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Ron and Sue Ridgway have owned Tark's Market in Talent for 15 years.

Home Grown: Tark's Market grows with community

Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.

What do you do and how long have you been doing it? (Ron Ridgway speaking) We have a retail grocery store and we've been doing this for 15 years.

How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley? We've lived here for 21 years and moved here from Jacksonville, Fla.

What inspired you to go into this line of work? I've worked as a retail grocer since I was 16. I started bagging groceries for Publix Supermarkets, a southeastern chain. I worked for them for 25 years. I moved out here consulting with United Grocers. I worked for them for five years, and got to know Rick Allen, who owned Rick's Market. He was going to retire, and we bought it in 1996 and waited a couple of years to rename it after our family's names — Tipton, Aaron, Ron, Katy and Sue.

What decision or action would you change if you could do it again? For the first five to eight years, we worked at being a good conventional grocery store. After a while, we decided we should be a niche grocery store and do what works for Talent, as opposed to nationwide chains, and it led us to bringing in more local, natural and organic products.

We listen to our customers so we can be the place where people in Talent go to stock their cupboards. We tailor what we do to our community. If you're part of a company, a lot of stuff is given to you and it's the same with a wholesaler. Later, we were with Raise the Bar, along with 30 or 35 Bay Area stores, but dropped out because we were doing all the traveling. We picked up some tips on how to do things differently, but now we do our own thing. We have to reinvent the wheel every so often to figure out what's going on at our store and community.

What's the toughest business decision you've made? How much to reinvest into business, the equipment updates; those fixed expenses that are costly. You constantly have to look at it so when things go bad you can modernize. It's an ongoing process. A couple of years ago we replaced our whole front-end system, involving checkstands, registers, PIN pads and scanners. It's a major investment in hardware and then there's training because of the new software. People see us struggling with the registers, but they don't see us in the back room struggling with that. Those are the major investments you have to figure out because there also are options with any equipment you buy.

Who are your competitors? They've changed over the years. Safeway, Albertsons, etc., at the beginning. Now, it's Market of Choice, the Ashland Co-op or Shop 'N Kart. Those are the stores that carry more local and organic products.

What are your goals? We continue to hope we can grow with the city of Talent. We were experiencing growth along with the city of Talent, and as growth has leveled out, our revenue flattened out as well.

What training or education did you need? I went to Rollins College in Jacksonville, Fla., but my education came from 25 years working at grocery stores. Mostly I got on-the-job training.

What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs? Be prepared to work long, hard hours and try to get your funding right to start with. Too many people look at it and say I can start with $100. That might get you started, but it won't get you a year down the road. Make sure you've got a good business plan.

To suggest ideas for this column, about businesses that are at least five years old, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com

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