WORCESTER-based farming and rural supplies business Countrywide has invested in a major redevelopment programme culminating in a major overhaul of its flagship store in Evesham.

The redevelopment comes on the back of extensive research into customer requirements following the merger two years ago of Midland Shires Farmers and West Midland Farmers, which created Countrywide.

The strategic review reaffirmed that farmers were "number one" for the company, which operates 33 stores throughout Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire.

"Our review revealed we're more committed than ever to farming and to the rural population," said marketing manager Rebecca Barningham.

"It made us focus on what we do, and with whom. Hence the fact we've invested very heavily in our new flagship store in Evesham."

The company has also spent £1.2m converting its disused mill at Defford, near Pershore, to create a 35,000sq ft central distribution warehouse.

The new facility, just off the M5, replaces the company's old distribution depot at Ledbury, which has become too small. "We identified the supply chain needed a radical review and looking at all the sites, Defford was a logical place to move to," said Ms Barningham.

The move means Countrywide will be able to supply more than 70 per cent of its requirements from the one site, which has an automated store ordering system to minimise stock holding times.

The redeveloped Evesham store, in Worcester Road, includes a dedicated account customer desk manned by people with "encyclopaedia knowledge" of agriculture, who can give advice and help on all farming matters.

The 12,000sq ft store, employing 35 people, is to be used as the basis for all new store developments for the group in the future.

"The Evesham prototype comes as a result of extensive research into our customers' requirements and reflects our rejuvenated brand positioning and imagery," said chief executive, Ian Smith, adding feedback from customers had been very positive.

The group has even introduced a price guarantee, targeted at its farming and rural customers, which promises shoppers double the difference in price if they find the product cheaper somewhere else.

The initiative focuses on 140 of Countrywide's core products - "the things we're famous for" - such as sheep and chicken feed, dog food, worm injections, coal, disinfectant, wheel barrows, boiler suits, wellington boots, lawn feed, rat bait and chainsaws.

"Our review revealed that farmers are our number one customer and therefore we are investing in that," said Ms Barningham.