If evolution really works,
how come mothers only have two hands?
- Milton Berle
The first story is about gaining a customer's trust and business. Don and Adeline Guenette started to do some business with us many years ago. Pricing was a major consideration. From the beginning, SVF's philosophy was to offer honest dealings, competent staff, good equipment, and cutting-edge technology. Don and Adeline started working with Doug and Kent. As we met their needs and their service requirements, we achieved a mutual trust and respect that has been a delight. We look forward to their visits. Don always has a few good stories and jokes. As Doug says, "Success in business is all about building relationships."
In the early years before we were on computers, all invoices were handwritten. One day Don Smith came in to buy some chemicals. Don farmed and drove a Greyhound bus. He was always happy and had funny stories to tell. Well, from time to time, someone's last name would slip my mind, so my way out was to say, "Oh, and how do you spell your last name?" Don replied in a very serious voice: "S-M-I-T-H." Needless to say, I was very embarrassed. But we had a good laugh.
Ray and Andre Rouault were among our very first customers. Early in the spring of 1980, Ray and Andre were, as usual, the first customers to pick up some bulk 11-48-0, and we had some on hand. As they pulled under the spout, my phone rang. It was Sherritt, telling me they were out of 11-48. I immediately called my friend Garret Byers from the Neerlandia Co-op. They were Sherritt dealers but still had connections with the Co-op. About 80% of all the phosphate we sold that spring came from the Co-op in Calgary. A day or two later, a new customer, Ken Chizen from Thorhild, pulled under the spout. I stepped on the running board and told him we were out of 11-48-0 but were expecting a load any minute. Ken had prepaid, so he wasn't happy. Just then, a load from Calgary pulled into the yard. Ken was a loyal customer for 35 years before retiring in 2014.
When I think of high-energy people, I think of Gordon Adam of Onoway. In the spring, when Merelyn and I would come in early (6:30 to 7:30 a.m.-early for me, considering I usually didn't get to bed until 1 a.m.), we would often see Gordon with a load of hay going past the plant as he headed to Northlands racetrack. Gordon operates a sizable farm, a feed mill, and many other business interests. After closing up for the day, it was common for Doug and I to deliver a tandem load of fertilizer to the field in Onoway, where Gordon would still be working.
In the early 1980s, Mr. Rupert Tappauf would come in with one or more of his boys and buy fertilizer from us. He was a quality person and very pleasant to deal with. As the boys matured in age and business skills, they took over the operation of Tappauf Farms. For many years, Karl, Edwin, Walter and Gary have just been referred to as the Tappauf boys. Karl's son Kevin and Walter's son Robert are also now involved. At five years old, Robert's daughter, Elle, is already showing signs that she will fit right in. Elle's kindergarten recently had a show and tell. So she brought samples of different grains in little jars, including some lentils from Saskatchewan. And then she explained in great detail about the production of grain. At the same show and tell, another student brought some small chicks. Everything went well until Elle explained to the other children that the little chicks would be fed until they got big and fat and then they would be made into McDonald's Chicken McNuggets. This information caused much distress among the kids.
A LITTLE HUMOUR
Murphy was invited to the moon to collect moon rocks. When he returned, being a good Catholic, He sent them all to several Catholic universities for study. Well, a Protestant sent a strong letter of protest. So Murphy gathered up some rocks, sand and soil from his farm and sent them off to the Protestant university for study. After a year, he finally got a letter back, which stated, "After an intensive in-depth study, there is no doubt that the cow did jump over the moon."
After Mr. Tappauf retired, he would come two or three times a year just for a visit, which I really enjoyed. We would talk about old times and how he got started in this country right from scratch. After a half an hour or so, he would say, "Well I have taken enough of your time." Then he would get out his chequebook and insist on leaving a few thousand dollars in prepayment on their account. I would insist that it was not necessary and that I'd enjoyed his stories and visit. He would say, "I can't take your time without doing a little business with you." So when the boys came in at Christmas to prepay, they would always say, "Well, how much did dad pay to visit with you this year?" I have a lot of respect for Mr. and Mrs. Tappauf and "the boys."
In the mid-1980s, I got a call from Andre Moizard, the manager of Viket Farms at Fort Saskatchewan. He informed me that Viket Farms had acquired 4,000 acres and were looking for a fertilizer supplier. The stipulation was that they required a cold flow tank and wanted it for the spring season. He said, "We don't want it for a few days. Then you move it to someone else and I would have to rebook." He also said he asked the local dealers and they said no. They didn't have enough tanks to do that. My response was, "No problem. How big of a tank would you like and when?" Viket Farms has been a loyal customer for many years.
One day Rene Victoor from Victoor Seed Farm came in to book a fertilizer spreader. His father, Charles, was with him. We booked him #10. Charles asked me if the spreader was clean and if there was any grain in it. I thought, "Of course not," and said, "No, it will be fine." Charles went out and returned with several barley seeds in his hand. I couldn't believe it. How did they get there? Well, we gave them a different one and it was clean. Merelyn checked back on the bookings with #10 and sure enough, a week before it had been booked out to Leonard Bokenfohr, who was known to seed with a spreader and harrow it in. Also, Mr. Victoor was known to be very picky about seed and rightfully so. This was one of my more embarrassing moments.
In the years when Doug was custom spreading, we were usually booked three to five days ahead. One customer had the habit of calling the day he wanted it done. I would tell him he would be at least three days away. His response was always, "I can't wait. I need a miracle. You have to do a miracle." Strangely enough, almost every time, we would have a change in the scheduling and could work it in. There wasn't the same urgency, however, when it came time to pay his bill. I finally called him and said, "We need a miracle." He said, "What do you mean?" I replied, "I need a miracle. Come in and pay your bill." He caught on and we had a good laugh. He also paid his bill.
Hugh Crozier and his wife, Barbara, were the nicest people. Their sons, Lee and Les, have operated Crozier Dairies for several years. In their younger days, they were excellent hockey players. From what I heard, you wouldn't want to play against them, especially Lee. Kent Lamoureux has been their agronomist for many years. A few years ago, Kent told them that they could average 60 bushels of canola per acre if they followed his recommendations. Les said that if that happened, he would kiss Kent's bare butt at the annual Crozier Christmas party. That fall, using the yield number supplied by Les, guess what the
Average was? Exactly 59.6 bushels. Well, I guess close only counts in horseshoes.
In the early '90s, Claude Lamoureux was a potential customer. Kent convinced Claude to let him soil-sample his fields. The results came back saying that the field required potash. Claude was embarrassed to say that he had already bought 50 tonnes of 11-48- 0 from the Pool and it was at home in a bin. So I said, "Just bring your Pool phosphate here and I will put it through our plant and add the required amount of potash. Then you can take it home and put it back in your bin." Claude was surprised and pleased that we would do that for him. He was a loyal customer for over 30 years until he retired.
Not all customer stories are happy. When we lose a customer, it's painful. I still I agonize over it. The main reason is a transition in the decision maker, like when a son takes over his father's farm or there is new farm management or new land renters. Another frustration is to see the millions SVF has invested to service our customers and support our community and then see someone come in with a pickup, a cell phone, and a briefcase to cherry-pick some business. But suck it up, Larry. That's called free enterprise.
It is very gratifying to see the sons of our original customers working with my son Doug, my grandson Cory, or any of our present staff. Building relationships is an ongoing challenge. We are very blessed to have the long-time loyalty of many, many good customers, and we are truly thankful. John Wills has been a loyal customer from day one. One day we loaded his three-ton truck with fertilizer. I came to the driver's door to thank him. John was standing by the door, holding on to the tarp strap. Doreen, his high-energy wife, started on the passenger side, hooking the tarp straps to the box. She came all the way around the box, gently took the
tarp strap out of John's hand, hooked it to the box, and said, "OK, John. Let's go.' A great couple.
In the early 1990s, Kent Lamoureux had a pheasant farm. You could buy one or two pheasants and Kent would release them so you and your bird dog could go out and try to find
them. SVF decided to buy about 250 pheasants, have them processed and give them to customers for Christmas. So we divided up the customers, and our whole staff went out to deliver them personally. I also went and I got home about 7 p.m. No one was home and my suit was on the bed. I thought, “Am I supposed to be somewhere?" Then the phone rang. It was Doug calling from the Mayfield. "We have all been worried about you,” he said. "It's your staff Christmas Party tonight!" I got there 10 minutes before they closed the buffet.
When the metric system was introduced, it caused a lot of confusion for mixing chemicals in field sprayers. Customers wondered how many litres to put in the tank, so we sent them away with a little recipe to suit their tank. One day I got a call from Peter Magera, who was very upset and confused. He told me that after I gave him his recipe, he went to town to buy a yardstick, and the only ones they had were 39 inches. He said, "I was so mad when I got home that I cut three inches off the end. Now I have a yardstick."