Category: Business

6 TIPS FOR INSTALLING A GATE YOU’LL BE HAPPY WITH.

No matter what kind of gate you buy or build, the installation is a bigger part of whether you’ll be happy with it in the long run. I’ve installed a few gates in my life, here’s a few tips to help you out.

Thinking about the finished gate before you start. Ask yourself, “Where do I want this gate to swing?” “Where will it latch it or let it rest against?” Just answering these questions will make your gate work better.

Here’s a few more ideas to help:

Tip #1
Make sure your post is strong and straight. Theres 3 basic ways to make sure your gate post is strong enough.

First, just put a big post, deep in the ground, and cement it really well. This is best used on places where the post is not able to be supported, or where overheads are not wanted.

The second way is to use overhead supports. Usually you want to make overheads at least 12’ tall to ride under on horseback, or get a normal tractor under it during clean-out. (A tractor with the loader DOWN that is!) You’re best off using a 4 1/2” post for the hinge end, but the latch end can be 2 7/8”. The overhead is often 2 2/3”, but 2 7/8” will work fine.

The third option is to have 2 direction support for your gate post with top rail. This is probably the strongest way to have a gate post because the load is spread out over 2 whole fences, not concentrated.

No matter which way you do this, getting a strong post is probably the most important part of installing a gate. You can always replace a gate in an hour, replacing a post is hard work that is best never done!

Tip #2: Gates need to be level.
Level on gate
I’ll probably do a whole post about leveling gates, but for now, lets just say that gates should be level (except on hillsides, but we’ll talk about that another day)

You want to install the gate so the latch end is just a little bit high, (the edge of the bubble on the line is enough) That way the gate will sag down and be perfectly level.

The hinge end generally should be plumb. The only exception is when you are mounting a gate crosswise on a hill, then you want to tilt the hinge end enough so the gate will come up and follow the land rather than plowing into the ground.

Tip #3: Gates in a fence line should be offset

Gates need to swing around and latch back against the fence. You do this by offsetting the gate enough to fold back. Installing gates straight in the fence line should be avoided unless the gates doesn’t swing thru. At no point should a gate hit at the hinge before it can be latched, It will get bent or broken if it does.

Tip #4 Make some space on both ends of the gate
You want to leave about 1” to 1.5” of space on the latch end. If it’s too wide, the latch doesn’t work and small animals might get their head stuck in it, if it’s too tight, you might smash your hand in it, or it might settle and not be able to swing thru.

The gate you buy should be 3” shorter than the gap your are filling, so you will have about 1.5” on both the hinge side and the latch side.

Tip#5: Test it out!
After you get the gate set in place, tack it up enough to hold it. Take the blocks out and test it out before you weld it up solid. It’s a lot easier to make any changes now than to have to cut it all off to make a change.

Tip #6: Weld it up (hill)
The first thing you want to do is clean the metal up. If there is thick rust, paint, dirt, or any kind of coating on the post, go ahead and use a wire wheel or grinder to clean it up. The mounting plate is usually good to go, but it doesn’t hurt to clean it up if it’s been sitting out in the weather.

I’ll do another post on welding, but the main thing is to use the proper size of rod and proper welding method, which is to weld uphill.

The biggest thing to make sure your gate sticks is to use good quality welding rod that has been sorted correctly. Almost any type of general purpose welding rod will stick it on, but my personal choice is E7018. I’d recommend using a small rod, such as 1/8” or 3/32”, don’t use large rods or weld downhill, I used to do this, but it’s not as strong and it’s worth spending the time to do it better.

Welding a gate
Make sure to use proper safety gear. safety glasses, long sleeve shirts, welding helmet, steel toe boots, and gloves.

I’ll have more tips on setting up the post and latch in the coming weeks. Make sure to follow along on social media (links at bottom of the page) and don’t be a stranger if you’re needing some help designing up a set of corrals! Click the contact button to send an email, or write me at jake@aurochsconsulting.net

Get Unstuck on the Farm: The Power of a Heartfelt Letter

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Get Unstuck on the Farm The Power of a Heartfelt LetterSometimes we have to go back to basics to keep healthy change happening on our farms. Lately, in my transition seminars, I have been encouraging frustrated young farmers to write a heartfelt letter of intent to their founding parents. People who are stuck with a large degree of anxiety and overwhelm from not knowing the certainty of the future are caught in what William Bridges has termed “the neutral zone.”  You want to get out of neutral and moving towards a more certain future.

Let’s look at five types of letters that might be helpful to your situation

  1. Exploration
  2. Collaboration
  3. Explanation
  4. Confrontation
  5. Affirmation

You might want to take parts of each of these types of letters to accomplish your specific goals. Here’s how I have seen them used in my coaching work.

Exploration

Exploration is the discovery process of seeking out the possibilities of how you might like to address an issue with another party. You are exploring the various options ahead of you. For a young farmer, it might be exploring a new business plan with the founders or folks who hold most of the equity in the operation. In our case, our son used a marketing contract with a hemp processing company to explore the possibility of growing hemp on our certified seed farm. His father agreed to the plan, and we now have three years of hemp growing experience. What opportunities do you want to explore on your farm? What letters of reference or testimonials do you have in your research to prove that it is a workable choice to engage? Writing the letter will help crystalize your commitment to the project and help think things through for your business plan.

Collaboration

The purpose of this letter is to agree on a working contract. I use this letter in my speaker agreements to be clear about timelines, dates, venues, supplies, fees, and expenses. When you want to collaborate on a project with a family member you usually talk about it lots, but how many documents are in place to be clear about roles and responsibilities? Many farm folks I know wish that they would have taken a few more steps to get things in writing so that they could refer to the original goals and expectations. A shareholder’s agreement is a documented letter of collaboration. Do you understand what your shareholder’s agreement says? Do you need to update it?

Explanation

The Explanation letter is a powerful script to follow when you want to convey your thoughts and intent at a meeting but are not sure that you will be able to say everything quite the right way that you want it to go. I have seen this type of letter used as a powerful tool by a farm widow who was distressed that her adult children were fighting over how the father’s estate had been carried out. She used the letter to read her thoughts at the opening of the family meeting. The children listened intently while their mother conveyed her angst at their bickering. When the tone of reconciliation had been set by the mother’s expectations conveyed in her letter, the children discussed their next steps towards a better family relationship with an understanding of why the estate was executed in a certain manner. People cannot read minds, so letters are a vehicle for building up understanding and starting robust courageous conversations.

Confrontation

Stop texting when you are angry. Put that energy towards collecting your thoughts on paper in a word document that you can craft until it sounds right. I have used this approach when adults want to deliver a strong message of concern to another adult. In one case it was crafted by a husband and wife, then hand delivered to the party that needed to receive the message of concern. This took time and deliberation over carefully chosen words. The power of hand delivery emphasized the openness for ongoing conversation and the seriousness of the need for the conflict to be dealt with. You can make this even more impactful if the letter is handwritten, as long as your writing is easy to read. Sometimes these confrontation letters are hard to receive, particularly if you are like me and would rather just have a face to face conversation. Use the letter as a starting point, and as an invitation to have a face to face conversation.

Affirmation

One of my love languages is verbal affirmation. As a writer, I also love the power of the written word through cards and notes of affirmation. They are nice to see on social media, but those are fleeting comments. You can hold a card or letter of affirmation in your hand, and pull it out again on hard days when you need a word of encouragement. I have seen this powerful letter used by a father-in-law who sought to empower his talented daughter-in-law. He wrote her a letter stating the many reasons why he thought that they should work together on the farm. That letter started a great relationship, and affirmed open, loving, respectful communication between them as a team.

Some younger people have not learned cursive writing, and therefore only print or keyboard their messages. Our local agent who sells driver licenses has taken to teaching young teens how to craft a great signature! I find this hard to believe, but a reflection of how the written word is changing in our culture. Writing a letter to break down the barrier of anxiety about your future on the farm, or the plans for the fairness factor in estate plans is a place to start. You can be clear about your intent not to cause harm, stating your hope to gain clarity of expectations for the future. You can think about the words you carefully choose.

Please consider what type of letter you need to be crafting today. If you have any questions, I’d love for you to write me a letter.

Producers struggle to regulate cow size

Teresa Clark
for The Fence Post

Determining what size of cow is ideal for the environment is a hot topic. It depends on the environment, the ranch, and sometimes the rancher. What is even harder is settling on a certain size of cow, and maintaining it.

University of Wyoming Extension Rangeland Specialist Derek Scasta shared a story about his grandfather’s struggles to maintain cow size in his own herd. “What we have is a lot of information to go through,” Scasta told producers during the recent Southeast Wyoming Beef Production convention. “When my grandfather would go to a bull sale, he was looking for EPDs for low birth weight and higher weaning weight, but he may have ignored the maternal traits, and then kept the higher end of the heifer calves for replacements,” he said. The result over time was larger cows.

Looking at the bull’s maternal EPDs will indicate how the heifer calves will look, Scasta said. The bull may have had a positive EPD for milk and mature size, producing larger daughters. “That is why you really need to sort through the bull catalog and look at those EPDs,” he said.

400 POUNDS

In 1975, the average beef cow in the U.S. weighed 1,000 pounds, which became the range management standard for calculating animal unit months. However, recent data suggests the average beef cow now weighs 1,400 pounds. “In 2010, 16 percent of the U.S. beef cows were more than 1,500 pounds,” Scasta said. “That’s millions of beef cows that weigh more than 1,500 pounds on range and pasture in the U.S.”

Despite a more than 400 pound increase in cow size in the last 40 years, Scasta said no evidence exists to suggest that increase has resulted in weaning larger calves. “We have enhanced the production and performance potential of cows, but we may not be realizing that in terms of calf weaning weight,” he said.

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The EPD for yearling weight has increased 100 pounds in the Angus breed, which basically shows ranchers have been selecting for growth in cattle. In 1985, the average carcass weight was 725 pounds, and in 2015, it was 892 pounds, which is 165 pounds larger. “Cattle are basically 20 percent heavier than 35 years ago, and 10 percent heavier than 15 years ago,” he said.

With that amount of growth has come some negatives in relation to animal welfare. Cattle pots were originally designed to haul smaller cattle. “With these bigger cattle, a lot of them will bump their back going into that lower deck, which leaves a bruise on their back leading to a cut out. It is costing the industry $35 million a year because the cattle are bigger today than what the trailers were originally designed for,” Scasta said.

RANGE IMPACT

It is not just a matter of muscle growth. Ranchers have also selected for milk production. “As we have enhanced the performance of our cattle, what has been happening to rangeland? Actually, rangeland has stayed pretty flat despite the production potential of cattle increasing. We have managed to optimize what we get from the range, and it has stayed pretty consistent over time,” he said. “Ranchers have done a good job of matching their cattle genetics with range productivity.”

Scasta said there is a lot of disagreement over optimum cow size. Some studies suggest smaller cows are better because of live weight production and income, while others find larger cows to be more efficient because they have a larger rumen which could be an advantage for the efficiency of processing low quality forages.

A lot of the data available comes from feeding trials, where they did a lot of modeling, Scasta said. “What I found was a lot of mixed studies, and a lack of information in Wyoming,” he said.

Do larger cows wean larger calves?

One study he shared that was published in the Journal of Animal Science, studied how cow size impacts calf weaning weights relative to precipitation extremes. The four-year study involved 80 cows grazing rangeland northwest of Laramie.

The study showed that during the driest years, the larger cows had an advantage, and the smaller cows weaned lighter calves. However, the results were opposite during wet years, and variable during average years. “Taking the average of all four years into account, they found no significant difference in terms of cow size class,” Scasta said. “Smaller cows weaned calves statistically similar to those weaned from the bigger cows, riding the roller coaster of wet-dry-wet-dry,” he said. Calculating the input-output ratio, which is the pounds of grass consumed relative to the pounds of calf weaned, the smaller cows were weaning similar size calves across all wet-dry cycles, Scasta said, while eating less because their nutritional requirements were lower.

A 1,000 pound cow consumed 7½ pounds of grass per pound of weaned calf, according to the study. For a 1,200 pound cow that number jumped to 8½ pounds, and for 1,400 pound cow, it was 9½ pounds. “Basically, the larger cows had to eat more per pound of calf weaned,” he said. “Most ranchers have an efficiency target for the cow weaning a calf that is at least 50 percent of the cow’s body weight. So, a 1,000 pound cow should wean at least a 500 pound calf. In this study, the smaller cows were the only ones to reach that target,” Scasta said.

In another study, Scasta worked with a Wyoming ranch to analyze 8,000 cow/calf records with 13 years of data to determine which cow size is most efficient. The cow size on this ranch varied from 800 to 1,600 pounds, but the majority of the cows weighed 1,100 to 1,300 pounds, Scasta said.

From this data, Scasta found that the smaller to moderate size cows were closer to hitting the 50 percent cow size to weaning weight target, compared to their larger counterparts. “The 1,600 pound cows were actually pretty inefficient for the amount of grass they eat,” he said. “I think the data indicates managing for moderate size cows, and to not let them get bigger over time.” ❖

— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at tclarklivenews@gmail.com.

UNL Cow-Q-Lator

An Excel worksheet with Examples comparing the cost of TDN and Crude Protein in different feeds considering transportation and handling costs with losses. It also calculates the feed needed and total cost given herd size and days fed.

This is the Goto software that will give you the Best idea on using your available resources to combine them – Making sure your Livestock are getting the right balance in their DIET – while keeping your costs Low.

Click Here for Link to Cow-Q-Latro

Turning common heifer development logic on its head

Most of you, because of “expert” advice, have been over-developing your heifers. Let’s throw out everything you have learned and start fresh to get the most efficient cows in your herd.

Burke Teichert | Nov 28, 2018

From my earliest memories of reading farm magazines and attending cattle management conferences or seminars until now, there have been many ideas and opinions about how to develop and select replacement heifers. I am about to offer a perspective that will differ from most of what you have heard or read during these many years. I have interspersed much of it in these articles during my time as a writer. Now I will try to put it in this one piece.

Heifer development not only can be, but should be much simpler than we typically make it.  Selection and development go hand in hand. They facilitate each other.

Most of you, because of “expert” advice you have received, have been over-developing your heifers. You have selected the biggest and prettiest heifers based on biased and subjective criteria. I want to suggest that you change that approach.

You will need to start where you are with the cattle that you have; so most of you will want to take a few years to get to the point I suggest. Each step will tell you how big the next step may be.

I think nearly every herd has some good cows. My definition of good—those that get pregnant, deliver and raise a good, not necessarily excellent, calf every year without you ever touching them except for routine immunizations. The rest are inferior. In the long run, you want those cows to be the mothers of your replacement heifers; so raise more of them.

How do you do it? You keep nearly all of your heifer calves. You only remove the few that are obviously challenged or inferior.

This will usually be less than 5% (maybe not at first, but keep most of them). You then shorten the heifer breeding season as fast as you dare until your bull and/or AI exposure is not more than 30 days, ideally 24.

If you have calving dates from previous years, you can see what percentage bred in 24, 45 or 65 days and can get an idea of how many days to expose this larger group of heifers. Because you will be keeping some later-born heifers and not developing them to gain as rapidly in addition to shortening the breeding season, you will need to expect a lower conception rate.

Now, instead of trying to get the heifers to 65% of expected mature cow weight, 55% will be enough. You may want to take a couple of years to get to that point. However, many have done it quickly.

I hope you see how this more moderate or “minimal” development plays into heifer selection.  With less input and size, the ones that conceive in a short season are truly the good heifers.  They are more closely adapted to your environment.

Now the arguments start to come:

  • I won’t be breeding the best heifers. You don’t know which ones are the best. Let the bulls and the environment tell you which ones are best. They are the ones that get pregnant. There are very few, if any, people that can look and tell which ones will breed.
  • I don’t want to keep that many heifers. Why not? Yearling operations are usually more profitable than cow-calf operations; and you should winter these calves like stockers going to grass. The only added expense is use of the bulls or AI.Open heifers should be nicely profitable. Many people are hesitant to keep more heifers because of the cost of development. If the cost of development is high, that is a problem; and unless you can change that, you shouldn’t be raising your own replacements.

    Don’t tell me that you need to develop your own heifers because they are better. If they were better, you could get a good breeding rate with less development cost. The added value of yearling heifers should be significantly more than the added cost.

  • I would like to use the genomic tools to evaluate the heifers before breeding them.  Why? Those tools might give you some genetic tendency information, but it won’t tell you which ones will get pregnant in the first 24 days. The bulls will.The average heifer calving in the second cycle cannot live long enough for her lifetime production to catch up with the heifers that calve in the first cycle regardless of other genetic differences.
  • That heifer’s mother isn’t good enough to keep the daughter as a replacement. You are selling the wrong one. Sell the mother. If you are using good maternal bulls, the heifer calf should have a good chance of being better than her mother. If you are not using good maternal bulls, you need to find them or raise them or become a terminal breeder.
  • I might soon have more pregnant heifers than I need. Good. Now you have a marketing opportunity. You may sell the excess bred heifers. Or my recommendation is to keep the bred heifers and sell enough late bred cows to make room for the heifers that are going to calve early.Many areas have buyers for cows bred to calve later than your calving season. Also, as you remove late-bred cows, your calving season will get shorter and the latest born heifer calves will be older and more likely to breed. You can see how the positive effects begin to multiply.
  • I don’t think those “underdeveloped” heifers will make good cows. Research done by Rick Funston at the University of Nebraska and Andy Roberts at the Land and Range Research Station in Miles City, Mont., plus a bunch of personal practical experience says that they will make better cows than the ones I am calling “over-developed.”If you want to help them along a little, do it from the time they are diagnosed pregnant as a yearling until they are checked pregnant as a 2-year old. That is the most difficult 12-month period of her life. You would much rather sell an open yearling than an open 2-year-old.

Now let’s ring up the pluses:

  • When you start putting many heifers into your herd that will all calve early in the calving season, you will soon be able to shorten the cow calving season by removing late bred (less efficient and less adapted) cows. As your calving season gets shorter, the latest born heifer calves will be older and more likely to breed. Weaning weights will also increase.
  • In future years, more and more heifers should be eligible breeders.
  • As more of these heifers come into your herd, you will be able to remove the less desirable cows. Soon you will get by with less supplemental feed and have an increased level of herd health.
  • New marketing opportunities will show up. Remember the ranchers who are terminal crossing or should be. They need your excess cows. Even though the late calving cows are a little inferior for you, they could work very well for the terminal breeders, especially after a few years into your program.

Two more points:  I am convinced that the heritability of fertility, under minimal heifer development and reduced cow herd inputs, is significantly higher than the estimates of low heritability that we usually hear. You need to buy or raise bulls that will not undo what you are trying to accomplish with your heifer development and cow culling.

Teichert, a consultant on strategic planning for ranches, retired in 2010 as vice president and general manager of AgReserves, Inc. He resides in Orem, Utah. Contact him at burketei@comcast.net.

Tagging Calves

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Tyson Pharo made a comment in last week’s PCC Update that came very close to ruffling some feathers. Good job, Tyson! Many cow-calf producers think it is sacrilegious to not ear tag calves at birth. Most do it because they have always done it. Several years ago, the PCC Discussion Group came up with several “Kooky Notions” that the members used to have. Ear tagging calves at birth was one of those kooky notions. I’m sure many subscribers are saying, “What’s wrong with tagging calves at birth?”

To begin with, each and every one of your cows knows which calf is hers – without an ear tag. If you are a commercial rancher (not raising registered cattle), you are NOT getting paid to ear tag your calves. I am not against putting identification ear tags in every animal – but it can be done when the calves are run through a chute for vaccinations, etc. It does not have to be done within a few hours after birth.

There are at least four problems with ear tagging calves at birth. First and foremost, it is dangerous. Every year we hear about someone being seriously injured or killed while trying to tag a newborn calf. How would you feel if someone in your family got hurt while tagging a newborn calf?

Second, ear tagging calves at birth disrupts the bond between a momma cow and her newborn calf. This is a very critical time for a newborn calf. Any outside interference does more harm than good.

Third, ear tagging calves sets you up to keep records on individual animal performance which will keep you from maximizing sustainable profit per acre. For the past 40+ years, the status quo beef industry has been enamored with increasing individual animal performance. This has created high-maintenance cattle that do not fit any environment outside of a feedlot. Consequently, the result of focusing on individual animal performance is reduced profits. I still believe most ranchers can double their profit per acre once they stop focusing on the wrong things.

Fourth, ear tagging calves at birth is very time consuming. It takes a whole lot more time than 30 to 60 seconds per calf. Tagging calves requires you to ride or drive to the cows and through the cows. If you don’t go at least twice a day, you will not be able to catch the calves. You must do this every day. Even if you have a short 45-day calving season, you will have at least 90 trips to and through the cows. Because tagging calves is time consuming, it will set the limit as to how many cows you can run. The most profitable ranches are running 500 to over 1000 cows per man. It would be impossible for these ranches to tag calves at birth. They spend their time (and money) on things that increase their profits.

The time and money most producers spend on things like keeping individual animal records and ear tagging calves at birth could be used to improve grazing management via fences and water development. This could easily double or triple your profits per acre. You could be getting paid two or three times more for doing half as much work. You could create a VERY profitable and sustainable business for your children and grandchildren.

I am often drawn into discussing this “kooky notion” at my speaking engagements. Tagging calves at birth is a paradigm that most producers struggle to get away from. For every reason people have given me to justify why they tag calves at birth, I have always been able provide an alternative.

People say they need to have an easy way to pair up cows and calves when going to summer pasture. I suggest you move bred cows to summer pasture and allow them to calve in sync with nature on green grass. Bred cows are much easier to handle, haul or drive than pairs. All of the problems producers associate with calving will magically disappear when cows are calved in sync with nature. You do NOT have to be there to see every calf born! Also… any cattleman worth his salt can pair up cows and calves without ear tags.

Some might ask, “So how do we identify the cows that produce the dink calves?” That’s easy… after separating the cows and calves at weaning, sort off the dink calves. Turn those dink calves back out with the cows – and they will make a beeline to their mommas. Ride out and bring in the dink pairs to be sold.

Would you be able to calve 500+ cows by yourself if every calf had to be ear tagged at birth? No – but you could if you did not have to tag calves. Mark Bowman, a PCC customer in Western Nebraska, once told me about an encounter he had with his dad who was over 80 years old at the time. Mark was calving around 1200 cows in sync with nature. His dad said, “If I knew ranching could be this easy, I would still be doing it.”

Keep it Simple… Mankind has always been notorious for making simple things complicated. It doesn’t have to be that way. Ranching can be fun, easy and profitable! If your ranch is NOT fun, easy and profitable, then you can only blame yourself.

Did you know… that the average age of cow-calf producers is close to 60? That is nearing retirement age for most businesses. Why do you think the average age is so high? Could it be that traditional (status quo) ranching is NOT fun, easy and profitable enough for the next generation to consider it as an occupation?

The Perfect Business Model

I have a great idea for a business!  Let me give you some of the details and then tell me if you will be willing to invest! My idea is to have a grocery store with about 70% less square footage than all my competitors.  We are going to do no advertising in the community; no newspaper advertising, no radio or TV, no mailers to local households. Our selection will be limited with no nationally known brands like Campbell’s Soup or General Mills, in fact we will only have our personal brand or brands you most likely have never heard of or seen before. Oh! And by the way, we will have only 1/10th the inventory available at a full-size supermarket. Are you ready to line up and hand over your money?

I didn’t think so and neither would I, if I didn’t know “the rest of the story.”

The grocery chain I just described is Trader Joe’s. The chain was created almost by accident or fate! The original Joe was Joe Coulombe, a Stanford University graduate who went to work for Rexall Drug Store, a national chain. In the late 1950s Rexall came up with a novel idea, they would start a “convenience” type store that had small square footage and sold necessities (Yes, we are talking a 7-Eleven style convenience store). Their test market was a chain called Pronto Market and started with half a dozen stores in the Los Angeles area. Joe was over the project and firmly believed it was a great idea.

Unfortunately (but fortunately for Joe!) Rexall gave up on the idea in 1958 and instructed Joe to shut down all the stores.  Instead he raised money and bought all the stores (Rexall was happy to get rid of all the locations).

Joe Coulombe grew Pronto Markets to 17 stores before Dallas-based Southland Corporation (creator of the 7-Eleven brand) expanded to Southern California, Joe knew he could never compete with the marketing muscle and economies of scale of 7-Eleven locations. Legend has it that Joe took a trip to Hawaii and came up with the idea of a new kind of grocery store that was laid back and sold specialty items that were organic, quality and well-priced.  He named his stores “Trader Joe’s.” The first store opened in 1967, about the time of the “surf movement” and a new generation of laid-back Americans (especially in California) came along. His timing could not have been better and over 20 years he opened one store per year, all with Hawaiian tropical themes. Yes, his employees wore Hawaiian shirts!

In 1979 Trader Joe’s was bought out by a German grocery magnate named Theo Albrecht. He persuaded Joe to remain and did not change the successful model. So how well has the “no marketing, no advertising, limited choices, off brand” concept worked?  Well, the average Trader Joe’s is twice as profitable per square foot of store space than the large national chains. To its many loyal customers, it is almost a cult. One customer in Kansas City who traveled to California would fill up a large suitcase on each visit. He even set up a Kansas City Facebook page to try and get a location started in Kansas City. By the way, he was successful!

Trader Joe’s management and ownership refuses to give interviews or release any information to anyone and refuses to do any media interviews. They are now up to over 470 locations in 44 states and growing. Here are a few facts about Trader Joe’s:

  • In February 2008, BusinessWeek reported that the company had the highest sales per square foot of any grocer in the United States.
  • The May 2009 issue of Consumer Reports ranked Trader Joe’s the second-best supermarket chain in the United States (after Wegmans)
  • In June 2009, MSN Money released its third annual Customer Service Hall of Fame survey results. Trader Joe’s ranked second in customer service among all companies, not just grocery stores.

A former employee who had owned an advertising agency sold it and, on a whim, went to work for Trader Joe’s with the intent of writing a book. Mark Gardiner became a “crew member” as employees are called but resigned before he published his book knowing the secretive company would fire him.  His book, “Build a Brand Like Trader Joe’s” reveals what Gardiner believes to be the success factors of this remarkable and loved company. (The drum roll please!) Here they are:

  • They only hire friendly people with relationship-oriented personalities (okay, that makes sense but why doesn’t everyone do it?)
  • When you ask for help you are not pointed without emotion to aisle seven, half way down on the right. The crew member, with a smile, walks you to the product, picks it up for you and even gives you details about the product. Before the crew member leaves, he/she offers further assistance.
  • If you don’t like what you bought you can return it at any time, no questions asked for a full “cash” refund.
  • They pay above average wages and offer solid benefits to employees (Yes, that’s right, employees are treated like customers!  Crazy idea!)
  • There are no automatic checkout lines (Yes, you have to talk with friendly people! Going to Trader Joe’s is like going to meet a friend).
  • They encourage interaction with customers.  If you are stocking a shelf you stop what you are doing to assist customers.

Okay, let’s simplify all of this to one thing, “The customer is treated like the most important person in the world while in the store.” I know, too simple, there must be more to it.

Actually…not!

Ken Blanchard, the famous business writer and consultant said it best, “Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you really want a booming business, you have to create raving fans.”

In today’s world, happy customers are your best source of new business, are more powerful that any advertising campaign, and will allow you to grow your business with the greatest profit margin. Happy employees make all this happen! When Circuit City decided to cut staff to save money and cut salaries, they were bankrupt in two years. One of the most powerful brands in the world, Sears, followed the same path and they are on their last breath.

The simplest truths always prevail, put your customer first and the rest falls in place. There is no magic formula, only magical people who go the extra mile and truly care about others.  Look for these people and hire them! You won’t be sorry! (by the way, give these magical people the right to make decisions on the spot to help customers) Are you ready to invest? Me too!