I needed grass seed and lots of it. I called a few local farmers and all referred me to Wight and Patterson in Canton, NY. The farm supply outlet was founded in 1927 and the showroom still hosts some of the dust from the grand opening. This is real old school, I can imagine the look from the owner when a well meaning employee suggests they apply a fresh coat of paint; this business was built on keeping costs in check and always having products available that the customer needs, farmers don’t need painted showrooms and paint costs money. The mantra has works – for 85 years.
But here’s the kicker, I paid for the seed by swiping my debit card into an iPhone. I consider myself to be technologically aware, I have all of Apple’s latest and greatest and 2 teenagers at home keep me up with what is happening in their electronic world. Travel gets me out and about quite a bit and my interest in small business gets me into retailers across the country – but I have never had the opportunity to use the card swipe gadget – until I bought my grass seed – at the oldest business I may have ever visited.
With 90% of the supplier’s revenue coming from feed you would expect the production facility to be as high tech as the payment method. “Our mixer that we use to put molasses into our feed was made in 1947,” explains Ellie Stripp, a 28 year employee, “and our hammer mill that grinds corn is so old that when we need parts they have to be custom made.” But this gives them an advantage over high tech processing competitors. “Our process is labor intensive but the hands-on approach produces higher quality feed which is consistent,” Ellie explains. And in the world of agri-business any advantage is a big one.
The iPhone debit card processing was added in January of this year when Ellie’s 20 year old son convinced the third generation owner to give it a try. ”Until the early 90?s our cash register had a hand crank,” Ellie recalls, “now we have a fancy register (not too fancy), our invoicing is done with a computer and we accept credit cards, times have really changed.” But the difference at Wight and Patterson is HOW they have gone “high tech” – incredibly low cost. “There are a ton of these integrated systems that download to your general ledger for 20 grand – and wouldn’t that be great, but we need to keep our costs low so we can keep feed quality up and prices low, we just work a few more hours.” A few desktop computers and a Casio register do the trick, the fancy iPhone uses a free app and the card reader from Square Technology costs around $10 with a competitive 2.75% fee per swipe.
Can your business add value to your customers (the key to business growth) by thinking about a technology budget?