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By Staff | Aug 28, 2009

Everyone enjoys a story with a happy ending, especially when the hero has to beat overwhelming odds that are not in his favor. This is one of those stories about a long shot and the ending, while not yet completed, looks to be a happy one.

If you were to drive by the local co-op at my hometown, you would see a good-sized construction project taking place. Two new storage bins totaling 700,000 bushels are going up and footings are being poured for a new grain drier. When completed, there will be two new grain legs also built, ready for this fall’s harvest. It is a $2.5 million project. Future plans are for a third storage bin.

However, there is more to this story than what you see in the new grain handling facilities. At a time when most of our decisions are made strictly around the dollar, this is about a time when customer loyalty was given a higher value than the dollar.

In the late 1970s my local elevator was doing nicely and appeared to have a secure future. However, the elevator manager made several bad grain trades and in a panic situation, made bad trades on bad trades. In a matter of weeks, he brought the elevator to insolvency. To save the elevator, patrons bought a new stock called class C that bordered on being a gift to the elevator to keep it going.

The elevator entered the 1980s in a crippled position and never completely recovered. In the 1990s, it merged with another area cooperative of several nearby locations. It continued to be neglected and the facilities were slowly deteriorating. This new co-op was having troubles of its own until it was liquidated several years ago.

The co-op was divided among new owners and my local elevator became part of a much bigger area cooperative. It was definitely the runt of the litter. This is the part of the story where it looks like all hope is lost. The end is near.

A small elevator with an ethanol plant operating within a mile had no reason to expect that it would exist or succeed. The new owners were advised by their accountant to shut the place.

If this were a card game, it would be time to fold and walk away. But my local elevator still was holding one ace. That ace was customer loyalty.

The new owners recognized that this one small, slightly shabby elevator had a group of customers that were determined to do business with it until they could not. The new owners took a calculated risk, a gamble of $2.5 million they felt would pay them back over time.

A few months ago, a meeting was held to announce the improvements that were to be done by this fall. As one of those stubbornly loyal customers, I will be more than happy to make sure they have my business in appreciation for their financial commitment.

Seeing all the new construction at my local elevator is like placing a bet on a 50 to 1 long shot and watching it come in first.

Any good story usually has a moral than can be made and a lesson learned. The phrase “use it or lose it” comes to mind. Having faith when there was not a reason to have faith and not doing business with another elevator or supplier somewhere else has benefited both my hometown elevator and us patrons with rewards for the future.

If we believe in a business, then it is important to patronize it. Any business offering superior products with quality service deserves to be rewarded with the encouragement of continued patronage. In the marketplace, we vote with our feet and with our dollars.

Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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