By CARL MARIO NUDI
Detwiler’s Farm Market has built a reputation of providing fresh produce, meats, groceries, and other products at great prices in a fun and friendly environment.
The family-owned and operated business has expanded their operations into Manatee County with the opening of a fourth store on July 18 at 1800 U.S. 301, in Palmetto.
“We want to have people come for the experience,” said Sam Detwiler, president of the company and oldest son of the market’s founders, Natalie Grace and Henry Detwiler Sr.
“We want to give them a reason to get out of their homes and shop. When they come through the door we don’t know their situation,” Sam Detwiler said. “They could have had a bad day.
“But when they leave with a smile, we know we impacted their life some way,” he said.
It is that “customer first” business philosophy that helped make the three other Detwiler’s Farm Market locations so popular with shoppers.
The first store was opened at 6000 Palmer Road in Sarasota about 10 years ago and was fashioned after a roadside produce stand with extras, such as fresh meats, groceries, baked goods, milk and eggs.
In the ensuing years the family expanded and opened two more stores, first at 1250 U.S. 41 Bypass S., in Venice, and then 6100 N. Lockwood Ridge Road in Sarasota.
When it became evident they needed to expand again, they looked north.
“We needed a bigger store and found this building,” said the family patriarch, Henry Detwiler Sr.
The building was a former Winn Dixie that has been vacant for several years.
“I like the Palmetto location,” Detwiler said. “We also want to reach into Ruskin and St. Petersburg.”
The family has always worked together to make their entrepreneurial endeavors a success.
Henry Detwiler Sr., who also is a pastor at the Hope Fellowship Mennonite Church, grew up in the butcher business.
“My grandfather had a butcher shop and grocery in Pennsylvania,” Henry said. “When I moved to Florida I did construction for about 15 years, but I learned how to do retail produce and groceries growing up.”
He met and married his wife, Natalie Grace, and they started raising a large family. They had nine children — five girls and four boys.
The family started working for Sutter’s Egg Farm on Richardson Road in the early 2000s.
They would grade and clean the eggs, which were sold on the honor system at a roadside stand.
Because Henry had that retail sales experience as a teenager in Pennsylvania, he suggested selling produce at the roadside stand.
That stand became very popular and after a year they moved it to Fruitville Road and called it Fruitville Grove Market.
After seven years they lost their lease, but within three months they found another place at 6000 Palmer and opened Detwiler’s Farm Market in September 2009.
“We worked our tails off to get it started,” said Sam.
Their mother developed health problems, and that pushed the boys to quit school, said Sam, who was in the seventh grade at the time, to help run the store and take care of their mother.
He said none of his brothers and sisters went to college, yet they are all successful.
“The biggest thing I say to kids is once you know what you want to do, give it 100 percent, whether it’s going to college, working, or owning a business,” Sam said. “Double the effort will yield three times the results.”
He uses this philosophy to manage the expansion of the family business.
The size of each store grew with the opening of the new locations over the years.
The original store on Palmer was only around 5,000 square feet and the Venice store was 11,000 square feet.
“We decided we had to move north and opened the University store in February 2015 to take the pressure off of Palmer,” Sam said.
The 25,000-square-foot store on the corner of Lockwood Ridge Road and University Parkway became a very popular location, drawing more shoppers from Manatee County.
“We kept an eye out for another location and found Palmetto,” Sam said.
This was the first building they purchased and at 50,000 square feet it was double the store on Lockwood Ridge Road.
The extra space allowed them to expand all the departments and create a more open shopping experience.
“It can get crowded at the other stores,” Sam said. “We try to have the mom and pop store feel with a ‘Walmart approach.’”
Sam will buy a truckload of produce and pass on the savings with low prices, he said.
“We tell our suppliers when they give us a deal it’s going to the customers,” Sam said. “Like the sign on our store says, ‘Eat Fresh for Less.’”
The larger size of the store interior allows distinct architectural features, such as a roadside produce stand, a seafood market, and a meat counter that looks like a giant butcher block.
“The bakery is four- or five-times bigger than our University store,” Sam said. “A lot of the baked goods are made from scratch, like the breads, all the cookies and some cakes.”
The larger baking facility at the Palmetto store will be providing baked goods for the other locations, he said.
“We’re also expanding the health and wellness sales area with more vitamins, herbs, shakes and drinks, and homeopathic products,” Sam said. “Plus we now have our own line of products.”
He said the employees helped make Detwiler’s Farm Market a success.
The employees are always smiling and doing things to make the customers happy, such as interacting with the shoppers, walking around the store using bullhorns to announce specials, or bantering with each other in a jovial way at the fish market and other departments.
“We want to do more as we grow. Shopping should be fun and not a chore.
“The customer is the only reason we’re here,” Sam said. “If you treat them like family they will come back.”
For more information about Detwiler’s Farm Market, visit www.detwilermarket.com, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DetwilersMarket.