24 Jan Career Spotlight: Feed Sales
IF YOU GIVE A COW A COOKIE…
If you’ve ever raised livestock or helped a friend fill a deer feeder, chances are you’ve bought or handled feed. Once you’ve fumbled with the top of the bag for a few seconds trying to decide which side of the string to pull, you’ve probably wondered what exactly it is you’re pouring into the feeder or trough. What are the main ingredients? How was it blended? Is this the best option for my animals? Whether a sack at a time or in a semi load, the world’s livestock producers rely on feed to provide the proper nutrition to their animals.
So much of what we talk about at AgGrad revolves around the intricacies of jobs in agriculture, but at the end of the day it comes down to food and fiber. Sometimes, there is a juxtaposition between the two (i.e. feeding whole cottonseed to dairy cattle). The beginning to each story of the protein that ends up in our kitchens begins with what we feed the animals that feed us.
YOU MIGHT GET A GLASS OF MILK
Feed companies receive bulk commodities like cottonseed, distillers grains, roughage, and corn. They work with consulting nutritionists to formulate rations for different species and even geared towards a variety of functions (think dairy versus beef production). Add in trace minerals, vitamins, and other supplements, and the final creation is no longer a commodity. It is now a branded and developed product that provides additional value to livestock producers.
Some feed is bagged and sent to be sold by independent dealers like feed stores. For customers requiring more than a few sacks, feed is trucked in bulk to ranches and dairies, feeding thousands of head at a time. With multiple players in the industry vying for position, it behooves each to have talented salespeople working to attract and retain business.
INTEGRITY ABOVE ALL
“Seems like anyone is willing to buy from someone who’s willing to be honest with them,” says John Schueler with Hi-Pro Feeds. Hi-Pro is a Canadian-based livestock feed manufacturer and distributor with a strong presence in the American Southwest and western Canada. They serve customers in the beef, dairy, poultry, hog, sheep, goat, equine, wildlife, and pet sectors. Schueler has been with Hi-Pro for nine years, starting out trading commodities and moving into dairy sales in the Texas Panhandle.
Consolidation is a frequent occurrence in the feed industry. Hi-Pro is made up of a system of individual feed mills in the United States and Canada that were once eight separate feed companies. As of the writing of this article, Hi-Pro just announced its acquisition by Dutch firm Nutreco, further tightening the market. With these changes comes the necessity of having experienced and ethical sales people to reassure customers that the quality and service they expect will continue.
The upstream side of the agricultural supply chain has always been notorious for fighting through tight margins. Schueler must be cognizant of that each day as he helps his customers balance affordability and efficacy. “As margins tend to get tighter, people seem to start looking further out for cheaper ingredients out there, and cheaper doesn’t always mean you’re buying the same quality,” he says.
Technology is continuing to alter the way in which farmers and their suppliers interact. Schueler says the advent of smart phones and texting has allowed producers to conduct business and have questions answered while being able to return quickly to work. He sees this trend continuing into the future. But, he notes, face-to-face interaction is still important in this business.
“We try to keep the road warm and get out in front of people,” says Schueler. “We really strive hard to provide good service to our customers, so we feel like the best way to do that is to be on site and be available for them for any needs they have. I’m stopping at dairies on a daily basis and visiting with them on any needs that may arise. I also keep an eye on inventories, products that we’re servicing with them . . . to make sure we don’t have any more shortages or outages than we have to.”
All that effort and time spent driving between local dairies is time well spent, according to Schueler. He says the best part of his job is helping people by stepping in and improving the quality of their feeding program and the performance of their animals. Put another way, “It’s always refreshing whenever you’re able to be of assistance and truly see something helpful that you were involved with at the end of the day.”
Just like with ensuring the durability of a product, the right mix of ingredients go into making a good feed salesperson. Obviously having strong communication skills is key, as is a knowledge of livestock and milk production. This means talking with producers, nutritionists, suppliers, commodity merchandisers, and company leadership. A willingness to travel, enthusiasm for a brand and the products it sells, and a finely-tuned financial acumen can all benefit a salesperson.
Schueler lists the willingness to dive in and work hard as a cornerstone to building a career in feed sales. He says, “I truly believe anybody who’s got a strong work ethic and is willing to get out there and get something done has got the capability to be a good feed salesman.” The most important qualities, he stresses, are honesty and integrity.
It may take several years, but starting at the ground level and working up to a job in sales can be crucial to success. Schueler points out the complexities of the business and why knowing the ins and outs of production from different angles can be beneficial. “It truly has made me, I feel like, a better salesman knowing how everything happens from the beginning to the end. It would have been a lot tougher for me to step in just straight to sales,” he says.
A few important things to keep in mind: feed sales is sales. Compensation is often comprised of commissions, and long hours are sometimes required. Being available to your customers builds the level of trust necessary to retain business, which directly affects the company’s bottom line and a salesperson’s job security. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you are passionate about helping ranchers, dairymen, farmers, and wildlife managers, then a career in feed sales might be your bag.
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