COVID-19 Stories: Michigan Ross Alums’ Argus Farm Stop Leverages Connections to Local Farmers, Fills the Gap For Groceries
Reports of rivers of wasted milk and fields of rotting onions no longer needed by restaurants showed the limitations of the food industry to quickly pivot during times of great stress, but local farms and stores have stepped in to fill consumers' needs.
Envisioned as a year-round farmers market when it opened more than five years ago, Argus Farm Stop in Ann Arbor was founded by Ross School of Business alumni Kathy Sample and Bill Brinkerhoff to bridge the gap between more than 200 local farmers and food producers and consumers who wanted to buy fresh, local food.
Sample, MBA ’89, and Brinkerhoff, MBA ‘89, took a week last month to shift their Packard Street location to curbside pickup of online orders. Its Liberty Street location is still open for in-person shopping.
“We had three online customers a month ago and today we have over 1,400, for delivery or pickup close to 150 orders a day and it’s a shout out to our staff, it’s completely changed the way the store operates within seven days,” Brinkerhoff said. “Technology is going to continue to play an increasing role.”
While the supply network is still adapting for larger grocery players, Argus doesn’t need one. If the store needs flour, they call Linda and Lee Purdy near Fenton for a truckload, and farmers stop by every couple of days to refresh the supply of kale, lettuce, or basil, Sample said.
“We’ve developed this over the past five years, so it’s given us an advantage,” she said.
They hope customers stick with them and other smaller local businesses that were able to support them when the chain stores struggled.
This makes sense, according to Ravi Anupindi, professor of technology and operations and faculty director for the Center for Value Chain Innovation at Michigan Ross. Small stores are easier for local suppliers to access because they lack the bureaucracy of big retailers like Walmart or Kroger where corporate approval is needed to bring on new suppliers, he said.
“Up until now, going ‘local’ was labeled as a more sustainable option and often demanded premium prices, so only certain types of stores had local foods,” said Anupindi. “But one could also view local sourcing as an element of a resiliency strategy.”
Ross alumni explain their shift to online ordering during the pandemic