Growing up on his family’s farm, Larry Sanders was frustrated when costly fertilizer didn’t do much good.
As an adult he set out to change that.
His Leawood, KS-based SFP LLC has done so well in overcoming fertilizer inefficiencies it now has international clients. On Wednesday, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce recognized its success by naming SFP as its 2011 Small Business of the Year.
The company also received the Mr. K Award at the chamber’s 25th annual award celebration at the Muehlebach Tower. The award is named after the late Ewing Marion Kauffman, founder of Marion Laboratories and former owner of the Kansas City Royals. About 500 people attended the event.
The chamber also recognized its Top 10 Small Businesses of the Year. Criteria for the awards include growth, sustainability, community service and employee relations.
In accepting the award, Sanders said he could hardly believe the company won the top honor, and he praised the other nine businesses for their growth and impact on the community.
Tony Hsieh, entrepreneur and chief executive officer of Zappos.com, was the keynote speaker at the dinner.
Sanders grew up on a beef cattle and hay farm on the Texas-Louisiana border. After earning a doctorate in soil chemistry and plant nutrition, Sanders founded SFP (for specialty fertilizer products) in 1998.
He then spent several years on research and development before launching his first two products: Avail and Nutrisphere-N.
There was no money for marketing so he gave away a lot of product to universities and farmers.
He asserted that they could use less fertilizer and still increase their crop yields by as much as 15 percent, and he said once farmers got the results themselves, sales increased dramatically.
In 2010, SFP’s revenues grew by nearly 22 percent, and the number of employees grew by 24 percent to about 40. Its products are now sold internationally, including in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Zambia, Australia and Peru.
Sanders said Kansas City is emerging from the Midwest as a technological hotbed and offers easy access to farmers, as well as being centrally located for customers across the country. He also wants to increase global food production while preserving the environment, and plans to branch out into nonagricultural applications.
The company offers employees a wide range of benefits including health and dental insurance, profit sharing programs, tuition reimbursement, and health club memberships.
Sanders said he hired the “brightest and the best” and then trusted their instinct and knowledge.
(Source: Kansas City Star | Joyce Smith)