November 2010 Newsletter

By Karl Kupers on November 10, 2010

This posting is about looking inside the development of a company that started 11 years ago with a dream and a commitment to create a brand in the food industry known for changing the way things were done. You know that company as Shepherd’s Grain. We have chronicled much of the historical pathway and the comical side notes in previous newsletters. Now I want to share some of those experiences and even share some lessons learned.

This year has seen our company viewed by students in graduate Ag. Econ. programs across the nation. The question was asked of them to review the decision to move the system out of the current area and the many challenges to accomplish that. We had students from a local graduate institute look at the business culture we operate under and what experiences they could add to our understanding. We have had our company reviewed by consultants as they provided access to grants through their effort. We were awarded a USDA Value Added Producer grant to help us refine our message and open new market opportunities. During this period we were recognized by the Natural Resource Defense Council, a very pro-environment group well known nationwide, and awarded their Business Leadership award. The management team of Shepherd’s Grain met several times this past summer to define and set some new goals for the near term and beyond. We have assigned tasks to all so they don’t just go on the shelf and collect dust. Lastly and the area I want to spend the most time on was a recent meeting we had with a marketing firm we have under a short contract to aid us in bringing all this together to create a more marketable and concise message to convey who we are and why.

As you know the culture of Shepherd’s Grain has been extended to our customers primarily by Fred and Karl. Our producer base is and continues to be a significant part of that culture and more broadly the future of Shepherd’s Grain. We will be taking time over the next few weeks to begin to advance that understanding of their desires. For now we have focused on the marketing side of the business. The time we recently spent in Portland at the offices of the marketing firm is another one of those “aha” moments that have been a big part of our history. The most significant statement they made was to recognize their job was to “cleave the DNA” from Fred and Karl so the story and the face of Shepherd’s Grain can go on as others learn to drive the business. No, this is not an announcement that Fred and or I are leaving but more to understand that the company has grown, matured, and will soon need new leadership. As has been described to us several times, this is a normal progression as companies go through that aging process. Aging as a business and aging as leaders. We spent two half day sessions going through exercises to develop a pathway to describe who we are in a more concise and market sensitive way. By the end of the second day I began to almost laugh at how easy it was to take our paragraphs of “farmer speak” and transform it into a few sentences and even I understood it better. I think we are all excited to see the finished product later this month and begin to employ it as we meet potential new customers, review our message with current customers and produce materials that can “cleave the DNA”.

As we review this and all of our efforts to refine the message, we will ask ourselves why now and not long ago but I think it is clear that our time on task, our market presence, and our experience with our message all contributed to this as being the right thing to do now. Our history has given us the tools to have this type of effort rewarded now and earlier we could not have shared those experiences. When you are so focused on, as Fred has always called it, “the tyranny of the urgent” you need those around you to tug at your sleeve and say let’s take another look at how we say, what we do and why we do it. The other bright spot to the two days was the principles of the marketing firm stating that we had great “sticky stuff” within the marketplace within that DNA. They described us as real, clean, and authentic as well as simple, honest, and transparent. This in their minds allowed us to not have to “try” and become someone else in anyone’s image but to just refine how we present ourselves.

All of us at Shepherd’s Grain hope the upcoming Holiday season can be one full of business success for our customers and still allowing time for the most important aspect of life, family.

Happy Thanksgiving.