“The customer rules” is a really neat slogan. But, for most cattlemen, the mantra is usually “production rules.” It’s the curse of a commodity system that the customer’s role in our business tends to be very minimal. Yes, it affects overall demand, which drives profitability, but people are right in assuming that individually they can do little to affect demand. After all, if there are roughly 1,600 feedlots that will end up buying 80% of my cattle, I can burn 1,599 of them before I’m facing critical issue in marketing my calves; and that’s if the 1,599 all kept good enough records to know who was to blame.
Most everyone is keeping vaccination and calving records this time of year, but this is the time when cattlemen should be contacting the last 10 purchasers of their product to see how they performed for them. Find out if the cattle grew, how they converted, how they killed, whether they had mortality problems, high morbidity. etc.
I’m a big fan of hiring experts, because we have too many hats to wear to do everything right. But customer feedback is often far less expensive than consultants, and the results are often far more compelling.
We tend not to think of things in this way, but our fellow cow-calf producers are, in essence, strategizing how to take advantage of whatever vulnerabilities or failings we might have. Customers can provide great insights as to whether our genetic, nutrition, herd health, and marketing programs are actually working.
Hopefully, you’ll hear glowing reports, but it’s the criticisms that will allow you to improve. Even if someone gives you a glowing report, take the time to find out about any possible problem and let them know it will be rectified.
You might be able to burn most of your customers and still survive in the cow-calf business, but premiums are largely built by having the last two customers ecstatic about the product and aware that they are available again. Praise is great, but criticism makes your product better and increases marketing opportunities.
If you don’t know of at least three problems that your buyers experienced last year, you are likely counting on two new bidders this year.