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Agrimarketing : June 2012
and serves more than 100,000 farm, commercial, and residential customers in 22 states and Canada through member-cooperatives and retail operations. "Certainly a lot has changed over the years," says Kelley. "We're really the only surviving Farm Bureau-founded organization." A SYSTEM THAT WORKS According to Kelley and Solberg, the farm cooperative model is thriving. After all, the co-op system works for the betterment of its members. And most members, overall, are having some great years. "We're now a $10 billion organization," states Kelley. "But our basic mission of service to the farmer has never changed, never wavered." "When you add in great financial knowledge and strength with the co-op model, you just can't lose," says Solberg. How the system works may be in flux. According to Solberg, "There has been a lot of consolidation at the local co-op level. Since 1981, we've gone from 131 member companies to just 40 today. And interregional co-ops (regional co-ops banding together for specific purposes) are really no longer needed. The regionals are certainly big enough, financially strong enough to offer member companies the support they need." "Despite the size of GROWMARK overall, we look at matching the needs of each individual local co-op company," adds Kelley. "It really is a market segment of one, which has resulted in a change of operations, consolidating retail and wholesale, putting greater demands on our logistics people." Says Solberg, "Our member companies are getting pretty adept at managing processes, people, products and services. It's become almost seamless between GROWMARK and member companies." CHANGE EQUALS OPPORTUNITIES The only thing constant is change, in any business. GROWMARK understands that it takes many good people to manage through the changes. "We feel we have some of the best people, best training, and best sales and product knowledge," says Kelley. "Our people are very well versed on the agronomic issues, so they can make recommendations with full confidence." "A very big part of my job is people management," says Solberg. "GROWMARK will need to replace 5,000 employees over the next generation of workers. And that's if we have no turnover. At just a 5% turnover rate, we'll need to add 10,000 people." CHANGES IN MARKETING When Wolf came on board in 1981, she was faced with working on one brand, one identification, one overall message and limited options for communicating with customers or the company's marketing and sales force. While the FS brand is still a focus today, marketing communications at GROWMARK have become a bit more challenging. "GROWMARK's primary retail brand is FS," says Wolf, "and my group oversees campaign level message development for FS branded products and services, and corporate level brand management for the FS brand through facility ID programs, media placements, sponsorships and involvement at the Farm Progress Show and the Wisconsin Farm Technology Days." "We also develop marketing and sales support materials for GROWMARK as a business-to- business brand. We work with all of GROWMARK's business units to develop marketing communication programs, and have an in-house graphic design team that works with all product divisions, members and subsidiaries," says Wolf. Wolf continues, "GROWMARK has over 200 trademarks. We provide a marketing perspective, making sure graphic design guidelines are developed for all design marks, and that other marketers and communicators throughout the company understand brand hierarchy, attributes, trademark status and logo presentation requirements." GROWMARK and agency, Rhea + Kaiser, promote the FS brand on a regional level, featuring FS history, reputation and dependability. "We've worked with Rhea + Kaiser for 31 years," reports Wolf. "They've stayed with us through all the peaks and valleys of the business and have offered innovative and realistic solutions aligned with our available marketing budget. They've been true counselors and know the depth of our business." Besides the branding themes, targeted materials are also produced for use in specific markets. "These communication materials are very segmented," explains Wolf. "The June 2012 Agri Marketing 25 James Lurkin, South Central FS Certified Crop Advisor (l) helps Mulberry Grove FFA member Brett Schewe install FS InVISION plot signs. Schewe is managing a 40-acre corn plot as part of his supervised agricultural experience project and will keep records on the data gathered this growing season. Krista Wolf, Manager, Brand Strategy and Marketing Communications (more on page 27)
July August 2012