Some industries in Canada do better in an ever-changing marketplace by sticking with traditional methods of growing business. Such is the feeds industry, especially in Ontario, where growth hinges on relationships and according to Sales Manager Dereck Ward, “success is attributed to individuals—having the right people on board at the right time.”
W-S Feeds’ namesake comes from company founders Doug Spencer and Earl Wideman, who with Glenn Wideman incorporated the company in 1975. Today, W-S Feeds offers a complete line of quality feeds for dairy, beef, swine, poultry, horse and companion animal feed, pet food and animal health products, custom nutritional programs, grain banking, and feed and forage sampling services.
The company is focused on developing critical customer relationships in Canada—where new clientele is limited and the company faces steep competition.
Ward says that this challenge, a limited clientele, is not a new problem in the feeds industry, and the company has developed strategies to keep their customers loyal throughout the years. “We have an over-capacity of milling in Ontario and a shrinking clientele,” he explains, “so you’re never garnering a lot of new business.” He says that the agricultural sector is one of those fundamental industries in Canada that still relies on a phone call and a handshake to move business forward. This is not a coincidence—the business grew from originally servicing the local Mennonite population in southwestern Ontario, a customer base that relies on person-to-person service and communication.
“Those relationships don’t grow overnight,” Ward insists, and he should know, with 43 years in the feed business. “We have to work hard at them, and as we grow, it’s harder to maintain that personal contact.” The company has been focused on the independent family farmer customer for the past 45 years, and so has solidified its place in the industry. The company states that is dedicated to providing quality products and service to help customers reach their full potential. The goal is to “strive to keep farmers on the cutting edge of new feed technologies and programs that will maximize the value of the products they grow.”
As the company grows it continues to strive for the best in customer service. Their service area continues to expand, currently serving farmers in Waterloo, Wellington, Grey Bruce, Oxford, Middlesex, Huron and Perth counties. “That is where our core business is, although we have offshoots of our core all over and some specialty accounts further away [such as a group that recently moved to Cochrane],” Ward says.
W-S Feeds is able to service such a wide area because of their strategic locations. The company has its main office in Conestogo, and then a plant in Mount Forest that manufactures poultry and swine feeds exclusively, as well as a plant in Tavistock that produces all the textured and bagged fees for all W-S Feeds operations, and also pellet and mash feeds for ruminants.
Ward knows from his experience that one of the key elements of the company’s success is its people (W-S Feeds currently employs 50+ staff). “The relationships that we have internally and the core values that we have as individuals employed at the company mirror the core values of our clientele,” he says. The business has relied on the success of the people that make it up, and the commitment the company has to the unique needs of the farming population in its regions.
For 2011, the company plans to address upcoming changes in the markets they serve with the same gusto that has made them successful, in 2011. “We can see changes in the dairy area in 2011, and we’re going to continue to expand our influence in poultry and swine, and put more of a concentration in beef,” Ward explains.
In Canada, the agriculture business has been concentrating itself into two poles, says Ward: the smaller farmer and the larger more progressive farmer. Each segment takes a different approach to business, but W-S Feeds has begun to address the company’s customer needs on the smaller scale, addressing the most minute formulation change.
There is a demand for both genetically modified products and those considered to be “organic”. However, Ward says that W-S Feeds is not quite ready to tackle the organic market. “Whether to make your manufacturing sites natural or organic can create challenges—do you make one truly natural? We haven’t taken that step, we’re not sure yet.” W-S Feeds concentrates on addressing the value-creation for the customer, which includes creating all kinds of specialized feeds.
“Being able to manufacture our own products, that is an extremely competitive aspect for us. We make our own priority formulations which are backed by research we get from relationships within the industry,” Ward comments. Everything the company makes, however, is carefully monitored and their business is governed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). “We can do a completely customized feed or do supplemental feeds,” he continues. The company also can customize based on veterinarian requests.
Regardless of the formulation, the company is committed to investing in the latest technology to manufacture their products. “While some of our formulations are archaic, the mechanisms producing them are ultra-modern. We’re trying to improve that all the time,” Ward says.
Health and safety considerations
W-S Feeds operates a sound, safe operation, governed by the CFIA, WHMIS, and HAACP. The company gets “very good health and safety reviews” and maintains strict controls over their products.
Ward says that the company will continue to shift and adapt to a changing market, with the “tight-knit” group of the company’s customers in mind. With any luck, and a steady focus on building relationships in the agricultural sector (where trade secrets can make or break a company), W-S Feeds is looking to offer a “farmer-friendly alternative” to larger, less personal competitors for years to come.