I Am Topeka: Rich Tarwater, Tarwater Farm & Home Supply
By SHALYN MURPHY
David Vincent | Photographer
This singular focus has steered the family business through growth and changes.
“My dad always said, ‘Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves,’” Rich Tarwater, owner of Tarwater Farm & Home Supply, said. “Treating people right is the most important service we provide.”
Dick Tarwater had 23 years of experience in the feed and seed business when he opened Tarwater Farm & Home Supply in an 850-square-foot gas station in North Topeka. For the first year of business, the family pumped gas and sold bagged feed as the business built a customer base. Rich and his siblings saw the importance of customer service firsthand as they pumped gas, cleaned windshields and sold feed alongside their father. As the business grew, Tarwater’s added warehouses, feed mills, elevators for creating custom feed mix, a bulk chemical facility, a new showroom, and a service bay.
In the 40 years that Tarwater Farm & Home Supply has been serving Topeka, it has remained a true family business. Rich purchased the business from his father in 1997 and currently works alongside his wife, Lisa, his children, Levi, Isaac, Megan, and Megan’s husband Abe.
“I grew up working here,” Rich said. “My kids have grown up working here. I had them cleaning thebathrooms and sweeping the floor at age 7. Now they’re taking on more responsibility and making decisions for the business.”
Despite the growth of online shopping and the challenges of retail, Tarwater has added new services and expanded their business by remaining true to their customers’ changing needs. Tarwater’s customer base has changed as the farming industry weathered major changes through the early 80s and rural North Topeka became increasingly urban and populated with homes, schools and businesses. By getting to know their customers and responding to their needs, Tarwater has experienced recent growth in agriculture, retail and outdoor equipment.
To support their agriculture customers, Tarwater has three full-time agronomists who are experts in crop rotation, irrigation, drainage, soil classification, weed control and pest control. The expanded retail space includes clothing and toys related to outdoor work, farming and animal care, while keeping their top-of- the-line custom feed mixes for large and small animals front and center.
The largest change, however, has been the addition of sales and service for outdoor power equipment including off-road utility vehicles, mowers, snow blowers, air compressors, and accessories.
“The outdoor power equipment has opened up a whole new area for us,” said Rich. “I knew that if we were going to sell the equipment, we needed to be able to service it too, so now we’re providing that same excellent customer service in our equipment bay.”
Moving well beyond feed and seed for Topeka farmers, Tarwater Farm & Home Supply has become a partner that Topeka businesses can count on. Keeping a large inventory on-hand allows Tarwater to work with many local businesses, delivering truckloads of grass seed, fencing, and lawn care chemicals.
The Tarwater philosophy of treating people right extends outside the 10-acres of Tarwater Farm & Home Supply. Tarwater employs 28 people, with several longtime employees that know generations of customers by name. For Topeka, that means there are 28 people with a customer-centric focus and a desire to serve.
“What I love most about working here is the people,” said Levi Tarwater, general manager of Tarwater Farm & Home Supply. “Every day is different because of the people that come in and what they need that day. We treat people how we want to be treated, so they trust us with their challenges and solutions. And they come back.”
Tarwater is a big supporter of the Future Farmers of America chapters at area schools and the 4-H clubs in Shawnee County. Additionally, Tarwater supports the Topeka Rescue Mission through donations of clothing and outdoor equipment. Rich stresses the importance of making those decisions as a family. Additionally, Tarwater aims to continue investing in Topeka by investing locally and by supporting the community.
“I like to spend money as local as possible,” Rich said. “When I need to buy corn for our feed, I’m buying it from a local farmer. We want Topeka to succeed—the people, the businesses, and the community.”
Through periods of business growth and drought, Rich has upheld the importance of customer service with an attitude of gratitude and positivity. Now Rich sees a similar concept spreading through Topeka as a community.
“The next generation of leaders are rising up with a sense of responsibility and pride, and the work ethic to make a better community,” Rich said. “Topeka has a real sense of momentum right now. It’s the kind of push we need. Put your heart out there and let people see who you are.”