by: Clifford Mitchell

Running errands or going to town, today, is more of an adventure than an enjoyable experience. Big retail stores often make customers feel like they are lost on a remote island. Staring down a long row of merchandise, trying to get exactly what you need, could be like searching for the proverbial “needle in a haystack.” There is no expert available to give recommendations, just a minimum wage shelve stocker who is watching the clock. Paying for said merchandise can also bring out prehistoric behavior for some as they jockey for position in line with an actual person rather than doing self-checkout.

Most remember the days when businesses worked to get customers to walk through the front door. Picking up needed supplies often endeared shop owners to the people who came in and they began to know the needs of each individual. It was not uncommon for the clerk or proprietor to inquire about patron's folks, children or siblings. Shop owners were experts on everything from A to Z and if a question could not be answered; it would be before the customer came to town the next time. These personal relationships may be missed in the retail world, but offer a unique opportunity for those involved in the seedstock business.

“Livestock is our passion. Developing relationships with our customers comes really natural to us. Eighty to 90 percent of the genetics we have are the same as other seedstock producers. Customer service allows us to differentiate our program,” says Darrell Silveira, Silveira Bros., Firebaugh.

“We're not in the bull business; we're in the customer service business. I firmly believe this sets us apart from other seedstock outfits,” says Dan Byrd, Byrd Cattle Co., Red Bluff.

To provide adequate customer service, the seedstock producer must wear many hats. Much like the store keeper in the old one-stop shop; his patrons could buy everything from hardware to baked goods and he had to be the expert.

“We can't use all of our customer service tools if we don't have a personal relationship with our customer,” Byrd says. “There is a big education factor in providing proper customer service. The professional cowmen, who buy our bulls, have driven us to provide things like DNA markers and RFI data. If people want this information, we have to provide it.”

“Most of our customers realize the importance of data, once they know what its worth,” Silveira says. “It's very difficult to share information and data if our customers aren't aware of these numbers. It's also hard to explain the data unless we have a personal relationship. Education is part of our job as a seedstock producer and it's a very competitive business.”

Commercial cattlemen often look to their seedstock provider for direction or begin working with certain operations because of a customer service promise. For most, if these promises are upheld, a relationship, on some level, is formed.

“What attracted me to my seedstock provider was the fact they stood behind their cattle. They were one of the first to try and identify low input genetics. Byrd Cattle Co. was pro-active about gathering data, education and information exchange,” says Justin Greer, Springville.

“I buy most of my bulls from Silveira Bros. I try to buy the best bulls I can to keep inching forward and improving a little each year. If I can retain good heifers and improve weaning weights a little every year, I am happy,” says LarryHomen, Kings City.

“Our guarantee is 100 percent. We stand behind our cattle,” Silveira says. “If a customer has a problem with one of our bulls during breeding season, we try to deliver a replacement to his ranch. It's really important for our customer to get cows bred.”

“We RFI test all of our bulls because to the feedlot operator that is a big profit driver. Hopefully, this will also translate into lower input cow herds, especially with costs we are facing today,” Byrd says. “Everything we do is to help our customers improve profit.”

Numbers seem to drive the beef industry. Expected Progeny Differences come in many different shapes and forms. Working through data and compiling the numbers for customers is only half the battle.

“My needs from a data standpoint could be different than the next customer. I am a numbers guy, but the numbers have to fit in a certain package that is pleasing to look at,” Greer says. “I need a moderate bull that is good phenotypically and can cover the country. Bottom line, if the bulls don't work it doesn't matter what customer service tools are available.”

‘We send bulls into different country. Cattle have to be versatile, moderate and easy-fleshing,” Byrd says. “They also have to be docile and pleasing to the eye.”

“Anytime we can explain to our customers or potential buyers the value of the genetics, the better off we are as an industry,” Silveira says. “It's a great feeling when we are having a bull sale and our bulls are better than last years offering. We have to supply bulls that are a little better each year.”

The customer service tool box comes with many options. Personal contact may be a thing of the past for some with cell phones and internet, but like working cows on horseback, this tradition is still one of the most basic forms of communication, but it gets the job done.

“We try to visit every customer at least once a year. If we know the operation, we know what kind of bulls they need and we can help with mating decisions. We can take the opportunity to keep them abreast what's going on in the industry through these personal visits and spending time with our customers,” Byrd says. “I am amazed at the number of fourth and fifth generation ranchers I visit who tell me they have been buying bulls for 100 years and I am the first seedstock supplier to visit their ranch.”

“We probably don't take advantage of the internet enough as a customer service tool. More and more of our customers are computer savvy,” Silveira says. “We try to visit as many of our customers as we can and I encourage all of our customers to visit the ranch sometime other than sale day to view the operation.”

Ranch visits are a tremendous educational tool. Commercial cattlemen and seedstock producers can form a bond walking through a set of cattle. Proper perspective with these visits may allow both producers to make improvements.

“There is nothing better than visiting our customer's ranch. We get to know them on a personal level and we both learn a lot,” Silveira says. “Often times, I end up learning more than my customer. We can get a lot of information from the ranch visit and see how our genetics perform. It is amazing how excited you can get when you are talking about a set of cattle.”

“One of the keys to our customer service program is that personal visit. Some of the people we have gotten to know are our best friends,” Byrd says. “Getting out in the country and seeing our genetics helps a lot. I can see things like disposition and how they're holding up. The information I get on a ranch visit helps us make changes or allows us to help customers make better selections.”

Marketing customer calves has been a topic of discussion for a while. In what seems like a long time ago, outfits wanted to instigate buy-back programs and that was the industry buzzword. Today, helping market customer cattle has evolved with the many different programs that are available.

“I really don't like it when my customers use the word sell their calves. I want to help them market their calves. It's easy for my customers to get caught up in all the work it takes raising them the other 364 days a year and not focus on marketing that calf crop one day out of the year,” Byrd says. “Marketing my customer's calves starts with genetics and builds from there. We want to add the bells and whistles, like age and source or all natural. Angus Source is a great place to start for most of our customers.”

“We try to make our customers aware what's available from a marketing standpoint. We like for them to enroll their calves in Angus Source,” Silveira says. “This is a great age and source verification tool for our customers.”

Documenting age and source, health and genetics is nothing new for a lot of commercial cattlemen. Facilitating information exchange up and down the chain is where programs like Angus Source can benefit cattlemen. Enrollment in these information based programs may also have other benefits.

“I have been using Angus Source since 2005, after visiting with Darrell, because he thought it would be good to advertise what we had to sell. It has been a very helpful tool. We're keeping better records and tracking our genetics,” Homen says. “When I know I am going to sell my calves, I can call the association and they'll list my cattle on the internet. It allows my cattle to get exposed to a lot of buyers.”

“Angus Source is a great tool because anybody has access to that information. This system allows potential buyers know the average EPDs of the bulls you have been using,” Silveira says. “I encourage my customers to let the association know when they are going to sell their calves. Most of our customers sell on the video. We attend every video sale because this is a great place to see a lot of our customers in one place.”

“Working with our customers we can help them utilize different programs, depending on how sophisticated their management is. I encourage our customers to get their calves NHTC (carcasses can be marketed to Europe) or GAP (carcasses can be marketed to Whole Foods) certified because that just gives them more opportunities to market the cattle,” Byrd says. “We'll send out an e-mail, when our customers are marketing cattle, to 40 feedlots and order buyers with a description of the calves. We're in the seats at every video auction and encourage our customers to attend also.”

Forging relationships through the industry does not have to stop with the seedstock provider. Forming a network or looking to foster these relationships can help in the long run.

“We invite professionals to speak at the sale and encourage our customers to visit with these folks. Most folks think when the truck pulls away from the loading chute that's the end of the relationship with the buyer,” Byrd says. “I tell them it's the beginning and to follow their calves through because they will learn a lot. If I can network my customers together who are involved in different segments of the industry, hopefully I can make several customers happy.”

“I purchase some stocker calves and the Byrd's have been good to connect us with sources of calves that work for this program,” Greer says. “Calves cost so much today, we need every advantage we can get. I have added value because I know the genetics and how they perform. Hopefully, I can see the advantages on the selling end.”

Technology has a hand in everything ranchers do anymore. Whether it is something as simple as the bar code on the vaccine bottle or the ability to a reach wide range audience without ever leaving the ranch, it impacts each operation differently.

“I sell my cattle with Western Video and have for years,” Homen says. “It is great exposure to a lot of buyers and I like selling cattle in load lots. Selling on the video highlights our health and genetics. I'll keep selling my cattle the same way every year.”

“I market my calves through Roundup Internet Livestock Marketing. I like the fact I can give an honest description to a network of buyers that can bid on them,” Greer says. “We're dealing in load lots and it's a good outlet to create an audience. It works well for me because we can get top dollar and the cattle never have to leave the ranch.”

Some seedstock outfits may choose the big retailer approach; leaving customers to fend for themselves in a pretty tough environment. It seems successful programs value the relationships and experience tells commercial producers to appreciate these contacts.

“Maybe I came to my seedstock provider after a little trial and error, but we wound up developing a good relationship. They are confident in their product and stand behind it,” Greer says. “Consistency of the product allowed me to find genetics that fit what we like phenotypically, with moderate EPDs.”

“The industry is important to our family and it's easy to share the passion. We have a philosophy that it's easier to retain a customer than to find a new one,” Silveira says. “We get very excited when new tests or new data becomes available. This is a very expensive and competitive industry. We need to use all of our tools to provide the best bull possible. If our customer isn't financially successful he won't be back.”

“We always have to be one step in front of the competition and maintain that edge. When we help customers market their calves, we want to them to get the most money for those calves that day,” Byrd says. “It is expensive to evaluate our genetics, but that‘s what our customer wants. It starts with genetics, but if we're not in the people business, we don't survive.”

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