid staff. We feel we pay very competitively and very well, and we want to take care of our employees and offer the best benefit, but a lot of our employees are working second and third jobs and by May they’re burning out and it becomes stressful.”
What’s the best thing about having a business on Cape Cod? Josh: “The community. So many people know each other.”
Jessica: “I get to start my day in the office and end it at the beach. It really can’t get much better than that.”
– Follow Sean F. Driscoll on Twitter: @seanfdriscoll.