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Entrepreneurs find learning opportunities amid COVID-19 pandemic

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s March 14 drew near, Purdue Agriculture alumni Woody and Kayla Nichols grew increasingly concerned about the upcoming open house at their store, Prairie View Ag Supply. More than 400 guests were expected at the annual event, but COVID-19 and uncertainty were beginning to spreading.

“We weren’t sure what to do. Businesses were closing and events were being canceled left and right,” Woody Nichols recalled. “I didn’t know if people would feel comfortable coming, but we had already prepared everything and purchased the food. It ended up being one of the last events that happened before the shutdown.”

Like many small business owners, Woody and Kayla Nichols did not realize how long the uncertainty would continue.

Entrepreneur Kayla Nichols

After graduating with an animal sciences degree in 2009, Woody Nichols worked in sales with AgriGold. “About halfway through my nine years there, Kayla (who earned an agricultural economics degree) and I started a small side business.”

Through Prairie View Ag Supply, the Nichols family began to sell livestock feed and supply, primarily to families who participate in show circuits.

“As Prairie View continued to grow and develop, I saw an opportunity to leave the corporate world as a full-time entrepreneur,” recalled Woody Nichols.

“While some days are stressful and long, being able to be with my business partner, best friend and husband every day has been a blessing to me, our marriage and family,” said Kayla Nichols. “Now, as our kids are getting older, it has been fun seeing them watch what we do and join in as we stock shelves, carry bags of feed or greet customers.”

“We’ve been able to find success because we’re customer-centric,” explained Woody Nichols. “Whenever possible, we try to be flexible. A lot of businesses are open from nine to five. Most of our customer base works then, so we make ourselves available at times that work. We also offer delivery with several drop-off points throughout Indiana.”

That flexibility proved invaluable in the midst of the pandemic. Woody Nichols made adjustments while Prairie View Ag Supply remained open as an essential business.

Woody and Kayla Nichols with their daughters at animal fair
The Nichols Family (Photos from Prairie View Ag Supply)

Physical distancing was promoted through several options, including online purchases, payment over the phone and loading purchases into customers’ vehicles for no-contact pickup.

When customers called to ask if Prairie View Ag Supply was open, Woody Nichols would jokingly respond, “If your pigs still want to eat, you can come to the store. Just don’t expect me to hug you.”

Prairie View’s numbers were down in March, but Nichols has been able to increase sales in the months that followed.

When shows and events were canceled, the Nichols family encouraged others to stay positive.

“Stock show families are resilient,” said Kayla Nichols. “They are used to being thrown curveballs and working through tough situations.”

“We should focus on this season as a learning opportunity,” Woody Nichols said. “The kids are out of school and can’t go many places. Therefore, they have more time to spend in the barn with their animals. The children can adapt, gain knowledge and invest in these projects more than ever before.

“They have these animals for four months either way, so they can still learn dedication, responsibility, animal husbandry and nutrition. We don’t want to throw those four months out the window for the 10 minutes they would have been in the Show Ring.”

And while many fairs remain canceled in 2020, Woody Nichols said livestock continues to be shown.

“Open livestock shows started popping up in May. They might look different and be in different locations, but there are still opportunities.”

“It’s a weird time, but we have to keep things in perspective. There are always going to be things we need to overcome. We’re cautious and concerned, but this too shall pass. Whether people are sick or not, we will continue doing our best to help people care for their animals.”

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