Ritter Crop Services: At Home In Kansas

Ranco blenderIn most cases, ag retailers follow a predetermined path when growing their businesses. In a few instances, however, the road not taken is the one that leads to market prominence. Such is the case at Ritter Crop Services, headquartered in Marked Tree, AR.

ack in 2000, says General Manager Dan Kennedy, a sale of the retail operations was being considered. But, after two years of searching and finding no suitable buyers, company owner E. Ritter & Co. reconsidered its decision. Instead, E. Ritter doubled its commitment to ag retail and began an upgrade and expansion of the operations that continues to this day.

“When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that a company would go from shopping a part of its business to making it a priority for growth and commitment going forward,” says Kennedy. “But then again, when you look at how long Ritter as a corporate entity has been committing resources, money, and people to our local area, it isn’t that much of a surprise.”

A Century In The Making

To appreciate this level of commitment to its home base, it’s helpful to look back at the 118-year history of Ritter’s ownership group. What is now Ritter Crop Services began as a mercantile business in 1889 started by founder Ernest Ritter. At the time, the senior Ritter also ran a railroad telegraph operation.

For the next few decades, Ernest Rit­ter started different companies in and around the Marked Tree area. Before he passed away in 1921, he had built a mini business empire in the town, running a trio of sawmills, founding the local telephone company, and building a cotton gin. Today, many of these businesses remain important segments of the E. Ritter family of companies. Other companies in the portfolio include Ritter Grain Services Co. and Ritter Oil Co., which sells bulk petroleum and lubricants.

Throughout his years, says Kennedy, the senior Ritter never passed up an opportunity to help his community grow and prosper. “Besides starting the telephone company so people in the area could communicate with their loved ones in other cities and states, Ernest also founded a water works and electric company,” he says. “He was always looking for ways to help the area. In fact, part of E. Ritter Co.’s mission statement talks about ‘strengthening our communities,’ and the company has always operated with this as a guiding force.”

From its mercantile roots, the first ag retail outlet gradually shifted its focus from selling all consumer goods and some farm materials to strictly providing crop inputs. At the beginning of the 21st century, Ritter Crop Services still maintained its one location in northeastern Arkansas, with overall crop input sales split into nearly equal percentages for fertilizer, crop protection products, and seed. The outlet also did some custom application work for the cotton and soybean growers in the area. The retail operation was run in conjunction with Ritter’s grain elevator business, sharing some employees and resources along the way.
“Because it wasn’t as profitable as grain, Ritter considered selling off the retail side of the ag business from 2000 to 2002,” says Kennedy. “But since the company couldn’t find a buyer, the decision was made to keep it and significantly expand this side of the business.”

New Facilities, New Acquisitions

As part of this new investment, Kennedy joined Ritter Crop Services at its Marked Tree facility. A new, more modern-equipped Marked Tree outlet was opened shortly thereafter, he adds, along with four more satellite locations throughout northeastern Arkansas between 2002 and 2006. This brought the total number of company facilities to five.

But Ritter’s owners realized this initial expansion would only go so far in securing the company’s market presence. “In 2005, the company conducted a strategic planning session to determine where it wanted the retail operation to be in five years,” says Kennedy. “The two things that were obvious to everyone were that, one, Ritter needed more critical mass and, two, a deeper grower-customer base, if it wanted to survive and grow.”

As fate would have it, Ritter was in luck in obtaining both market objectives. Early in 2006, Lawhon Farm Services — a six-outlet independent dealership located in nearby McCrory, AR — was considering a sale of its retail assets. According to industry rumors, Lawhon’s owners had decided to focus their attention and resources on the company’s existing seed business and on building up its fledgling ethanol plant group. Its retail group was the odd division out.

Of course, says Kennedy, Ritter Crop Services saw the picture in a completely different light. “This was a perfect fit for what our owners wanted Ritter Crop Services to become,” he says. “Lawhon had some well-established outlets in our section of Arkansas with dozens of loyal customers. The employee base at Lawhon also was top notch. It’s easy to add buildings to your operations if you want to, but you can’t always find people with the kind of hands-on, industry knowledge that worked for Lawhon. All around, this couldn’t have been a better opportunity for us to grow.”

Grow, indeed. When the deal was completed in the summer of 2006, Ritter Crop Services had more than doubled its size — from 5 outlets to 11, from 30 employees to 75. This added critical mass was sufficient enough to place Ritter on CropLife® magazine’s annual CropLife 100 listing in 2006 for the first time ever, landing the company at No. 40.

Despite its more impressive size, however, Kennedy emphasizes that Ritter Crop Services remains true to its background. “Being a small independent, we can move — and move more quickly — than larger retail operations,” he says. “We’ve been at this business for almost 120 years. We know our customers and they know us.”

In this spirit, he adds, the company has no plans to expand beyond its traditional northeastern Arkansas territory.

“We are not another UAP (United Agri Products), and we never will be,” says Kennedy. “Even with our strategy to grow the company during the next 20 or 30 years, our expansion plans don’t extend beyond a northeastern Arkansas focus. This is our comfort zone. These are the people Ernest Ritter was trying to help when the company got its start more than a century ago. Why should we change that approach now?”

Leave a Reply

CropLife 100 Stories
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Acquires Lemon Ag Services
August 4, 2014
The acquisition of Lemon Ag fits BRANDT’s aggressive corporate strategy of providing superior agronomic advice and services for customers in central Illinois. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis To Relocate Agribusiness Division To Denver
July 16, 2014
The move Eastward will allow Wilbur-Ellis’ Agribusiness Division to be more accessible to relevant geographies and is expected to enhance communication and collaboration among the division’s nearly 3,000 employees. Read More
CropLife 100CHS To Acquire Illinois River Energy Ethanol Plant
May 1, 2014
CHS has signed an agreement with Sinav Ltd. to acquire 100% of the company's stock, which includes Illinois River Energy, a 133-million-gallon-per-year ethanol plant at Rochelle, IL. Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100CHS Partners With Northern Partners Coop On Fertilizer Warehouse
January 21, 2015
In addition, the two companies will form a joint venture to build and operate a grain barge loading facility that will handle corn, soybeans and wheat for export through the CHS terminal at Myrtle Grove, LA. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Move To Colorado Complete
January 20, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co. announces the opening of its new Agribusiness Division location in the Denver, CO, Metro Area. The new facility will host key personnel as the company shifts the base of its Agribusiness operations from California to Colorado. Read More
CropLife 100United Suppliers, McGregor Co., Five Others To Form Aligned Ag Distributors
January 20, 2015
These companies will continue to operate as independently owned and operated businesses, however, their crop protection divisions will now be formally aligned under the umbrella of Aligned Ag Distributors. Read More
CropLife 100Bozeman Named SEEDWAY Chief Operating Officer
January 16, 2015
He succeeds Donald Wertman, who will retire at the end of August 2015 after 40 years with the GROWMARK subsidiary. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis’ Craig Bair Honored For Safety Contributions To Ag Aviation
January 14, 2015
The William O. Marsh Safety Award recognizes significant achievements in safety, safety education or an outstanding operational safety program. Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Gearing Up For Another NASCAR Season
January 13, 2015
BRANDT will return for its fifth year as a primary sponsor of the No. 51 driven by Justin Allgaier in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Read More
Latest News
ManagementRetail Collaboration, Communicating Agriculture’s Good …
January 23, 2015
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfliligoj discuss the recent creation of Aligned Ag Distributors, and the US Farmers and Ranchers Read More
FertilizerOSU Expert: Toledo Water Crisis A Turning Point For Ohi…
January 23, 2015
The August 2014 water crisis in Toledo, OH, impacted Ohioans’ views of Lake Erie algae problems by increasing the attribution of blame of algae growth on agriculture. Read More
FertilizerH.J. Baker Launching TIGER XP
January 22, 2015
Tiger-Sul introduces this next generation sulphur-bentonite product with a proprietary activator – ensuring farmers have a well-balanced nutrient replacement program. Read More
Crop InputsH.J. Baker Expands China Sales Force
January 21, 2015
Global Agricultural firm H.J. Baker announced that sales veteran Shi Dongshen has joined their Shanghai office in China. This newest hire follows the recent opening of their Lianyungang Sulphur Bentonite Plant. Read More
CropLife 100CHS Partners With Northern Partners Coop On Fertilizer …
January 21, 2015
In addition, the two companies will form a joint venture to build and operate a grain barge loading facility that will handle corn, soybeans and wheat for export through the CHS terminal at Myrtle Grove, LA. Read More
Matt Hopkins5 Bold Predictions For Ag Retail In 2015
January 21, 2015
This past year was filled with ups and downs for the nation’s top ag retailers, but what will 2015 have in store? Read More
SoftwareDeere Launches App Center
January 20, 2015
The John Deere App Center provides users the ability to search and find apps most useful to their business or operations. Read More
Crop InputsNew Syngenta Herbicide Approved In Soybeans, Sunflowers
January 20, 2015
Syngenta will sell BroadAxe XC herbicide in 2015 for use on soybeans, sunflowers and dry peas Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Move To Colorado Complete
January 20, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co. announces the opening of its new Agribusiness Division location in the Denver, CO, Metro Area. The new facility will host key personnel as the company shifts the base of its Agribusiness operations from California to Colorado. Read More
Crop InputsNovozymes Sales Figures Up For 2014
January 20, 2015
Novozymes announces its sales growth in 2014 was in line with expectations as sales grew by 7% compared with 2013. Read More
CropLife 100United Suppliers, McGregor Co., Five Others To Form Ali…
January 20, 2015
These companies will continue to operate as independently owned and operated businesses, however, their crop protection divisions will now be formally aligned under the umbrella of Aligned Ag Distributors. Read More
Eric SfiligojGMO Or DNA? LOL Or WTF?
January 19, 2015
A new survey finds the American public seems generally confused when it comes to any three-letter descriptor for their food. Read More
FertilizerAGROTAIN Wins No-Till Product Of The Year Again
January 19, 2015
This marks the 10th straight year AGROTAIN nitrogen stabilizer has been named the top product in this category; no other product has matched this honor Read More
FertilizerTFI President To Give Update On Nutrient Management Eff…
January 19, 2015
The Fertilizer Institute President Chris Jahn will give the keynote address at the 2015 Ohio AgriBusiness Association Industry Conference February 4. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnderstanding The Role Of Seed Enhancers In Seed Treame…
January 17, 2015
Seed enhancers such as polymer play a key part in helping to improve germination, seed growth or accuracy of planting. Read More
Crop InputsUSDA Signs Off On Dicamba-Tolerant Trait In Cotton, Soy…
January 16, 2015
A registration decision by EPA for BASF's Engenia herbicide is anticipated to follow the dicamba-tolerant trait deregulation milestone. Read More
CropLife 100Bozeman Named SEEDWAY Chief Operating Officer
January 16, 2015
He succeeds Donald Wertman, who will retire at the end of August 2015 after 40 years with the GROWMARK subsidiary. Read More
Crop InputsDan Clinker Joins Monty’s Sales Team
January 16, 2015
Monty's Plant Food Co. has hired Dan Clinker as a Product Consultant and Sales Support Representative for the Central Ohio region. Read More