Modern Farm targeting `sundowners’

With the number of farms in the U.S. dwindling – from more than 6 million in 1920 to less than 2 million today, according to research firm Landx – agricultural products cataloger Modern Farm is shifting its focus from farming to farm living.

“The estate tax is what’s putting a lot of these farmers out of business,” says catalog manager Paul Clymer, citing the high taxes on inherited farms as the reason many farmers and ranchers are forced to sell the family business and take up a different line of work. “We mailed our Modern Farm catalog to almost 1.5 million buyers three years ago; that circulation has been more than cut in half.”

Cody, WY-based Modern Farm was launched by Wy-Tex Corp. in 1976 to sell livestock ID ear tags to farmers; it has since expanded into other products for farmers and ranchers, including apparel, tools, and accessories. One-fifth of Modern Farm’s circulation goes to prospects rented from specialized catalogs for farmers, Clymer says. The other 80% mails to its house file.

To stay viable in a shrinking market, in 1998 Wy-Tex launched a spin-off catalog targeting rural homeowners. “Farms are being subdivided into smaller acreages,” Clymer says, “and people are living the rural life on that land.” Many of the rural homeowners are what Clymer calls sundowners. “They’re typically not ranchers,” he says. “They have a job in town to support their farm.”

The spin-off, Modern Farm Mercantile, is the same as Modern Farm except for six pages; in the Modern Farm book those pages are dedicated to livestock tags; in the Mercantile catalog they sell merchandise such as solar-powered radios and butane stoves. The company mails more than 2 million Modern Farm Mercantile books a year, roughly 65% of which go to prospects rented from consumer catalogs such as Plow and Hearth. The average order size is $85, and 60% of the buyers are women. In comparision, the average order for Modern Farm is $70 in the fall (the off-season) and $85 in the spring, and more than 60% of buyers are men.

To better distinguish its Modern Farm Mercantile catalog from the core book, the spin-off will be renamed Cody Mercantile next year and will sell more nonfarm products, such as automotive, electronic, housewares, and garden merchandise.

The company will also launch a Cody Mercantile Website in January. Its current site, www.modfarm.com, now accounts for 5%-10% of the cataloger’s $5 million in sales.

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