Margin Call: Raising a glass to dreamers
June 25, 2009 in: Margin Call
If you’re feeling down about the future of American business, may I suggest buying milk.
Trek out to the Shatto Milk Co. country store near Osborn and chug a glass of ice-cold chocolate milk. It will be refreshing on a hot day and the story behind it is pure inspiration in a bottle.
The first time I met Leroy Shatto, I was a new ag reporter at the News-Press. A group of German farmers wanted to see an American dairy, and Leroy gladly opened up his milking barn. At that time, it was a typical Missouri dairy, milking cows twice a day, selling commodity milk at razor-thin margins and bracing for the next drop in prices.
I returned in the summer of 2003 and Leroy was like a man in a daze. He’d done the unthinkable: shut off his commodity milk contract. He stuck his neck out and was bottling milk in a plant at the farm to sell in area grocery stores.
He admitted to being anxious about the results, but within a month’s time the milk was selling like crazy. Leroy put in long hours as he oversaw milking, coordinated bottling, delivered milk to the store, created a marketing campaign and bought additional cows.
Last week, I returned to the little dairy that has been transformed into a tourist destination, where 30,000 people visited last year to watch cows being milked. Leroy delighted in telling the Missouri director of agriculture how he shared his milk with President Bush when Shatto Milk was the runner-up as the best small business of the year.
He’s still a straight-forward dairy farmer, but he’s enjoying things more these days as the business has proven its success and more workers have been hired to help with chores.
Now, Leroy has an itch to expand into cheese production.
It’s inspiring, the vision of one businessman. It’s the destiny embraced by entrepreneurs willing to take risks when so many voices tell them to play it safe and settle for a guaranteed paycheck.
Sam Walton started a dime store in Arkansas that grew into the world’s largest retailer. Wal-Mart is now focused on reaching out to more shoppers. The store’s recent move to clear out the center aisles is the best decision Wal-Mart has made in a long time.
Even now, the next great American employer could be working in his garage or her home office or the Science and Technology Incubator at Missouri Western. Independent business owners add to the community because they provide local leadership, sponsor sports teams and invest in their town.
They motivate the rest of us to take a chance on our dreams. And they make great milk.