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Architecture + Branding: Embracing embellishment, Tractor Supply retools its pragmatic prototype design

1-Lifestyle brand

Catering to a narrowly defined clientele with sharp focus, Tractor Supply has managed to gain an enviable reputation within its market segment. Likely not a household name in some circles, in communities removed from the dense urban cores, TSC is quasi-inescapable.

Founded as a mail order catalog business offering tractor parts to America’s family farmers in 1938, the company opened its first retail location in Minot, North Dakota in 1939 (source: ir.tractorsupply.com, GuruFocus.com, bostoncommons.net). Over the next several decades, the brand modified its vocation from a tractor parts supplier to become the largest operator of rural lifestyle retail stores in the United States (source: ir.tractorsupply.com). In the late 1960s, TSC expanded beyond its US base by opening its first Canadian store in London, Ontario (source: wikipedia.org). For the most part following an organic growth path, TSC nonetheless purchased some of the leases of bankrupt competitor Quality Stores, Inc., in 2002 (source: wikipedia.org).

Currently, headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee, Tractor Supply operates approximately  1,500 stores spread across 49 states (source: ir.tractorsupply.com, fierceretail.com, nasdaq.com). In excess of 22,000 employees contribute to help the brand generate annual revenues of in excess of $6 billion (ir.tractorsupply.com). Operating stores under its namesake Tractor Supply brand, Tractor Supply Co also operates stores under the Del’s Feed and Farm Supply and HomeTown Pet banners (source: wikipedia.org, bostoncommons.net)

TSC 710 NE US Hwy 24 Topeka KS 4 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, left side 3/4 view, 710 NE US Hwy 24, Topeka, Kansas (source: maps.google.com)

Tractor Supply stores are aimed at meeting the needs of recreational farmers, ranchers, and consumers who enjoy the rural lifestyle, as well as tradesmen and small businesses (source: ir.tractorsupply.com, bostoncommons.net). As such, customers can generally find agricultural supplies, animal feed, pet supplies, farm and ranch merchandise, hardware, towing equipment, power tools, welding equipment, generators, fencing, lawn care equipment, garden products and work wear at TSC. Ironically, most everything required to fully immerse oneself in the rural lifestyle, short of tractors, can be had at Tractor Supply stores.

2-De facto

Primarily located in rural communities, exurbs, and towns outlying major metro areas, where existing retail spaces may prove to be less abundant, many Tractor Supply locations evolved as new from-the-ground-up free-standing stores plunked down upon a 4 or 5 acre tract of undeveloped rural land. As such, the oft-repeated commercial land development formula would result in a de facto brand prototype store.

TSC 1316 N Range Line Road Joplin MO 1 Aerial https___www.google

Tractor Supply, aerial view, 1316 N Range Line Road, Joplin, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 2275 Downs Drive Erie PA 1 Aerial https___www.google

Tractor Supply, aerial view, 2275 Downs Drive, Erie, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 4205 Maine Avenue SE Rochester MN 1 Aerial https___www.google

Tractor Supply, aerial view, 4205 Maine Avenue SE, Rochester, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 9040 E 34 Road Cadillac MI 1 Aerial https___www.google

Tractor Supply, aerial view, 9040 E 34 Road, Cadillac, Michigan (source: maps.google.com)

Characterized by a linear geometry, the square/rectangular shape would prove best for the brand. Low to the ground, generally longer than wider, and limited to a single storey in height, Tractor Supply stores exemplify the squat aesthetic. Sized to provide enclosed store areas in the 15,000 sq. ft. to 20,000 sq. ft. range, the brand adopts a scaled down version of the popular “big box” retail development formula that heavily favours efficient, repeatable, simple and functional building designs.

TSC 501 S Kings Highway Street Cape Girardeau MO 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, right side 3/4 view, 501 S Kings Highway Street, Cape Girardeau, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 710 NE US Hwy 24 Topeka KS 3 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, right side 3/4 view, 710 NE US Hwy 24, Topeka, Kansas (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 2275 Downs Drive Erie PA 3 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 2275 Downs Drive, Erie, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

Furthermore, the typical Tractor Supply doubles its effective selling floor area by matching its indoor building area with a fenced-in outdoor space of similar size (source: ir.tractorsupply.com).

TSC 1101 Brookside Land Bismark ND 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, right side 3/4 view, 1101 Brookside Land, Bismark, North Dakota (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 1316 N Range Line Road Joplin MO 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, left side 3/4 view, 1316 N Range Line Road, Joplin, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 2817 S Walton Boulevard Bentonville AR 5 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, right side 3/4 view, 2817 S Walton Boulevard, Bentonville, Arkansas (source: maps.google.com)

Short of service and egress doors, the typical Tractor Supply store proposes back and side walls devoid of design interest. Additionally, hidden from public view, delivery/receiving and service functions are generally clustered around back on the rear elevation.

TSC 4205 Maine Avenue SE Rochester MN 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, rear 3/4 view, 4205 Maine Avenue SE, Rochester, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 9040 E 34 Road Cadillac MI 3 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, rear 3/4 view, 9040 E 34 Road, Cadillac, Michigan (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 9620 Mansfield Road Shreveport LA 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, rear 3/4 view, 9620 Mansfield Road, Shreveport, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)

Similarly, the front facade exhibits much of the same sparse aesthetic. However, an entrance vestibule that juts from the overall wall plane, highlights the front facade. Framing the entrance/exit doors and surrounding glazing, the vestibule is typically centrally located on the front facade, providing a visual balance to the front façade.

TSC 4205 Maine Avenue SE Rochester MN 5 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 4205 Maine Avenue SE, Rochester, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 1040 Beards Hill Road Aberdeen MD 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 1040 Beards Hill Road, Aberdeen, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

Framed by columns at both edges, and topped by a large marquee that rests atop the vestibule, the projecting vestibule adds a minimal level of articulation to a quasi rigid box.

Window openings clearly lacking, little importance is given to storefront transparency at Tractor Supply stores. Alternatively, with little preview available from the opaque nature of the storefront, potential shoppers and customers are effectively encouraged and essentially forced to enter the store to view the wares.

TSC 9040 E 34 Road Cadillac MI 4 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 9040 E 34 Road, Cadillac, Michigan (source: maps.google.com)

Following the simplicity mantra, the roof design continues in the same vein. Applying a combination of simple roof designs, such as a flat roof, single-slope shed roof, or low-rise hip-roof design, the roof line is often hidden from view. Exterior wall finishes generally rising above the roof line, parapet walls help to conceal the actual roof height, assembly, slope, and some of the roof top equipment. Alternatively, as the front façade captures the bulk of the architectural details, sides walls may terminate below the roof eaves along the sides revealing the roof type. Similarly, parapet walls that “step down” along the side walls also provide some indication of slope, and roof pitch direction.

TSC 4931 S US Hwy 41 Terre Haute IN 4 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, left side 3/4 view, 4931 S US Hwy 41, Terre Haute, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 5940 New Jesup Hwy Brunswick GA 7 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 5940 New Jesup Hwy, Brunswick, Georgia (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 5940 New Jesup Hwy Brunswick GA 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, rear 3/4 view, 5940 New Jesup Hwy, Brunswick, Georgia (source: maps.google.com)

Generally devoid of lintels, awnings, canopies, cornices, Tractor Supply stores skew towards simple, embellishment-free design solutions. Nonetheless, a red banding element, strung along the perimeter of the exterior walls, has been incorporated into the Tractor Supply design language. Additionally, the red accent band gains added prominence set against the brand’s bright white field colour.

TSC 3520 North Cliff Avenue Sioux Falls SD 5 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 3520 North Cliff Avenue, Sioux Falls, South Dakota (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 16230 US Hwy 23 Louisa KY 5 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, right side 3/4 view, 16230 US Hwy 23, Louisa, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

Exterior materials consist almost exclusively of long-lasting, durable, impact resistant materials such as concrete and CMU (concrete masonry units). Other materials such as aluminum and glass, and metal cladding, are also utilized in specific applications, and in more limited quantities.

TSC 9620 Mansfield Road Shreveport LA 4 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 9620 Mansfield Road, Shreveport, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)

Recognizable from a “country mile” by the brand loyalists, the simple squat store clad in bright white has definitely become intertwined with the brand ethos.

3-Insert here

Although the new from-the-ground-up free-standing store approach allows the full brand expression, multiple locations require some reworking into existing conditions. As such, primary brand elements that can be extracted from a prototype design and liberally applied onto a less than ideal building format, become essential in converting a nondescript CRU (commercial retail unit) into a brand beacon.

For Tractor Supply, these elements include the simple mantra in all its guises.

Favouring a linear geometry that seeks square/rectangular store formats, Tractor Supply stores can even be found nestled into commercial strip malls. Generally forced to adapt to the existing mall format, the depth to frontage ratio is often altered from the prototypical design.

TSC 20 Litchfield Plaza Litchfield IL 3 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, right side 3/4 view, 20 Litchfield Plaza, Litchfield, Illinois (source; maps.google.com)

TSC 20 Riverside Square Prairie du chien WI 3 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 20 Riverside Square, Prairie du chien, Wisconsin (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 249 S Main Street Red Bluff CA 3 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front view, 249 S Main Street, Red Bluff, California (source: maps.google.com)

Although displaying a propensity to occupy mall end locations, which afford to spill out into an adjoining exterior/outdoor retail space, TSC strip mall stores may nonetheless be located in central positions, and ganged within tenants on either side.

TSC 1310 Pilgrim Lane Plymouth IN 5 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front view, 1310 Pilgrim Lane, Plymouth, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

DSC11311 TSC US-NY-Cortland 706 NY-13

Tractor Supply, front view, 706 NY-13, Cortland, New York

TSC 1504 W Everly Brothers Blvd Central City KY 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front view, 1504 W Everly Brothers Blvd, Central City, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 1803 Jim Redman Pkwy Plant City FL 3 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front view, 1803 Jim Redman Pkwy, Plant City, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Depending on mall placement, side walls may or may not be existent within the CRU (commercial retail unit). Nonetheless, lack of sidewalls is somewhat inconsequential for TSC, as side walls are typically blank facades, that serve essentially as a means to meet code-required exiting purposes.

TSC 1111 Paris Road Mayfield KY 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front view, 1111 Paris Road, Mayfield, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 1111 Paris Road Mayfield KY 4 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, left side 3/4 view, 1111 Paris Road, Mayfield, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 1701 E Oak Street Arcadia FL 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front view, 1701 E Oak Street, Arcadia, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 1701 E Oak Street Arcadia FL 6 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, rear 3/4 view, 1701 E Oak Street, Arcadia, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Thus, much like the rural prototype store, the bulk of the design is concentrated on the front facade.

4-Good fences make good neighbours

An essential component to successfully inserting a TSC store into a retail development is rooted in retaining, and maximizing, visual cues that bind the mall store to the prototype format.

As such, the most impactful and recognizable Tractor Supply brand elements can be distilled down to building materials, colours, opacity, and overwhelmingly utilitarian design. Not cleanly assignable into the free-standing prototype or strip mall camp, a myriad of Tractor Supply store locations may be lumped under such a broadly defined umbrella. Armed with that particular toolkit in hand, it becomes evident that a divergent range of building geometries and styles, can be refined and molded to better integrate into the spartan Tractor Supply aesthetic.

TSC 300 Depot Street Bennington VT 5 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 300 Depot Street, Bennington, Vermont (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 2003 E Tipton Street Seymour IN 3 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 2003 E Tipton Street, Seymour, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

DSC09549 TSC US-NY-Clay 3580 Route 31

Tractor Supply, left side 3/4 view, 3580 Route 31, Clay, New York

DSC09551 TSC US-NY-Clay 3580 Route 31

Tractor Supply, right side 3/4 view, 3580 Route 31, Clay, New York

TSC 2115 SW Washington Street Peoria IL 10 2011 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 2115 SW Washington Street, Peoria, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 9425 W Kellogg Drive Wichita KS 9 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 9425 W Kellogg Drive, Wichita, Kansas (source: maps.google.com)

Introducing such organizational and design flexibility into the standard design also proves essential when faced with having to abide by, and adhere to, mandated design guidelines and by-laws from municipalities, review panels, and/or other authorities having jurisdiction.

TSC 144 US Hwy 202 Flemington NJ 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 144 US Hwy 202, Flemington, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 201 N Walnut Road Turlock CA 5 2011 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, right side 3/4 view, 201 N Walnut Road, Turlock, California (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 14879 Mono Way Sonora CA 5 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front view, 14879 Mono Way, Sonora, California source: maps.google.com)

TSC 2475 MLK Jr Pkwy Chico CA 4 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 2475 MLK Jr Pkwy, Chico, California (source: maps.google.com)

Leaning heavily towards the functional side of the design equation, TSC stores may quite accurately be described as bland, lacking in visual interest, and adding little to the overall design tableau/language of a particular region.

TSC 7300 Husker Circle Lincoln NE 3 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 7300 Husker Circle, Lincoln, Nebraska (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 7300 Husker Circle Lincoln NE 4 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, rear 3/4 view, 7300 Husker Circle, Lincoln, Nebraska (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 5236 SW Topeka Blvd Topeka KS 3 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 5236 SW Topeka Blvd, Topeka, Kansas (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 3708 Shelburne Road Shelburne VT 5 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, right side 3/4 view, 3708 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, Vermont (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 3708 Shelburne Road Shelburne VT 8 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, rear 3/4 view, 3708 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, Vermont (source: maps.google.com)

Therefore, perhaps equal parts reactionary (to be a good neighbour) and deliberate (to obtain a permit), certain Tractor Supply stores have begun to embrace ornamentation.

TSC 204 Danbury Road New Milford CT 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front view, 204 Danbury Road, New Milford, Connecticut (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 1248 Airport Park Blvd Ukiah CA 4 2012 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 1248 Airport Park Blvd, Ukiah, California (source: maps.google.com)

Evoking themes that harness a more rural character, American farmhouse-look, and a “farm and barn” iconography allows Tractor Supply to respond to requests to add some dramatic flair to their store design, while still remaining true to the core ideals of the brand.

5-Broadening the base

Building on the move towards further embellishments, many newer Tractor Supply stores are sporting a more refined, sleeker, and modern design.

TSC 2151 Autoplex Drive Bossier City LA 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 2151 Autoplex Drive, Bossier City, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 304 Cooper Drive Berea KY 6 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, left side 3/4 view, 304 Cooper Drive, Berea, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 304 Cooper Drive Berea KY 7 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, rear 3/4 view, 304 Cooper Drive, Berea, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

Nonetheless, the general geometry, flow, and overall layout remains fairly consistent with the previous prototype, making retrofitting existing stores to the new aesthetic a fairly straightforward exercise.

TSC 96 Plaistow Road Plaistow NH 1 Aerial https___www.google

Tractor Supply, aerial view, 96 Plaistow Road, Plaistow, New Hampshire (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 352 River Street Montpelier VT 1 Aerial https___www.google

Tractor Supply, aerial view, 352 River Street, Montpelier, Vermont (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 1301 Greta Lane Starkville MS 1 Aerial https___www.google

Tractor Supply, aerial view, 1301 Greta Lane, Starkville, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 3480 Hwy 412 E Siloam Springs AR 1 Aerial https___www.google

Tractor Supply, aerial view, 3480 Hwy 412 E, Siloam Springs, Arkansas (source: maps.google.com)

However, awnings along the front facade, a gable end roof set upon the entrance vestibule, gooseneck light fixtures, wainscots, and even new colours such as tans, beiges, and greens, serve to dress up the formerly blank slab-sided buildings.

TSC 96 Plaistow Road Plaistow NH 5 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, 96 Plaistow Road, Plaistow, New Hampshire (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 352 River Street Montpelier VT 3 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, right side 3/4 view, 352 River Street, Montpelier, Vermont (source: maps.google.com)

DSC06295 TSC US-NY-Ogdensburg 1051 Park Street

Tractor Supply, front view, 1051 Park Street, Ogdensburg, New York

TSC 400 SE 4th Street Laurel MT 2 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 400 SE 4th Street, Laurel, Montana (source: maps.google.com)

Moving beyond the purely utilitarian aesthetic, the brand has definitely begun to up its design game.

Not coincidently, in 2015, Tractor Supply had increased its U.S. store target to 2,500, from the initial 2,100 (post-gazette.com, fierceretail.com). Factoring in higher density in the Northeast, the TSC management team realized that it could place stores closer together than previously thought (post-gazette.com, fierceretail.com). As the higher density leads to geographically smaller catchment areas meeting required potential customer counts to support a business case, stores can be clustered closer together without necessarily cannibalizing one another.

TSC 3480 Hwy 412 E Siloam Springs AR 4 2012 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 3480 Hwy 412 E, Siloam Springs, Arkansas (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 1073 NY-86 Ray Brook NY 1

Tractor Supply, front view, 1073 NY-86, Ray Brook, New York (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 1301 Greta Lane Starkville MS 5 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, left side 3/4 view, 1301 Greta Lane, Starkville, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)

TSC 1301 Greta Lane Starkville MS 4 https___www.google

Tractor Supply, rear 3/4 view, 1301 Greta Lane, Starkville, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)

Nonetheless, locating stores closer to large population poles also brings with it the added likelihood of public reviews, consultations, debates, guidelines, by-laws, community opposition, NIMBYism, as well as lengthier and more complex approuval and permitting processes.

DSC04545 TSC CA-ON-Rockland 2756 Chamberland Street

Tractor Supply, front 3/4 view, 2756 Chamberland Street, Rockland, Ontario, Canada

Therefore, by injecting some design interest into their previously pragmatic exterior trade dress, Tractor Supply has begun to redefine their utilitarian architectural identity, and also increased their ability to execute on the brand’s grand plan to locate more stores into denser metropolitan areas.

 

Disclaimer: All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.

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