Ruralco members and shoppers turned out en masse for the start of the 29th in-store days at the Ashburton store - and to celebrate a big milestone.
The shop floor and exhibitor area buzzed with a festive feel as hundreds of people milled about and mixed shopping with catch-up chats and advice from suppliers.
Shoppers dressed in basic black rubbed shoulders with others in splash of Swandri check, or eye-wateringly-bright neon camo, as they made their way through the store. One stopped to try on a hat. Another balanced a pack of peach treats for calves and a toilet cistern float to examine some socks.
The occasion also marked Ruralco's 60th birthday.
Board chairperson Sir David Carter said he was "pleasantly surprised" at the level of support.
He'd been a little nervous with the state of the economy and prices for farm products down, but the "buzz" was as good, if not better, than the last few in-store days.
The people in store provided a good snapshot of rural Canterbury, with a broad mix of ages and ethnicities, he said.
Farmers wanted competitive prices and friendly service and Ruralco had met that expectation for 60 years, Carter said.
Chief executive Robert Sharkie said there had been some tumultuous times in Ruralco's 60 years but the co-operative had cut its cloth accordingly and remained attuned to farmers needs.
"Another 60 years would be nice. It's well past my tenure, but it would be nice."
Sharkie said Ruralco did not plan to invest any in any new stores, but hoped to grow the number of businesses that it worked with, alongside the online store.
"We need to keep reinventing our business. Mid Canterbury is still our powerhouse, but there are more opportunities out there."
Sharkie said Ruralco would continue to listen to what farmers wanted and to offer the same level of service and interaction.
"We know our farmer clients and care what happens to them."
Ruralco's in-store days were "a bit of destination, especially in tough times". It's a place where farmers can meet, catch up, and discuss issues, he said.
Although the doors only opened at 8am on Thursday, Sharkie said the first in-store online sale went through at 2am. Attendance at the Rakaia and Methven stores was also going well, he said.
The Ashburton store had 85 suppliers in-store and several other stores participating in town, which allowed them to offer a full range of products.
Sharkie said the in-store days brought a buzz to Ashburton and gave a boost to the local economy with marquees, electricians, business for food carts and the extra people it brought into town.
By Sharon Davis