For more than two decades, Val Cichanowicz of Chick’s Agway in Southold has been helping meet customers’ garden, animal and yard care needs.
Whether it’s a pet training tip or perhaps the perfect outdoor gift, providing customers with new and innovative products is something she takes pride in. A state-licensed pesticide applicator, Cichanowicz has become something of an expert in all things green — and she’s always up for sharing a bit of that knowledge.
Q: Chick’s Agway — can you describe the story behind the name?
A: My husband, Dave; growing up, he was known as “Chick” because his last name is Cichanowicz, though it’s not spelled to look like that.
Agway goes back to 1964, when three large farm cooperatives joined forces, coming up with the name Agway, standing for “agricultural way.” They were really a farm ag store. Farmers came here for their supplies, fertilizer, seed potatoes, even tractor repair and things like that back in the day.
Q: What attracted you to Agway?
A: My mother loved to garden, and I grew up with a horse, a goat and a pony. I’ve raised rabbits, I’ve always had cats and dogs, so I just always loved that kind of stuff. Working in a place that had it all I thought was the coolest thing.
I took a job back in 1990 as a manager trainee. As part of my training they would send me to all their different stores in the Tri-State area and I would help to remerchandise them and help with product selection, things like that. We would reorganize showrooms so that they were appealing to customers. I took my first assignment as department manager at their Hicksville location when they offered me a position here in Southold.
Q: How did you and your husband acquire the business?
A: By 2000, Agway announced that they were looking to convert all the corporate-owned stores to private ownership. Being that I had just recently married and moved to Southold, and had managed this store for two years prior, 1993 to 1995, I knew the location very well and knew it had great potential that really hadn’t been tapped yet. So we put in a bid to buy this location — and we did.
Q: Can you describe some of the highs of this working life?
A: The highs would be customer service and problem solving. When a person comes in with a problem — a plant problem, for example — they will bring me a leaf or tell me about their cucumbers.
I have a lot of experience in that area; I can research it or I’ll call Cornell so I can get them the right product and help them to fix it. When they come back two weeks later saying, “It looks beautiful, thank you,” that is a high for me.
I also love finding new products. When I go to trade shows, I’m like a kid in a candy store. When the products come to the store, sometimes my employees will be rolling their eyes, saying, “What did you order now?” Sometimes it’s an item that doesn’t work, but most of the time it’s a pretty cool product and when I see it flying out the door, that’s a high point.
Q: Have there been many lows?
A: When you’re in this industry you remember every rainy weekend. In 2009 it rained every weekend through April and May, at least one day of every weekend. Sales were dismal. Saturdays and Sundays — they are the meat and potatoes of your business.
Q: What is your customer service philosophy?
A: Exceed expectations by talking to customers, listening to them and surprising them with an agreeable fix to their problem. Give them great information and great products at a value price
Q: What are you looking forward to in the future?
A: To continually improve our product lines. Scouting out new products. We’ve recently added things like bulk mulch. We have a tractor and we can deliver to people’s homes. We’ve also recently become an U-Haul dealer, which has been good for us.
Q: What do you love about doing business on the North Fork?
A: I like the clientele. They are just laid-back, nice people. I am not crazy about hustle and bustle and when the prices are just nuts. But here, it’s just nice.
This story was originally published in Northforker’s 2015 Business magazine