Great Expectations, Innovation and Loyalty – What A Week

I thought my expectations heading to the Ploughing Championships last week were quite normal. I knew I would have a busy morning with two interviews, followed by going to the “Women in Ag” panel in the Irish Independent tent. After that, my only “must sees” were to see some ploughing, watch the sheepdog trials, and visit some engineering stands to suss out their calf gates to create calf pens in a shed. I reckoned visiting 4 or 5 engineering stands would be done and dusted within an hour and I’d get prices, suggestions for what would work best, and some leaflets or booklets to bring home with me. As you can see, I’d done my homework and knew where the relevant stands were to be found!

Ploughing ChampionshipsHmmm, after a while, I discovered that these “normal” expectations were in fact way too high. You see, even though a company shells out a lot of money for a stand at this event, they don’t seem to comprehend that staff need training in order to get sales. To me, a “normal” salesperson should be able to read a person’s body language to gauge if they are a time-waster or genuinely interested in their product. If busy with another customer and see someone waiting, they should be able to send some signal that they’ll be with them in a few minutes. For example, if going to get a brochure for existing person, just walk past and acknowledge their presence, saying they’ll be with them shortly. It’s not rocket science.

Stand 1: Bo Steel 

The first salesman I spoke to didn’t have all the answers but got his brother who seemed to be the boss. Attentive, knew his stuff. Job done. I went away happy. If this had been the fifth stand I’d visited, I’d have thought it was superhuman.

Stand 2: Condon Engineering

People were helping themselves to huge platters of sandwiches. Were they customers and staff or just staff? It was hard to tell. I stood there for a minute looking at a brochure. I was getting vibes that I was going to be ignored so decided to test them by waiting. Eventually, after a young sales woman had walked past me three times, I asked her about calf gates and she pointed to a rack where various samples were enclosed. No offer to show me what was what. I had a quick look and walked away.

Stand 3: O’Donovan Engineering

Posters showing calf gates suggested they had a good selection but again, sales people wandering around. I’d have needed a neon sign for them to spot me. Was it because I was a woman? Asking Brian later, he didn’t think so as he remembered going to look at milk tanks a few years ago and was treated the very same. The sale went to a good sales person who made eye contact with him the second he walked onto the stand and was straight up to him to ask if he could help.

Stand 4: Teemore Engineering

Ah, these need a special mention. I wanted to speak to these “salespeople” as we purchased 2 calf hutches and gates off them in the spring and I wasn’t happy that the gates were provided without instructions. After waiting for ten minutes while sales people ate sandwiches and chatted on phones, I had to call out to a guy as he glanced at me and then walked away! His reaction to my complaint about the lack of instructions was “well, sure, you were probably fine after you had made the first one”. I kid you not. On questioning him about how many calves he’d recommend putting in their hutches, he replied “six”. I told him six were fine for up to four weeks but not till weaning. He then questioned if I bedded them and swept them out daily (Yes!) and said some farmers put seven and eight in them. Needless to say, by the time I got to ask him about calf gates he’d had enough of me, pointed out a basic gate and told me that was all they had.

Stand 5: Buffalo Engineering

I passed by this one on the way to the shuttle bus so didn’t have much time. I went straight up to the salesguy in his little rain shelter office. First of all, he misheard me and pointed out sheep hurdles when I asked for calf gates. Then he pointed to a single gate and said that was it.

I know that not everyone is a good sales person. I know that standing around selling at the Ploughing is like hell on earth for some people. But this was the first day of the show. The weather was good. It was busy but not overly so. Goodness knows what they were like by the Thursday evening especially after all the mud and rain on Wednesday. It’s not good enough when farmers are giving up time and money to go to an event with the main aim of sussing out a particular product.

Turns out my “normal” expectations for some reasonable sales techniques were way too great! No prizes for guessing who will be getting our order.

What about loyalty and innovation?

We supply Glanbia with our milk. They are trying to reinvent themselves somewhat as a caring co-op. A co-operative is defined as a farm, business, or other organization which is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits. Glanbia recently launched a scheme they have described as “high profile” and “innovative”. Is it?

Part of it is similar to previous schemes. They have run “fixed milk price” schemes before. The farmer decides whether to sign up a percentage of future milk supply at a defined price. We have signed up for them, about 40% of our milk is currently in about five fixed milk price schemes, it’s all about trying to reduce the uncertainty. Some years we win, some we lose. Their new scheme has a fixed milk price of 31 cent per litre for 5 years. Quite a long time when you think that inputs are going to be more expensive in 5 years time.

The other part of the scheme is what we have a problem with. They are “asking” farmers to also sign up to buy all of their feed from Glanbia for the 5 years and then avail of a €30 per ton rebate.

Initially farmers had to sign up for the 5 years but have now permitted a get out clause after 2 years (obviously due to feedback that this is a shite scheme but too stubborn to admit they got it wrong).  They will be determining how much each farmer should be buying and checking to ensure they are buying all their feed from Glanbia. This is the part that supposed to be innovative. Is it? Hmmm, well, the supermarkets have been using “loyalty” cards for years, shoppers getting points in return for shopping which they can then convert into money off or other benefits. All kinds of shops have loyalty cards now.

Why haven’t Tescos, Dunnes and Supervalu insisted that their shoppers buy only from them?

Because it’s ridiculous. They aren’t stupid. They use the carrot of giving more benefits the more that is spent. I rarely shop in Dunnes Stores, probably twice a year and I don’t possess its loyalty card. When handed my receipt, I’m reminded that if I spend over a certain amount on my next shop within two weeks, I get €10 off. I’m usually left feeling a bit bereft as I know I won’t be back and that €10 is probably already built in to the €200 I’ve just spent. Imagine a supermarket telling its shoppers that they have worked out how much their family spends on groceries in a year and they have to sign up to buy just from them. No, they know to use the carrot, not the bullet to the head.

The reason Glanbia’s idea is innovative is because it’s plain stupid. No other business would be so daft (or at least, I hope not but if it is, then Glanbia’s idea isn’t innovative!). Hee’s 7 reasons why:

  1. Farmers will buy from them anyway if the price and product is good, and particularly if better than their competitors. Some will buy if equal to the competition. Treat farmers like they are valued members and they’ll probably respond well without the need for the bullet to the head.
  2. They haven’t worked out why farmers buy from their competitors. It is probably as simple as their competitors having better and nicer salespeople.
  3. You can’t buy loyalty, you earn it. Loyalty works both ways. That concept seems to have gone over their heads. Quoted from today’s Farming Independent “Mr. Molloy said they wanted to encourage all of their members to be “loyal” to the organisation with 60pc of the business being owned by farmers”. Their unfortunate use of language signifies their opinion that if you don’t sign up, you are not loyal.
  4. Saying to a farmer “isn’t this a good step that Glanbia is rewarding loyal farmers” is not sensible (indeed, it was both brave and stupid). It suggests that those farmers who milk their cows 300 days a year, 7 days a week, who provide high quality milk, complete Bord Bia audits and everything else demanded of them, aren’t loyal. There’s no quicker way to get a farmer’s ire up.
  5. Farmers are self-employed. They are independent thinkers. There is enough red tape with cross compliance and audits. The fact their co-op is making such demands is going to get some backs up.
  6. A co-op, 60% owned by farmers, should be giving farmers the best price possible. We’re members of Buyrite (member group, not a co-op)and spend a lot with them every month. Good prices with efficient delivery. They don’t insist on us buying everything with them. If we can get the price better elsewhere, there’s no problem. Funnily enough, their prices are usually better than Glanbia’s.
  7. Farmers have enough stress – TB tests, bad weather, illness in animals perhaps, without their co-op annoying the hell out of them when they are working long hours. Go and market our milk, Glanbia, create something more inspiring than cheddar cheese for our post-Brexit future. That’s your job. Stop being a pain in the rear end.

 

This situation makes me think of Father Ted. Can you just imagine Fr Ted saying something like “we won’t call them members any more, we’ll make sure they are loyal by getting them to sign up for 5 years, hmmmm, what will we call them now?”.

What did all those Dougals in the boardroom probably say?

Brian’s suggestion is something like “Careful now, Ted, ah, sure we can all be loyalists now”. Yes, his opinion is that low of these “boardroom experts”.

It also makes me think of Animal Farm. Yes, another occasion when an organisation “by farmers, for farmers” is turning into “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which”.

Oh, and the reason this scheme is high-profile. It’s just because it’s so atrocious that it’s been getting some press in the farming media.

I feel angry, disappointed, disillusioned and saddened by this. My father supplied Glanbia for most of his working life. Brian and I have been supplying them for 15 years. When I was a kid, there was a pride in the house in buying Avonmore products and seeing them on the supermarket shelves. Yet, I, someone who is enthusiastic about farming, passionate about getting more women involved in agriculture, can nearly always see the silver lining in the direst of situations, I’m left feeling that we’re being treated like the shit that Glanbia board members are scraping off their shoes.

Glanbia staff and board members need to replace those placards in their building that say “Because I’m worth it” with something like “For farmers, by farmers”. Me? I will continue chanting the mantra “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”.

I’m curious to know what others think. If you’re in favour of Glanbia’s “loyalty” scheme, I’m open to hearing why. If you have any suggestions for “Dougal” lines, I’d love to hear them! The silver lining is that perhaps we can have a good laugh out of this. I can’t think of any other one.

8 thoughts on “Great Expectations, Innovation and Loyalty – What A Week

  • Naomi Lavelle

    That is literally jaw dropping. Firstly on the appalling sales techniques, actually, you really couldn’t call that sales. These are the people that those companies are putting as the front line of their businesses.

    Then the co-op situation. That was a great comparison you made, supermarkets know how to provide and reward, the ‘co-op’ obviously doesn’t! I’m genuinely shocked by what you report here. I would only hope that those involved read this and show enough good sense to act and fix!
    Naomi Lavelle recently posted…The science of music and mind and what I think of Neil DiamondMy Profile

    Reply
    • Lorna Post author

      Thanks Naomi, it is ridiculous isn’t it? I couldn’t believe it when the Teemore guy walked away from me. It’s a real pity the co-op doesn’t realise that it’s 4000 suppliers are actually loyal. I went through their annual report and latest newsletter (latter about 8 pages) with a fine toothcomb and didn’t find one word that acknowledged the work by farmers in producing high quality milk. They don’t seem to realise that without dairy farmers, they wouldn’t have a business.

      Reply
  • Agatha McGee

    Lorna, couldn’t agree more on both your gripes. The trade stands at the ploughing, they seem to be more of a day (days) out for the salesmen/women (few enough women in the agri world), we’ve encountered the same lack of interest and yes definitely some of it is because the males still look at the “little woman” waiting and make a decision based on that, sure what would she know. Like you I’ve spent years battling through the nonsense, sometimes even winning! Sometimes I feel it’s as well that I enjoy the battle!

    Regarding co-ops, my opinion is now that they are a bunch of top heavy plc wannabes! They have long forgotten the meaning of co-operative movement, Horace Plunkett must be turning in his grave! In my opinion the co-ops by giving Chairmen and board members hefty “allowances”, they have now managed to make many of them forget who they are in fact representing. I always thought that a board was there to give instruction and not take instruction from management. My Dad always said that if the product and service are excellent, it will sell itself. We, for the last 30 years on this farm have purchased 90+% of our feed requirements from one milling company, Smyths Daleside. The service is second to none, if there is ever a problem it is dealt with quickly and advice is always given readily. They, though, concentrate on what they are good at i.e. feedstuffs and now cover a huge area both north and south. Our Co-ops might be best to concentrate on what put them in place in the first instant, i.e. MILK and spend the resources they have in getting markets for it!

    I might add in one other organisation too, Teagasc, who very kindly every year have released the results of their profit monitor (not from every farmer), to the media, showing the supermarkets etc how well the farmer is doing, despite the farmer not actually being allocated a living wage! What other group has this done to them? There is too much invested in these “joint programs” with the co-ops, where information from our businesses is made readily available to them.

    Now look what you started!!!! Weather appalling here, cows in at night for the last 10 days, autumn calving starting in 2 weeks and no sign of a liquid milk price being set yet by our “co-op” for the winter!

    Reply
    • Lorna Post author

      Thanks for your comment Agatha. I was wondering if the poor sales techniques were due to me being female but Brian was treated exactly the same a couple of years ago. Following conversations on Twitter about it, a lot of farmers are in agreement that the bigger Irish companies get, the worse the customer service. UK companies seem to have it sussed though. In Ireland, if the owner isn’t on the ground there on the stand, customers can forget about it I think.

      I had a long chat with a Glanbia employee a while ago, a feed salesman, telling him that they were losing out on about €60K from us per annum. Like you, I’d prefer to see Glanbia doing the job they are supposed to do, such as working out what to do with all the milk that goes into cheddar cheese because who is going to buy it post-Brexit?

      I hear you the profit monitors, I don’t think they are accurate at all tbh. Does drive me mad though that if a farmer is doing well finanically, he/she is nearly regarded as a blackguard who is living in the land of milk and honey, and if not making a living wage, then they are viewed as being useless.

      Best of luck with your autumn calving. We let cows out last night but keeping just over half in tonight. The reason the other half are going out is just because the bullocks are in the new shed (which is cow housing) so I think we’ll be moving them tomorrow – need to sort out the housing for them. Normally we’d have at least another month before having to do these winter jobs. So much for autumn being the “easy” time of year.

      Reply
    • Edmond phelan

      I suppose if we were getting 85 know like glanbia directors we might toe the party line too. I’d like to think I would be different but they all seem to change

      Reply
      • Lorna Post author

        Is that how much they get? To be honest, I think these guys hire/recruit people who are just like them therefore there’s no change in thinking.

        Reply
  • abbie

    Co-ops are no longer co-ops farmers on the board just do as they are told. Farmers need to take back control of their co-ops before its too late. How I don’t know but something has to be done. The bigger the co-op the bigger monster it becomes I think.

    Reply
    • Lorna Post author

      Thanks Abbie, I think you can take the co-op out of the plc but you can’t take the plc out of the co-op board members!

      Reply

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