Farm Tender

10 Years in....

To go directly to the Farm Tender site, click here.

By Dwain Duxson.

We started in March 2012, so it's been 10 years in business under the Farm Tender banner and here are some of the observations and learnings I/we have had along the way.

Just a word of warning, we have gone a bit longer than normal with this lead story as all the memories and things started flooding back, and I just had to jot them down.

It was born in 2012, but 3 or 4 years leading up, I was tinkering with different versions of Farm Tender before we came up with the current buying and selling platform.

I remember one of those things being a buying service called "Product Tender", whereby Farmers could list their input requirements (eg, a B-Double load of MAP Fertiliser), the suppliers would quote, and the Farmer would choose the best quote. This didn't work because after a supplier had lost 5 quotes in a row, they said bugger it, too hard.

We talk about pivoting in business. Well, I remember we were at a field day promoting this Product Tender thing when a Farmer came up and said. "Why can't I sell stuff on your site"? Within a few weeks, we added a selling service, and then the business started to get going.

The site used to be called "The Farm Trader", but people were getting confused with "Farm Trader", and that was a domain that was parked (nobody was using it). I remember offering a princely sum of something like $20,000 to buy the domain, but they refused, and I am pretty sure it's still parked to this day.

So we changed our name to Farm Tender, which I never really liked and still don't to this day as it's not a reflection of what we do. But we are way too far down the track to change it now.

For the first couple of years, it was just me, and I used to do a lot of cold calling back in the day. It wasn't until we got the opportunity from a buyer to source 2nd-grade Lentils that we started to get going. There were lots of these Lentils around at the time as people got stuck with them from a couple of seasons previous.

Lentils store well, so people held onto them, hoping a decent price would surface. This buyer we were working with was paying pretty good money for these shitty Lentils, and I think we sold around 10,000 tonnes that year. It got the business going, and I was able to employ my first employee (Sarah).

It's been the sort of business whereby we make some revenue and get a little bit bigger, and it gets busy to a point where we need to add another person. And that's what we have done until this day, reinvested any profits, mainly in people to help the business grow a little bit at a time.

As most of you know, Agriculture is a relationships industry and to succeed, you need to build and maintain relationships and trust. I have always said the website is our shopfront, but it's the people behind that shopfront. That's the guts of the business. Relationships are crucial.

So if you want to have your people build and retain relationships, you have to get the right people (staff). Right now, we have an outstanding lineup of people, and as I look back, that hasn't always been the case. Although I think we have done pretty well with only a couple that wouldn't pass the pub test, and it was a mistake (my mistake) employing them.

We started an optional payment system 2 years ago called the NPS, where we do all the invoicing and chasing for the seller. It's been very successful, and I wish we would have done it earlier so more people would use the NPS because it's been beneficial to both the client and us. We now have customers who only ever use NPS. Such are the advantages.

Our staff collectively would talk to hundreds and possibly close to a thousand Farmers a week, so the information we get down the line from all the different types of Farmers who Farm all over Australia is invaluable. It's like our team has become so aware of what's going with many aspects of the Ag industry. We process a lot of that information and pass it on to our customers so they can use it to their advantage.

All our staff have always worked remote. I worked out early that to get decent people in a speculative start-up business, I needed to offer some form of security. I would have struggled if someone had to relocate, say 500km away, to come and work for us in an office situation. But because they could work from home, it's wasn't such a risky thing for the staff member, so if it didn't work out, then at least they hadn't moved to a new location.

I remember our 3rd employee Matt Henke, the work I had to do to get him to come across from his then role, it took ages, and I had to bend over backwards to get him. He still wasn't convinced he had made the right decisions until a couple of months in.

Now, the work from home thing is a trend, and I know our team loves it and wouldn't have it any other way. So many advantages.

Having a remote team, we had to develop sound systems, so you knew everyone was pulling their weight. After about our third employee we developed daily numbers, whereby we would put, say, a dozen KPIs like sales from each sales person, number of new members, listings, inquiries, unique visitors, invoice values, etc in a spreadsheet. This would be sent to each employee every morning so they could see what happened and compare themselves against others. We still do this today, and every day there are 37 lines of data we record and send to the team before they start.

We use Skype messaging, which keeps us in touch with each other on a daily basis. We have a couple of rules in that everyone has to say good morning, we have a couple of in-house celebratory things whereby if someone reaches a target, they let the team know, and everyone pats them on the back. We also have a 3 pm "what's happening" run around, where everyone writes a couple of paragraphs about what's happened during the day. The rules are non-negotiable, so if you are at work, you have to contribute. People just drift off at the end of the day, and nobody ever has to say they are finishing up. It all works well, and everyone operates as a team.

Being pretty broad and covering a wide range of categories was a move I am now thankful for. Machinery, Trucks, Vehicles, Hay, Grain, Seed, Livestock Equipment, Farm Inputs and Livestock have all been pretty good for us, and without the diversity, I don't think we would have survived. In the drought, we sold a lot of Hay. When the Hay stopped, Farmers became confident again and started buying Machinery and Equipment.

We have built our database of over 57,000 members at a steady rate over the 10 years. It's one of the many things I am grateful for is to have so many members. One of the benefits is that it gives us the opportunity to try new things, and if they don't work, well, then we scrap them. Over the years we have had many projects we have had to scrap, but for all the failures, we have found a few nuggets of gold. A few examples would be DelayPay, Farm Tender Auctions and our Online Store, the PAC. All these started out being funded by our core business but are now able to stand on their own two feet, with all three having huge potential to grow.

The failed ventures don't usually cost us too much as far as dollars are concerned, but the foray into the US trying to replicate the Farm Tender business over there was a costly failure. When I say it was an expensive failure, I am not embarrassed about it, the opposite really. If we hadn't of tried, we would never have known, and the family and I gained so many wonderful life experiences living and trying to set up a business in the US.

As the founder of the business, I have my strengths and weaknesses. Some of the strengths have been that I think we managed our cash flow well. We have always put money aside for things like Tax, Super, dividends, IT, commissions, etc, on a weekly basis which means you get no surprises when those bills come in. I think we have managed our people pretty well, and I think we have all our staff in the exact right spots currently, this has not always been the case, but it's as good as it's ever been right now.

We have been pretty innovative over the years, not afraid to try things. I'm a naturally optimistic person and operate with a pretty clear head, and don't ever get stressed too much. I think that has been a positive for the business.

My weaknesses and there are plenty, but my big two are planning and marketing. I have never been a great planner, most days I wake up and work it out then. We have never done a budget, for example. The second one is we have never really done any marketing. At last count, 68 percent of our new members come from organic Google searches, and 15 percent come from word of mouth. The Google search thing has developed over time, and it stems from having lots of Machinery and Equipment on the site. All these items have a different make and model, and with all the different Machines, there are tens of thousands of make/model combinations.

Farmers are pretty specific with their searches. They know what they want. So if we have an item on the site or have sold one, they usually come up high in the search, and sometimes people will click on us. That's how people find us.

We are currently working on these two business weaknesses mentioned above. We have just appointed an Ag-based business coach to help us with our planning and marketing. So on the planning side, we have a 3 month, 1 year, 3 year and 10 year plan now. We work through the 3 month one and tick things off when completed. This includes budgeting.

For the first time ever, we now have goals set for the business. I will let you in on our 10-year goal. By then, we want to be a $250 million valued company. We might not get there, or we might smash it out of the park. And how we are going to get there, we are not quite sure either. But it's parked there in the back of the brain, and everything we do will be aimed towards that. It's like, set it, then forget it, but work towards it in little increments.

I have no doubt that Farmers, who might be worth on paper say $5, $10, $20, $30 million currently, can get to something like $250 million in value in 10 years time. There are some Farming businesses there now. Ag is exciting.

On the marketing side, we have just employed a digital marketing agency to help us grow our business like never before. Here's hoping. So for the first time ever, we have a marketing budget.

It's been a wonderful 10-year journey, very enjoyable. I wouldn't change too many things. It's always been a one member at a time, one listing at a time, one sale at a time business, and still is to this day. We love the Agriculture industry and are happy participants.

We have been far from perfect, but the intent is there.

There is so much more I could write about, but won't.

So happy 10th birthday to us

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