Small Biz Saturday: Argus Farm Stop adds larger online inventory, makes changes during pandemic

Online shopping, grocery delivery, more at local farm stop

Argus Farm Stop owners Kathy Sample and Bill Brinkerhoff on Oct. 10, 2017 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – To say that Argus Farm Stop in downtown Ann Arbor has been busy since March is a bit of an understatement.

In the past few months, the business has had to add an extensive online inventory, turn one of its markets into a packing center, organize delivery drop-offs and prepare for in-person shopping.

Opened in 2014 by Kathy Sample and Bill Brinkerhoff, the all-year, everyday farmers market offers locally farmed produce, meats, baked goods and other items from local producers.

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In addition to what it was already selling, Argus Farm Stop took in even more inventory from local producers when the Ann Arbor Farmers Market temporarily closed in March and April. The farm stop had to buy more refrigeration to accommodate the new inventory and to hold online orders.

But that is just one of many operational changes it has experienced. To make sure Ann Arbor community members could still buy from producers, Argus created an extensive online shop, which has processed 9,000 orders since March.

Plant starts sold at Argus Farm Stop when the Ann Arbor Farmers Market was closed. (Argus Farm Stop)

Building the online shop was a lot of work, according to co-owner Kathy Sample. Employees had to create and adjust an ever-evolving inventory, constantly solve problems and adapt to changing circumstances.

Once orders were placed, they were assembled at the Argus Farm Stop location on Packard Road, which closed its doors to in-person customers for a while to deal with the growing demand for online orders.

“We had to learn all these things, like the proper way to give a pickup customer their order,” said Sample, adding that staff had to develop processes for how they went about interacting (or rather, not interacting) with customers and each other.

“Now we can look back at it and say ‘OK, now if we get a second bump of COVID, this is how we’ll go back into it.’ ”

While some of Argus’ staff weren’t able to work, Sample said that those who did “bloomed” as the market adapted to its new reality. She said customer satisfaction and the store’s success were due to her flexible staff, who adapted right away and utilized their skills to help the farm stop make changes.

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Sample also said the success of the Argus Farm Stop online orders was due to its customers.

“They knew it was extra work and they knew that we were trying our hardest,” said Sample.

She stated that the online shop wasn’t originally designed for the volume and type of work the farm stop experienced, noting that the number of online shoppers swelled from a few to over 1,000 in early March.

Since March, Argus Farm Stop employees have put together 9,000 orders. (Argus Farm Stop)

Additionally, Argus Farm Stop implemented grocery delivery for its customers. Deliveries started with staff vehicles but soon each delivery run consisted of 100 to 150 orders, according to Sample. After reaching out to connections at the University of Michigan, the business starting leasing one of its vans for employees to use during their trips.

Currently, both Argus Farm Stop locations are open to customers but are limited to only five at one time. Customers at the Packard location will also notice that they are kept to the front of the space, while employees use the back to pack online orders.

Sample said that things are certainly different now at the market. She and her staff have to communicate more through their eyes since everyone is wearing a mask, and that everyone has to be careful to maintain a safe distance.

The market plans to continue offering online ordering even with both locations open to customers. Sample said it will survey customers about what they want so as to continue connecting the community to local producers.

Visit Argus Farm Stop at 325 W. Liberty St. and at 1200 Packard Rd.


Argus Farm Stop has to purchase a van in order to meet demand for its grocery delivery. (Argus Farm Stop)

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.