Interview conducted with Dean Coward, CPA on 10/12/2012.
The audio recording can be found hereDEANINTERVIEW
Interview conducted with Dean Coward, CPA on 10/12/2012.
The audio recording can be found hereDEANINTERVIEW
President of Quality Recycling Equipment, Inc.
By: Christopher Everett Jr.
1) Information on your Education:
I graduated from Canton High School in 1965. Upon my graduation from Canton High School, I attended WCU from 1965-1967 before I went on to command at General Staff College (US Army).
2) Background Information on your business:
a. When was it started?
I started Quality Recycling Equipment in 1984, and we became incorporated in 2002.
b. Why did you start it?
I decided to start this business because I was selling garbage containers and through that business I saw that there was a need for equipment for handling waste and recycling. There was an opportunity in this area and I decided to take advantage of it and capitalize on it.
c. What is the timeline of events that lead to the start of your business?
The start of my business really had no type of timeline leading up to its start. I was selling hardware supplies when all of the sudden I had the urge to do this business. So I decided to get into a different line to sell, which came about more as a necessity than anything else.
3) What motivated you to start this business?
At the beginning of this business and with the start of its inception in my mind the high profit is what motivated me to start it. I wanted the monetary benefits of what could come from a business of its stature. Then once I became established in the business, I became more humble and the realization that I could help solve the garbage problem kept me motivated to continue this business and make it better.
4) What specifics of the industry helped you to decide to start a business of this type?
The need that I saw to manage municipal waste properly helped me to decide to start this business.
5) Where did you get your start up funds?
I wasn’t fortunate to have an inheritance to start my business like some of my friends that I know did. And I did not want to take out a loan and have to pay that back after time. So I started my business from scratch once I made my first sale, and did the job required off of the money earned through the sale. And from there I worked from sale to sale to start this company from the ground up.
6) How big was your business when you first started?
At the beginning of my business the only person that was affiliated with it was myself.
7) How big is your business now?
At this point in time I now have seven full time employees working up under me at our headquarters in Hendersonville, North Carolina. And we also have 12 dealers that are working for me worldwide. So as you can see, we are covering a big area with a small amount of workers. But we manage to get the job done well and efficiently
8) What exactly does your business do?
What Quality Recycling Equipment, Inc. does is we sell and install material recovery facilities and waste to energy systems.
9) What are your biggest challenges
The biggest challenges that we face are government regulations.
10) What are the biggest “perks” of your job?
The biggest perk of my job, especially owning it is to be able to travel and have a decent amount of money to spend. On top of me giving back to the community and my alma mater WCU.
11) Is your business international?
Yes, Quality recycling Equipment, Inc. is an international business
a. If so do you have any cultural barriers?
We are fortunate enough not to encounter any barriers in our international portion of our business that are different from what we encounter in the U.S., because everyone is looking to solve the same problems of waste and energy production worldwide. Which is why it is such a good business to invest into and to start.
12) Where do you see your business in the future?
a. Where would you like it to go physically? (Location)
Quality Recycling Equipment, Inc. will be one of the developers of a new age of energy production. We will hopefully remain located here in Hendersonville, North Carolina with offices in Charlotte, North Carolina.
b. Where would you like it to go economically?
Economically, we plan to be a $3,000,000,000 (three billion dollar) business within the next five to ten years if our projections plan out the way we plan for them to.
c. What would you like for it to accomplish?
What I wish to accomplish is saving the groundwater by eliminating the need for landfills and the eventual removal of existing landfills.
13) If you could change anything about your business, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change anything about my business. I love my coworkers, and I love the direction that we are heading. If everything works out the way we are projecting it to go we are on the “cuff” of knocking down a major barrier in the world and will make the future brighter for future generations to come.
14) How hard is it to balance your business and family life?
There really are no problems in this area, its fairly easy for me to balance it when I have a loving wife that is willing to work with me through it all. And my children are grown now, so I don’t really have to worry about that aspect. Only draw back is I tend to bring the stress level up at home from time to time.
15) What quote do you live by?
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve.”
*If you would like more information on Doug King and Quality Recycling Equipment, Inc. Please visit their website at: www.qualityrecycling.com *
Brian, how did Balsam Mountain Consulting Come About?
Well, in 2004, I took a lot of time off work to volunteer for the John Edwards campaign. I was so fed up with George W Bush– I had been watching a lot of “Democracy Now” on TV– that I would have done jus about anything to help defeat him that November. Living in North Carolina and being a populist, for me, Edwards was the best bet.
So, I banged on doors in minus seventeen degree weather, made incessant phone calls, crashed in the floor of the downtown Des Moines YMCA and woke up to ice cold showers, in order to help the guy out.
Was it all a pain?
Well, I did enjoy meeting the people in Madison County Iowa. You see, on caucus night, we were all assigned to different caucus precincts to be available and just sort of watch– we couldn’t take part. It was sort of like a church picnic: one of the caucus members brough some deer sausages, another brought potato salad and the like. Because I have long hair and a beard and am from the coal mines of Eastern Kentucky, I had to browbeat the “management” of the campaign to make the obvious choice and put me into a rural area. This brings up the point: the whole Edwards campaign in Iowa was run by a bunch of kids and geared towards middle-class suburban voters. My point was, if Edwards was a Populist, then by golly, his campaign needs to look like a reflection of the whole spectrum and not just a bunh of college kids. Sam Myers, his media advisor actually got the message and steered me into various TV visuals so that could be brought home to the TV viewer.
This brings up the point, though, most of the campaign was repetitive phone calls and “pep rallys” and that wasn’t, to me, an efficient of effective way to run a campaign. Some of those people had been called, literally, dozens of times and some in the campaign believed that a caller could effectively “argue” or convince someone into voting for Edwards.
We carried Madison County, and came in number 2 in the state, but lost to John Kerry, and eventually George Bush. All the Democrats of a certain age group seemed to want another John Kennedy and Kerry played on that and tried to look as much as possible like JFK. It worked for that generation of Democrats and he got the party nomination– but that was all. Most of those older Democrats hadn’t read their history and forgot that JFK probably would not have been re-elected in 1964. Until he got shot, JFK wasn’t all that popular with most people.
Because of watching how haphazard and disorganized the whole thing was run, I decided to go ahead and set up Balsam Mountain Consulting at the beginning of the 2006 campaign. I mean even something as simple as what was covered in “The Selling of The President 1968″ and “1972″ had apparently been forgotten.
Well, anyway, I set up this consulting firm and ended up helping out a local candidate defeat a very long-term incumbent.
What was your firm’s selling points? What they call “value proposition?”
Evidently not much, since no one ever paid us anything or even offered. Their whole attitude was “thanks for all your help, now go F++ yourself…”
Our argument was that people voted on the basis of unconscious perceptions and rationalized their votes on the basis of “issues.” Those unconscious perceptions could be manipulated through various psychological triggers, causing the individual to vote for the candidate. The voter would then claim that they voted for the candidate because of such and such policy position.
Did it work?
Like a silver bullet!!
Did you get paid?
So what advice would you have for young entrepreneurs?
First. Don’t give up your day job. Some people make enough money to live on right out the gate; almost no one does. For the first few years, all you can use a business enterprise for is to reflect losses on your taxable income. In that way, you get financial benefit from the enterprise, even though you are not drawing “cash” out of the business. Don’t expect to pay the bills, just expect to take home more in your paycheck than otherwise. That’;s the benefit for the first few years and that’s why the IRS doesn’t expect a startup to generate a profit for the first five years. I mean they’re happy to tax any profits before that; they just aren’t surprised when there aren’t any– it doesn’t raise any eyebrows. After about 5 years it becomes a bit more problematic.
Thank you Patrick.
September 26, 2012
Q: Can you tell me about your background and how you got into this industry?
A: When I graduated from the University of Florida, I took a job with American Express. My job was to call on businesses that did not accept American Express and sit down with the owners of places and try to close them. I’ve been around the restaurant industry my whole entire career, but I knew that owning one was very risky and failure rate is very high. But, to answer your question, one of the main owners asked me to get involved and I originally said no. He pretty much twisted my arm and I finally agreed to be a part of the partnership.
Q: So do you like the decision you made?
A: I do like the restaurant business, in fact I love it. Owning a business is a challenge and if you like challenges, there’s something in your blood that keeps you going. In the restaurant industry you definitely have to like people and be able to listen.
Q: Has it been difficult owning the restaurant’s through a partnership?
A: There are definitely times when it is difficult. It’s almost like a marriage. You constantly have to work on how you can grow together. For me a partnership has worked out fine. You’re not going to win every battle, but you do have to win the war. I’ve been a part of a few partnerships; some have worked out and some have not. You’re only as good as your people and integrity is huge when it comes to a partnership.
Q: Are your days very structured?
A: Every day is different. I have a business in Florida, Rays ESG, Latitude 35 and not to mention a tremendous amount of time being spent in my non-profit, The Scarecrow Foundation. I work with 40 different restaurants trying to organize events and promotions.
Q: When you first came on with Rays did you know how to bartend or cook food?
A: No, not at all. I’m a marketing guy. I could get back there if I had to, but I don’t need to. We hire people who are skilled at what we do and not to mention better looking.
Q: What sets Rays apart from every other sports bar in Knoxville?
A: Our food is really good and we serve it until 2am. If you have a large group of people watching a game, some can drink, some can eat and it’s really relaxed. So, we’re a bar, but we aren’t just drinking.
Q: What about Latitude 35?
A: We are non-smoking. Hands down that is an advantage when it comes to a sports bar around Knoxville.
Q: What are some of the struggles you have?
A: Listen to what Jimmy says about leadership and owning a restaurant. Jimmy Leadership
Q: Is there a lot of turnover in the industry?
A: Click to hear what Jimmy has to say. Jimmy Turnover
Q: Did the decline of the economy effect you guys at all?
A: Well considering we’re a bar and people like to drink no matter what the economy looks like, I’d have to say not really. Whether it’s good time and bad times, most people still came out and had a drink after work or on the weekend with friends.
Q: What type of marketing mix do you do?
A: Click to listen Marketing
Q: What is your 5 year plan?
A: For Latitude 35, it’s a lot easier for us to survive, because there is not a lot of cost associated with it. I got a good deal during the recession on the actual commercial property. It has a lot of opportunity to grow and become a major part of the up and coming downtown scene. Ray’s ESG is much more expensive than Latitude, so I’d say in the next 5 years the partnership may consider selling the business.
Q: What advice would you give somebody who is trying to start a business?
A: Listen to what Jimmy has to say. Advice
Trina Owen is a transplant to Western North Carolina by way of Southern California. She is an artistic, creative soul who brings a passionate touch to her gallery and framing store located in Brevard, NC. The name of Trina’s store is 32 Broad Gallery and Framing and she makes it her personal mission to ensure that each client feels as though they are getting every dollars worth of her knowledge and expertise. Along with creating beautiful pieces, providing superior customer service is a top priority. She has a bubbly personality that is infectious and her creative ability is mesmerizing. It was a true pleasure interviewing her.
How did you become involved in the framing business?
I got a job in a custom framing art gallery. I am artistic but not a painter. I picked up on framing and other creative things quickly. It’s funny, I have no patience with life but I have patience with framing. And you need patience when it comes to framing.
Can you briefly explain the types of services and products you provide in your store?
Construction custom framing that is acid-free. It is museum quality framing. I will go to homes and take samples of framing with me and consult with a client on what looks best in the particular room they have in mind. But before I go to a house call I interview the client on the phone and find what their personality is like. If they like certain colors, what their job or hobbies are and anything that can give me insight into what they might want. That way I am prepared when I show up at the door and have some samples in mind to show them.
Can you describe your typical clientele?
Typical clientele is fifty five and older, mostly retired people to the area. The majority of my business comes through the doors from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. Majority of retired people don’t venture into the store on Saturday. So, I started closing up early on Saturdays.
Your business is centrally located in the heart of town; do you think your location helps your business?
It doesn’t hurt my business. However, I am a destination and foot traffic doesn’t bring in a lot of business. That is another reason why I close up early on Saturdays, because even those walking downtown on the weekend are doing just that, walking.
You also have artwork and pottery in your gallery, are they local artists?
They aren’t just local, they are artists represented here from all over North Carolina. The interesting thing is I consider the gallery frosting on top of the cupcake. The cupcake is my framing, which is the thing that pays the bills. The gallery is the frosting, which brings in extra income and draws in more clients.
Were there any barriers you faced starting your business in Brevard?
Of course, the city has certain regulations and it was quite difficult to find a store front that had parking close by. I would say though, that the most difficult thing for me was not knowing all local and state rules and regulations required of business owners.
Is there a lot of competition in the area?
I don’t see anyone in the area as real competition. I know I offer the best customer service compared to anyone around. I know that if any of my clients were ever unhappy then they wouldn’t return as my customer. I also know if I don’t satisfy my customers’ wants and needs to the utmost of my ability then I will lose them to my so called competition. I won’t let that happen.
Do you do any business to business work?
Of course I do. As a matter of fact the best way to do some of that is through bartering. Businesses need artwork or things framed in their businesses and I do it for them in exchange for say office supplies, window cleaning, coffee in some cases, and businesses allow me to advertise in their stores for free. Business to business is great advertising and is a great way to get the word out about my shop.
What is the best piece of advice you could give to someone about starting their own business in today’s precarious financial environment?
You are not going to be rich in the first year or two and you will also be eating a lot of Tums. There are days when the cash register may not open. You need to be prepared for not making a sale, hence having the Tums.
Interview with James D Kidd, CPA on starting a small professional business.
The interview cabe found here: daninteriew
James D Kidd, “Dan” is a local accountant who has operated in the Jackson County, North Carolina area for well over twenty years. His specialty is assisting small startup businesses in the area. Originally from South Carolina, he started his first solo practice approximately 40 years ago. Currently he has a staff of three to five accounting associates and two office assistants. He makes a special effort to support and assist students at WCU who are interesting in pursuing accounting as a profession.
While here at Western Carolina University I have met a plethora of people that I now hold close and dear to my heart. One of these people is Conner Orr, A tight end for the WCU football team. His father is Jim Orr, an Entrepreneur and the subject for my entrepreneur interview
Jim received his undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia in Business Administration. He worked for IBM directly out of college; soon after this he opened his own dry cleaning business for 10 years before selling it. His next couple of jobs was with MTI whirlpools, SFI and most recently he worked for National Print Group Incorporated in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While working for this business he simultaneously began his company Uppercut Promotions Incorporated.
Jim arrived at the idea of starting his business when his biggest customer told him that they hated the company that he worked for. The only reason that they continued to do business with the company is because they were working with him. With that being said he decided to start Uppercut Promotions and cater to the needs of customers in his own personal way. Another reason this appeared to be a good opportunity to him. Another reason for leaving National Print Group is the limited income potential. They were trying to reduce the pay of their sales representatives, which of course became a hindrance and further motivated him to pursue a new career in his new business. Further motivation was provided when he realized that he knew everything that he needed to know and that he needed to do.
But being the “savvy” businessman that he is Jim waited until he officially left his business, he waited a total of 18 months. Why you may ask? Because he did not want to borrow money from the bank, instead he wanted to have his own capitol to start his business. Jim feels that is the biggest mistake people make in starting their own business is borrowing capital instead of generating their own first. It ends up taking a substantial amount of time to pay off that debt and your new business is at a disadvantage because of it. So for that time period Jim bought and sold products for his new business, while still working his other job, and did not spend any of his profit that he made for Uppercut Promotions. This allowed him to have working capital when he turned Uppercut into his full time job. He has now been an operating one-man business since 2007, and business is good.
Uppercut Promotions prints personal as well as promotional products, and is also a promotional product broker. He helps the customer set up an order and gives their order to a company with an efficient printing press that can do their job at the cheapest price. He knows the companies with the most efficient printing presses that don’t actually distribute the products themselves, which is cheaper for his company. Because he purchases a large volume of products from these companies they charge him less to have products printed. The cheaper cost of production allows him to add his business charge to the total cost and keep it low enough to keep his consumers happy with the product and the price it will cost them.
Speaking with Jim made me so aware of so many different things that I really had no clue about. One thing that really stuck out to me that he told me was that sometimes your cash poor even when your business is booming. This is because in his business a client will place an order and he must first go to his supplier and ask them to fulfill the order, in which he pays for it at the same time. Once the order has been fulfilled he then gives the order to his client, at that point in time he then receives his fee and makes his profit. During a certain time period he did not have the capital in his account to make orders in which he had to receive loans from banks in order to keep his credit good with the printing press businesses that he places his orders with. In explaining this he explained to me that you use the debt to fuel growth, and that is good. It is only bad when you use debt to pay of the companies pay roll is when you run into problems. Uppercut is a business when the only person on the pay roll is Jim himself. So of course he does not have this problem.
Jim also helped me to understand his philosophy on good business: “ The key to a small company surviving is if you pay them (vendors) and keep your credit good with them, then you are good. You can get good prices from vendors. They want to sale to you more than they do big companies because smaller companies have a quicker turnover of about 30 days, compared to bigger companies having a turnover of about 60 days. Good planning is the key to his business.”
The biggest challenge that Jim faces now is trying to figure out how to grow beyond what he can sale. He needs to establish a sales force and be able to expand business past the point of the one-man business that he runs now. If he can duplicate his expertise it will help him in the long run, but the difficulty is getting a group of people properly trained to work in his business the way he wants them to. The biggest “perk” that he encounters is basically the same thing, which it is a one-man business that he is in charge of. Uppercut is an “a very lean” business that does not have a lot of overhead. If Uppercut has a slow month he can adapt, and he does not have to meet salaries and employment benefits. It would only be beneficial to expand and make hires if the workers he hires sale more than they cost.
With that being said, the future for Jim Orr and Uppercut Promotions is somewhat of an uncertain one. Business is good for Uppercut, Last year he sold $1.2 million, and this year he is on track to sale $1 to $1.1 million. But he is not sure if he would like to hire people unless he has the money to do it. He is going to adapt to the economy. But if he gets a big enough account that demands for him to hire then he will hire, but he will not hire personnel for no reason or because he has the capital to. Only if it works into his plan and benefits Uppercut Promotions in the long run.
If you would like to research the company more the company’s web page link is:
Impact Guns was founded in 1997 by 3 firearms enthusiasts. The company has since grown to include 3 physical locations that feature a gun store, range, and training facilities. These are located in Ogden, Utah, West Salt Lake City, Utah, and Boise, Idaho. The company also maintains an extremely large online presence. Robert Vogel, one of the founders of the company, agreed to participate in an interview with me.
Why did you decide to open a gun store?
The partners decided to open a retail business after having some success in brokering machine gun collectibles for collectors. It was more of a hobby than a business at the time. As relationships grew with the collectors, we began offering products to meet the needs of our growing customer base.
Explain the evolution of your venture into 3 stores and a strong online presence.
We grow when the opportunity presents itself. We started in the front reception room of a machine shop in 1996 that one of the partner’s family owned. It was vacant, about 10×12 and free rent. We had about two customers the first week. As we attracted more local customers, we cleared out the Bridgeport milling machines from the back room and started putting in racks to hold retail products, (guns and ammunition.) We continued to expand into a warehouse next door as we needed room to process deliveries for the growing internet business. The website presence began to grow rapidly after 9/11 and we
continued to grow with the traffic from the site. We acquire shooting ranges when we can negotiate a good deal. We usually let the offers come to us, putting us in a good position to negotiate the deal. The company has grown from 2 customers per week to about 2,000,000 per month on the web, we continue to evolve turning more of those browsers into transactions.
What are some examples of the challenges you faced in starting your company, and how did you handle them?
We had to build a contact center to keep in touch with our customers. We decided to do it on our own, rather than outsourcing to a call center or relying on vendors to service our company. Although this presented a challenge of having to learn new technology and management, the dividends have paid off and we’re more agile and adaptive with our communications. We try to put this bootstrap method into most of our business development.
What advice can you give to an up-and-coming entrepreneur regarding raising start-up funds?
Bootstrap it and read Guy Kawasaki’s books. Focus on building value and provide something a consumer will pay money to get and you’ll have all the capital you need. It’s better to have investors at your mercy than be at the mercy of investors. I like to think that investors are pretty savvy (in general) and the money will find you when it’s warranted. You’re in business to make business, not to raise funds. It’s a great feeling
to be able to turn down an investment banker or VC. If you think there’s a need for capital, at least you can prove why you need it, how you’ll prove a return and you will already have a track record.
I’ve heard that getting an FFL can be a complicated and time consuming process. How did you and your co-founders handle this issue?
Setting up the FFL is probably the easiest part of the business. Keeping up to date and
compliant is the complicated part. We hired a controller and a legal team to make sure we
keep up to date on legal matters.
How do you handle the extreme work load for customer service that naturally comes with having a large online presence?
We answer the phone for customers. We have a customer service team that focuses solely on taking care of customer’s questions. Customer service is something we’re always working on to improve. It’s the core of any good business. We continue to modify the business to provide self-service tools to help customers make decisions and improve their experience. Developing these self-service tools help us handle more customers more effectively and keep our overhead expenses down.
What is your strategy for competing with the numerous other online gun retailers?
I focus on creating value. As you create something useful for customers, and keep making it better you become a better competitor.
How have your past experiences influenced how you run your company now?
I look for opportunity where people are frustrated and solve those problems. Everyone has
something to contribute, it’s important to find each person’s strengths and get them into an
area where they can perform their best. Relationships are the only thing that really matters in a business and if you can grow and solidify relationships a company will flourish.
What factors influence who you choose to bring into your company?
When looking at a candidate, I look at the following: Why is this person applying here? Are they here for a discount, are they looking for a stepping stone for their career, or do they love the business and want to make something with it? Is this person going to take ownership and treat this company like it’s their own? How is this person going to treat my customers- are they going to build relationships or deteriorate them? Can I trust this person with our most valuable asset- the customer?
How do you handle a tumultuous political age with numerous issues that inevitably affect your business, but, if made too prominent, could potentially alienate some customers?
We keep it simple. When someone is thinking about buying a gun or has questions about
responsible gun ownership, we’re here to help. We focus on that and leave political agenda
aside. I can appreciate the concerns of both sides on the issue. I see a gun as a tool to keep
the peace and encourage people to learn about responsible firearm ownership.
What advice can you give to an aspiring gun store owner?
Keep a good attitude and get to work.
I spent some time with Randy Lewis, an expert in the thermosetting plastics molding and resins manufacturing industry. The proud owner of P.R. Lewis Consulting shared his insights on his business and its industry.
Where did the passion to devote yourself to this industry come from?
Thermoset plastics were the first plastics developed at the turn of the last century. They were developed in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Early thermoplastics were pushed into applications by unknowing engineers and designers that were totally unsuited for the task; thus, the term cheap plastics. Thermosets during this time period were capable, with defined roles but seen as staid. The new exciting thermoplastics, faced with the challenge of proving themselves and without definition of application, reverted to salesmanship, not properties to introduce their products. They would visit designers and get their products specified as the only materials that can be used to manufacture the designer’s product based on just a data sheet and not appropriate testing. I can name innumerable failures this practice generated, but the salesmanship prevailed.
Thermosets manufactures were “above the fray” and too good to “lower” themselves to selling the product; “it should speak for itself”. This arrogance cost the industry dearly. As a result, a superior product was surpassed by an inferior one.
I came into the plastics industry in 1975 when this process of replacing superior with inferior was really starting to get traction and I was incensed by the marketing practices. I worked with both Thermoset and thermoplastic, and was amazed by different marketing approaches. At the Plastics Show in Chicago, 1976, a thermoplastic company was giving rides in a 707 to see the lights. I was offered TVs and women, and was offended by these strategies used by the thermoplastics representatives, and have been pushing Thermosets since. I sometimes feel like John the Baptist crying in the wilderness but it is also a motivation.
To have someone come to you with an “unsolvable” problem where they have been trying thermoplastics or metals, because that is all they know, and create an new composition of matter that performs better that anything that has ever been is thrilling.
The nation has 682 enterprises within the plastic & resin manufacturing industry. What do you believe makes P.R. Lewis Consulting stand out from the crowd?
We concentrate on “things that cannot be done”. If another company can do it, then it is not for us.
There are 26 plastic & resin manufacturing establishments in South Carolina. Do you believe that your main competitors are within your state, or do you consider your biggest competitors to come from other areas throughout the nation?
Our competitors are lack of knowledge and price. I cannot remember competing against another company. We will never be cheaper; therefore, if we are not markedly better than the others, they should have the business.
When you develop a new composition of matter to solve a problem, how do you handle the question of intellectual property (patents)?
We handle this in two ways. If the client wishes to have the intellectual property, he pays us a fee for the research and development (R&D) and a royalty. If we pay for the R&D, we own the intellectual property (IP).
The Plastic & Resin manufacturing industry is currently generating the highest revenues within the past twelve years. Has this growth directly impacted your business?
A rising tide lifts all boats and the better business is, the better it is for all, even on the fringes where we are.
How do you reach these potential customers?
For four years we tried to do it ourselves but found we are better engineers and chemist than sales and marketing people. Six months ago we engaged a professional sales and marketing consultant and the results have been excellent.
According to IBISWorld, 40% of your industry’s revenues come from exports. Are you currently involved in any international business? If not, is this of your interest?
Technology and innovation have left the US and we are trying to offer this in our industry. Our main problem is that the US industry is contented with the current available solutions and does not want to look at innovations. We are exporting to England and Germany, but have not gotten to the Far East yet.
What do you believe to be the future of your industry?
Plastics are the future of mankind. Metal has been around for 5000 years and plastics a little over 100. People do not understand plastics and always fear the unknown. Plastics require less energy to produce and transport. Furthermore, their production soils the environment less (look at a copper or iron ore mine, or a clear cut or strip mined mountain). All plastics are infinitely and easily recyclable, but we were told to make it, clear as glass, strong as steel, and cheap as dirt. When we did that, we were told: “Oh, by the way, if we just throw it away because it is too cheap to bother with recycling, make it disappear”. As people learn to appreciate plastics, they will be used more wisely and find more uses to serve mankind.
It seems like your recent article on Pump-Zone.com, “Near-Perfect New Centrifugal Pump Wear Rings and Bushings”, had quite an impact on the industry. Can you tell us about the articles success?
The article was the result of our marketing consultant and the impact has been big. We were getting two inquires per year with our sales efforts, now are getting them per week.
What do you consider to be your target market?
We do not target aerospace and automotive because the time for approval is more that I have left to live. Our target is anywhere that an immediate need exists that desires a different approach to solve the problem.
An example would be the Pumps and Systems article you referred to. We were asked to develop a bushing for centrifugal pumps that would not wear itself or the pump’s shaft. This had been an insolvable problem since Archimedes invented the pump in 200 BC. The usual normal failure time for this type of bushing is three weeks. After 3 ½ years of testing, our bushing showed no measurable wear on itself or the pump’s shaft. Within six months after developing the product, we had a pump in the market.
We want to try any industry where a problem has been defined.
Do you have any advice to entrepreneurs entering this industry?
My advice would be to do what you are good at and get experts to do what you are not. It is hard to admit that you are not good at everything, but profitable.
Learn more about P.R. Lewis Consulting at:
If you wish to contact P.R. Lewis Consulting: 803-493-4173, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview today. Could you please tell us about yourself?
Sure. Sam Dobson from the northern part of Iredell County. I think I’m the tenth generation on this dairy and now, grass-fed beef farm. We’ve been in the dairy business since 1939, and before that we farmed the traditional cotton and tobacco, and maybe some small grains since the late 1700′s. We have transitioned over the last few years after looking at organic dairying, and transitioning with that process as well as starting a grass-fed beef part of the operation in 2006. We’re moving forward with that. I’m married – I have a wife Sherry, and one son Chase, who’s five; so there’s another generation coming along! And we just kind of hang out here on the farm and try to make things go.
That sounds great. Ten generations, that’s really impressive! Most people are starting businesses with the goal to sell it half way into their business and cash out. So, that’s quite a legacy!
Well, some people say we were never smart enough to cash out, (with much laughter) but we just kept it going!
That’s really good though! You are selling dairy wholesale, right?
And your beef is direct marketed to your customers, and are you selling that wholesale too?
We do the wholesale through Hickory Nut Gap Farm, and then we have a little retail line here through Dobson Farms. They’ve both done really well. We’ve only done the direct marketing and retail side for about two years, which started with some local farmers’ markets, like the Evening Farmers’ Market at Pecan Park and the Rotary Farmers’ Market, both in downtown Statesville. And that kind of allowed us to pick up a couple of customers at each market, and they started to come out to the farm. That was the main goal, to get people to come to the farm where they can see what you are doing here. I want people to come and ask questions; I want them to see the cattle grazing; I want them to know why grass-fed is better. We can still look at growing the direct market side of it, definitely. The wholesale side has grown; that’s probably why the retail side has not grown, because we hadn’t been able to keep up with the wholesale side of it. We’re still looking for that balance, but I don’t know where that’ll be!
How did you decide to get into direct marketing grass-fed beef from dairy?
Well, the beef started with Jaime Ager of Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Asheville, NC. We roomed together, and we’re good friends, at the CALS Ag Leadership Program at NC State. He had a market, and I had some land and some knowledge on grazing, and that’s how that started: with him taking a chance with me, and me taking a chance with him. It just kind of worked, and we developed a great relationship -we’re great friends first-, but we found some success with some good quality product and his great marketing skills. That kind of started the beef, but the retail direct marketing side of it started when some people found out what we were doing, and it spread by word of mouth here in our local community. They would ask where we can we get your beef? I’d say, Earth Fare in Boone, Earth Fare in Asheville, but there was nowhere around here where they could get our product. So, we had enough of that, and decided we would look into developing some local options.
You didn’t really have a formal plan to get into this business, it just kind of happened and you are running with it, it sounds like.
Yes, I knew we had to do something. We had to do something different. When I came home from college, I guess it was what everyone goes through with the family business: you bring a whole different set of ideas and some different experiences to the table. You see society changing, and people’s interests changing, and what people want is changing, and consumer demand is changing. That also makes you the crazy guy on the block when you come home and tell your father and grandfather that! My grandfather was still living and was still real active in the farm at age 85 when I got home from school. So, I knew we had to do something different. So, what we started doing was – we’d always grazed our cows just a little bit, during the spring and in the fall. We had plenty of land to do it. But I said, “You know, our cows do so much better when we’re grazing them.” So, I got into the rotational grazing and that was shortly after I got home from school. I went through the trial periods with dad. This is just a story: I remember one time when, we had a lot of land that had been fenced for sheep production back in the 60′s and 70′s, and that old fence was there and I was using that. It was terrible fence and I was sectioning it off to create temporary pasture. And I remember we had this good milk cow and she went across that barbed wire fence and she cut her udder wide open. And my dad told me “this is why grazing won’t work.” He was just looking for a reason to tell me why it wouldn’t work. And I said, “No, this just means I need to get this old fence fixed and clean it up.” So, that’s what I did. I drove a bulldozer through there and cleaned it up. The milk cow ended up being all right; we lost that one quarter, but saved the other three. So then, I realized that if I was going to do this grazing, I’d have to get to fencing. I spent probably five years; any time we weren’t in the hay field or cutting silage, or something. I spent five years fencing. It was a pretty good capital investment, and a lot of hard work. But you kind of put that system in place. We were fortunate that we had that land around the dairy to work with, because that was the key: the most expensive thing was already there, which was the land. That’s kind of how it all started, and it kind of evolved into the grazing operation. When I met Jaime, he was impressed that I was rotationally grazing cows. And so I guess it was kind of by luck that it ended up like it did, but you had to start somewhere, and I guess me just rotationally grazing the dairy cows just kind of triggered the other.
So you saw a need to improve some of the operations on the farm, and because you satisfied those needs other opportunities arose.
I’ve been totally against grain since day one. My end goal with this is to be 100% grass dairy, like our beef cattle are 100% grass. If I’ve got a problem in the world, it’s that I think too much. I remember the breakfast table at my grandparent’s house, that was the place where my dad and my grandpa would discuss everything. And every month the biggest problem was the feed bill from the local mill. That was what they would be griping about: whether they didn’t bring the right amount, or the price had gone up. It was something to do with that feed bill. I’m sitting there thinking, “cow’s are supposed to eat grass, they’re grazing animals.” You know my dad and my grandpa were both really good farmers, and of course my dad is still involved: I guess he’s still the CEO up here. They got caught up in the conventional – I need to be careful with this – but, the extension type of agriculture. You know, what the university had pushed. And my great uncle was a professor at NC State in Agriculture, and so they listened to him. They kind of got caught up in that. I just decided that I would do a little research, and the feeding of grain to cows wasn’t a popular thing until after World War II, you know.
And I just decided that let’s back this thing up, we’ve got resources to work with. Let’s just go back to what’s efficient. And we didn’t have the right (cow) genetics for it, and it’s been an uphill battle the whole time. But, ten years later I’m seeing the definite fruits of what we done.
It’s all very interesting to hear.
That’s kind of how it all spurred. The farm was in trouble. And I’m twenty-one years old and I’m thinking if I’m going to do this for the rest of my life it’s going to have to work. I’m going to have to make this pay, somehow.
Is that starting to happen?
It is. Yes, it is. I mean, I’ve made more money now then I ever have. So I guess it is. But at the same time, I’ve put a lot more on the line and I’ve got of risk out there, too. But yes, it is. And I think I’m just now seeing it work. I did see it work all along, but at the same time you just had all that investment. The genetics is a slow process, cause we are a closed herd here. I’ve bred it instead of just selling cows and buying new ones. So it’s been a slow process, but yes. The cows that we’re calving now at the dairy are Jersey crosses, and you can definitely see those cows thriving in this system. I’ve had some 1,700-1,800 pound milk cows that sit out there and eat, and graze, graze, graze, graze, and they never do fill up. They just require all that energy that maybe you can’t get as much out of grass as you can with that high starch ration. And the beef, I’m ready for the beef to thrive. We just haven’t been able to catch up! Everything that I’ve made I’ve put right back into it. We’re sitting on year six now and I’ve always read in the Stockman Grass Farmer that in four years you need to start seeing this thing work, and I’m at six. I sure haven’t lost anything. I’m worth more with equity and net worth than I was back in those days, but at the same time I’m not really paying myself anything yet, either. I’m at about the limit. I keep fencing in land, and I’ve added some leased land. I’ve got about to where the system is in place, and hopefully we’ll start to see some results from it financially. I think I painted the picture to my wife that this is going to be some big home run, and so she’s still waiting on the home run (laughter)! But we’re getting there!
Ok, so if it’s still taking a lot of time, if you were to have the systems in place instead of trying to take control of your markets with direct marketing to customers, would you make more money grazing and taking your cows to the wholesale commodity markets like the cattle auctions?
Absolutely not. Beef prices are the highest they’ve ever been in our country, right now. The last two years the cow-calf guys have probably made a little money. They’ve made more money in the last two years than they ever have. Although fertilizers higher, their input costs are higher too. The answer to that is no, I would not. Because it seems to me that in farming, especially in dairy – and I speak from dairy, because that’s what I have the most experience in – is that they always keep you hungry. They’re always going to pay you enough to keep you in the game, but they’re never going to pay you enough to allow you to be complacent. They’re always going to keep you hungry. When the markets go up, everything goes up with it: your fertilizer, your fuel costs, the parts for your tractors, the equipment costs, everything goes with it. So, it we go from $16 to $20 milk, you’re thinking, all right, I’ve got $4 more per hundredweight. Well, everything around you absorbs it. All your input costs absorb it, because they know those markets too. All you have to do is get on any commodity exchange website and you can watch those futures everyday like everybody else. And they watch them more than I do as a farmer. And they know before I do what they are going to charge ahead of time. My whole thing was that I had to get closer to the consumer. I’ve got to get closer to the consumer, and I’ve got to do it in a way where I can do it with the least amount of input cost as possible. So, do I have that plan in place? Well, I’m a lot better than we were. But no, I don’t think I have that completely figured out. At the same time every year I think we’re a little closer.
How much time do you devote in your business to refining that plan?
I think 24/7 (laughter)! Really, it’s twenty-four seven. It’s almost become a problem in my life. I have a five year old and a wonderful wife, and I never enjoy them like I should because I am constantly thinking about all this other stuff. The good part about that is that I enjoy it, because I am doing something different. I feel like I am making a positive impact on our land, which is my first love – the farm and the land itself. I feel like I’m making a positive impact on it. I think I’m making a positive impact on people’s health. And I think the end result is that I feel like I’m making a positive impact on our family and our business. But at the same time, yes, it keeps me up at night. I knew I had that buying club beef order in Fort Mill, SC, two days ago, and for some reason, I do not know why – because I’m a pretty low key guy, and I don’t get stressed out too terribly easy – but I was up at 3:00 am worrying about that order, making sure I had the right cuts and quantities. And then I’m always thinking maybe we should plant more annuals this year, and then the next year I’m thinking, maybe we overdid that and should have planted more perennials. It’s changes everyday, you’re constantly thinking about it. I really spent a lot of time reading biographies, I study a lot of business models, whether it be a technology company or an agricultural business. I study business period. One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of these guys have failed five times over before they ever made something work. And so that gives me confidence that I’ve been able to hang in there, which is a good thing, because I’ve surely haven’t done everything right. I keep thinking that everybody that’s been successful in business has failed many times over before they ever found what worked. Even when they do find something that works, they still have to change with that. So, I think what I have learned is that if you are willing to constantly change then that’s where success is. Hopefully. I’m right. That’s the problem I’ve had with the whole conventional agricultural system is that they don’t want to change. They don’t want to change, and they don’t want to change their business model. They just want to do more of the same, and just grow volume wise, which means more debt, more labor, and more moving parts, which equals a big disaster to me. That’s my opinion.
Well, it sounds like you have experience in both systems, conventional agriculture and organic agriculture.
I do, and that helps too. I grew up in the conventional system. We still did a little grazing, just on a smaller scale. We’ve always grazed our heifers; we’ve never had them on feed or anything. We’ve always done that my whole life. I’ve kind of grown up around both. All my friends farm, and they are all in conventional agriculture. It’s the misery party (laughter)!
Yes. So are your daily costs going down for your farm, other than the one-time capital expenditures for fencing?
They are. There are a couple of grazing dairies around, but when we get together we always kind of chuckle that, “wow, $18 per hundredweight (milk) is pretty good!” When everybody else is just barely breaking even, we’re kind of enjoying it and doing all right. But we’re maybe a little more drought sensitive, as we make our own feed. But they hit it too. With that drought in the Midwest grain prices are through the roof. We’re definitely dependent upon nature a lot more, but what I’ve noticed with the grazing you’re even taking risks out of the drought because if you do a good job with your paddocks 2/10″ of rain will bring my pastures back to life where a lot of people require 2″. So, yes our cost of production has gone down. With the transition to organic we’re doing right now, maybe the cost are a little higher because we’re doing these organic things now but we’re not getting the organic price yet. So, maybe this year’s a little different, but once we get the organic price in place I’ll feel better about it than I did a couple of years ago. The way I figure it is that the percentage of cost per hundredweight will be in a lot better shape, I believe.
Backing up a moment, I’m really glad that you mentioned the business biographies.
Well, my grandpa and grandma got me a book, probably when I was in high school. It was about the hundred greatest North Carolinians. I think that Our State magazine put it out. I think I opened it, thanked them for the gift, and set it to the side. And I picked that book up when I was probably getting out of college, and I’ve read about ever one of them. And it was the same story over and over and over again. No mater if it was textiles, or agriculture, or banking. The Julian Price Lake up there in Boone, that guy was Jefferson Pilot, and he went bankrupt three or four times. And he was forty years old before Jefferson Pilot took off. It was just remarkable reading about these people. And Wendell Murphy – and I am totally against his type of agriculture – but the story about how he was a high school teacher who bought this little feed mill, and he was working that at night and teaching school during the day. And boom! He hit it huge!
We lose sight of the struggles and talk so much about how people are overnight successes. Especially now with the new technological entrepreneurship, where it is hit or miss, and most people forget that it’s a lot of failures.
More so than the successes. Absolutely!
That’s really good to hear. In closing, are there any tips you’d like to give to people that are interested in businesses that involve agriculture?
Well sure, though I don’t claim to be the expert, that’s for sure. So I don’t know if my advice is good or not. But, first of all I think you have to be willing to work hard. That’s first and foremost. I think that’s a common sense thing. If you are going to be involved in any type of agriculture business you’ve got to sacrifice those weekends and holidays, where everybody else is out enjoying themselves. I can sit up here, I don’t know how many times, and watch on Facebook where people will say, “oh Memorial Day weekend was so wonderful!” And all I did was bail a thousand bails of bailage and milk the cows! So that’s step one. I think step two is understanding each level of what you are doing: knowing how to grow your product, and then knowing how to market your product. Farmers, in my opinion, have always been really good, whether you agree with the system that they are using or not, but they’ve always been really good at growing a product. They’ve been good at what they do, but they’ve never been good business people. I think that if you approach agriculture as a business, that’s my best advice for people. Say, this is a business and treat it like one, and I think it’ll go a lot smoother. A lot of people just get caught up in the process of growing the product that they lose sight of how much they’ve spent, what are they going to get out of it, is this a perishable product or not, that kind of thing. I couldn’t image having to direct market a perishable product. I did a produce business for one year when I was in high school. Went to the farmers’ market to sell it, and lost my tail. I lost my tail. But the reason for that was, I could grow it – man, I had good stuff – but I didn’t know how to get rid of it. I just thought I’d go down there on Saturday morning and sell it
Yes. But that didn’t work. I sold everything for pennies on the dollar. So, I just think that if you study business and you understand business, and you work hard, and believe in what you are doing. That is probably the number one thing for our farm and operation; we had to struggle with, my dad and I, when we were making this transition to grazing and the style of operation that we’re doing. My philosophy was you can’t do both. You can’t grow 200 acres of corn silage and spend all this money on our grazing. You can’t do both of these. But my dad wanted to hang on to what we were doing as a safety net. If you’re going to do something alternative like grazing, you have to believe in that system and you have to put all your efforts into that system. You can’t halfway do it, you can’t do both: you can’t be conventional and you can’t be organic; you can’t be grass-fed and you can’t be grain fed. You’ve got to pick something out, and understand your goals to get there, and just do it. We’re finally getting to that stage after ten years. We didn’t grow any silage this year. We had no corn silage this year, and this was the first year of that. And of course this would be the year we’d have the drought (laughter)! But you know what, we did grow a lot of sorghum, and we mowed it and bailed it before it made grain, and we’ve got more feed this year than we’ve ever had.
Good for you!
And we had a drought. That was great because he’s starting to see. Now, we’re not going to have the herd average that we’ve had some years. But you know what; our input cost is going to be so much less, and that bottom line is what matters.
It’s all that matters. That’s very good! Well I truly appreciate your time!
Yes sir, I enjoyed it!