Our Focus Feature takes a look at Florence Mill's 50th Anniversary year!

Jeff and Sue Rickman and their son Chris Rickman are observing a special anniversary this year.

Their Florence-based business is marking its 50th anniversary. And although a lot has changed over the past half-century, the Rickmans’ focus on meeting the needs of their customers has remained the same.

Known as Castle Building Centre for roughly the past seven years, the Rickmans’ business was originally called Florence Mill Products and was owned and operated by Jeff’s parents, the late Don and Joan Rickman. It was a well-established feed mill, located across the road. When an existing hardware store closed in Florence in the mid-1970s, the senior Rickmans started to sell some hardware items from the mill to ensure that the needs of their customers were being met.

By coincidence, Sue Rickman’s father, the late Steve Yakubovich, worked at the feed mill even before it was owned by Don and Joan Rickman.

The Rickmans operated an independent hardware store and for several years ran the mill at its original site as well as their hardware store at its present location. The newer site is still located in a collection of older buildings, one of which once served the Masonic lodge.

The newer site was used for the sale of hardware items as well as farm chemicals and seed, while the original feed mill was operated as it had been for many years before being sold in 1987.

In 1995, Jeff and Sue Rickman became owners and operators of Rona’s second store in Ontario when they became part of that national retail organization. They were with Rona for 22 years, selling lumber, hardware items as well as a wide array of other products.

When Lowes purchased Rona about a decade ago, the Rickmans joined with Toronto-based Castle Building Centre. Castle has a national presence in Canada, with roughly 400 locations and, based on sales volume, is the fourth largest such retailer in Canada.

As with all Castle Building Centre operators, the Rickmans are private dealers and are part of the corporate ownership of the national buying group.

The Rickmans sell lumber, home improvement materials and traditional hardware items. But they also continue to serve the region’s traditional agricultural community by providing crop dryers; their customer base extends from Windsor to Lindsay. They design and sell the drying equipment.

Both Jeff and Chris are licensed natural gas technicians, and their expertise in this area also means they install and service furnaces and natural gas (and electric but mostly natural gas) water heaters, as well as home generators.

The generators are a relatively new service provided by the Rickman family, and sales have been brisk. They presently have orders to install nine Generac units, a product name they now deal with exclusively. Jeff points out that Generac is the largest home (and commercial) generator company in the world, manufacturing 2,400 generators a day. The Rickmans’ generator business started about six years ago and, again, was a response to a need they identified within the broader community.

Jeff Rickman’s involvement with the business began in 1973 when his parents started Florence Mill Products. He’s been with the business from the very start, and earned his natural gas technician’s licence about 45 years ago.

Jeff and Sue have two children – Amy and Chris. Chris is involved full-time with the business, and his daughter, Bailey Rickman, works part-time at the Florence store.

The Rickmans are pleased that yet another generation is involved with the business, but are ever-mindful that their success has come from meeting the needs of their customers.

“We’ve been blessed with our success,” notes Jeff, “and we haven’t made too many wrong moves. In business, sometimes if you make the wrong decision, it stays with you for a long time. But if you make the right decision, it will bear fruit for a long time.”

Part of that success, the couple agrees, comes from a willingness to adapt to changing conditions. A recent example is the pandemic that began in 2020. Although the Rickmans instituted reduced hours with fewer staff, they continued to serve the needs of their customers and found their business activity greatly enlarged because of the home building and renovation boom that occurred.

“Lumber was in such short supply that we had people from as far away as London sourcing their lumber from our Florence store,” said Sue.

“You had to adapt to the conditions,” adds Jeff. “We adapted because we had to.”

He noted that while 50 years in business is a remarkable milestone, they hope to be in business for many more years. They note that the third generation of Rickmans is well-situated to continue on – “Chris, he’s doing pretty much everything that I do,” says Jeff.

Adds Sue: We want to thank all of our customers from the past and present. Their continued support, and the continued support of the community, is very important.”