Woolsey Bros.: No Stopping Us Now

Owner's son Ron, left, and longtime facility manager Randy Goodman.
Owner’s son Ron, left, and longtime facility manager Randy Goodman.

Being one of the few remaining independent, family-owned retailers in its area, Woolsey Bros. Farm Supply (No. 98 on the 2011 CropLife 100), Vandalia, IL, is faced with some formidable challenges going forward as they draw near 60 years in business.

The business opened its doors in 1954 as a partnership between current Owner Herb Woolsey, fresh off a stint in the U.S. Army, and his late brother Gerald. It began as a Honnegger’s, a poultry and feed dealer that once operated in south-central Illinois, before becoming one of the area’s most-trusted ag retailers by 1958. These days, Woolsey derives the majority of its business from liquid fertilizer sales and services such as custom application. What began with a “very used applicator truck with 30-foot booms” has now expanded into a fleet of 14 applicators with booms as long as 90 feet.

The company also vends crop protection products, mainly glyphosate, as well as seed while also maintaining a healthy grain business, which is managed by Herb’s son, Ron Woolsey.

“Between all of the new technology that’s out there, and the EPA and different Department of Ag laws, it’s almost impossible to do the small family business like we’re doing now,” says Randy Goodman, facility manager. “Nowadays, we’ve got to wear a lot more hats, and that makes it harder to keep up with every single aspect of the business when the busy times hit.”

As you process that quote, be sure to emphasize the word “almost,” as Woolsey is more than holding its own against some of the larger retail outfits in their area such as FS Seed Inc. (with a branch directly across the street) and Crop Protection Services, Inc.

Despite a brutal growing season in which spray applications overall in the area were down due to the drought, this past season still saw the company spray over 200,000 acres and reach a peak of 70 full-time employees during the spring planting season. All as the number of small family farms, traditionally its bread-and-butter client, continues to shrink and the global inputs market becomes increasingly more diversified and competitive.

Changes Bring Challenges

Now with 33 years under his belt at Woolsey, one can be sure Goodman has witnessed quite a few changes in the market.

“We were the first ones to do Roundup in this part of the world, so we used to just assume when we went to spray a bean field that it’s Roundup-Ready,” says Goodman. “Now, you’ve got to remember ‘no, it’s not.’ You’ve got the Roundup-Ready, but you’ve also got the conventional and the LibertyLink beans.

“It used to be there were only a handful of chemicals out there,” he continues. “Herb told me that when he first started we had Bicep, Prowl, atrazine and Princep, and those were the major hitters. That’s what everybody used. Now, there are so many generics coming into play. You’ve got the name brand players and then you’ve got the generics, which are cheaper.

“From a retail standpoint, we’ve got to adapt to that and figure out how we can still do name brand and stick with our suppliers while competing with the generic market. But if we find we can’t compete with the market, then we’ve got to do what’s best for our customers.”

Many other aspects of Woolsey’s day-to-day operations have changed as well, such as how customers are served. Before, according to Goodman, many of the company’s grower-clients relied solely on Herb.

“When I started here, I was very surprised at how many customers personally relied on Herb for all of their needs,” says Goodman. “I mean, the whole nine yards — seed, fertilizer, the insecticide — everything. I’d ask a customer ‘What are you putting on?,’ and they’d say ‘I don’t know, ask Herb.’”

While it may be more difficult to pull off these days, that old school, family approach is a large reason Goodman believes the company remains competitive. “Customer confidence is big for us. You’ve got to have that trust,” he says when asked what he believes sets Woolsey apart. “Herb still does a big customer appreciation dinner every year, where all of our customers are invited. I’m not sure a lot of companies still go to that expense with the economy the way it is.”

Still, most of the time it comes down to the bottom line: What price is the grower paying, and how is Woolsey Brothers going to help improve the customer’s profitability.

“In my opinion we try our best to compete price-wise with the big people,” says Goodman. “On the other side of that, I’ve had people say that they’ll pay Woolsey’s just a little bit more because they know that we’re going to do what we say. Herb is a military guy, as is Ron, and he’s very, very adamant about punctuality. If we tell a guy we’re going to be there at a certain time, we’ll be there.”

Tracking Product Changes

Another challenge for a localized retailer like Woolsey is keeping up with all the changes in product chemistries. Whereas in years past a quart of atrazine, for example, would prove sufficient, now the same results can be had by applying a mere fraction of that quart. It may save the grower money and is better for the environment in the long run, but in the end the retailer loses out on potential revenue that must be gained back elsewhere.

“Now you’re applying a tenth of an ounce or less, where before the same job called for a quart,” says Goodman. “The technology is just unbelievable and it’s only going to get more intensive.”

Making matters even worse for any retailer is the exploding cost of doing business, with fuel prices and other overhead costs at an all-time high.

“For example, normally with our nitrogen we have to purchase in June to lock in our best price, but in the past couple years the best price hasn’t been then, it’s been later,” says Goodman. “So then we’re stuck with a high priced commodity and we’re going to take a hit. I guess that’s one of the hardest things for a retailer our size — trying to be as fair as we can to the customer while also protecting our profit margins. Sometimes, you’ve got no choice but to cut into those margins out of compassion.”

It’s that compassion for customers, coupled with a family feel and knowledgeable, trusted employees that currently sets Woolsey Bros. apart from the its competition — and likely will continue to do so for another half century.

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 100Map: Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings Acquisitions In 2014
May 29, 2014
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings continues to expand its agricultural retail distribution business through these key acquisitions in 2014. Read More

Trending Articles

Matt Hopkins15 Best New Agriculture Apps Worth Downloading In 2014
December 16, 2013
These latest agriculture apps are sure to help ag professionals do their jobs more efficiently in 2014 and beyond. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Offers New Support For Ferguson, Area Communities
October 8, 2014
Monsanto Co. has committed $1 million in new support for several collaborative efforts in Ferguson, MO, and surrounding communities in North St. Louis County. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnapproved Genetically Modified Wheat Found In Montana
October 3, 2014
USDA reports that one year after discovery of Monsanto's unapproved wheat in a single Oregon field disrupted U.S. wheat export sales, the GMO wheat has again been found in Montana. Read More
Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
Many new products were introduced to the ag retail marketplace this year. From this group, CropLife IRON and its consulting partners have selected five finalists for the Product of the Year award. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
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

Latest News

Seed/BiotechSyngenta Ranked A Top 10 Biotech Employer For Third tim…
October 20, 2014
Syngenta ranked in the top 10 among the world’s top biotech employers, according to an annual survey conducted by Science magazine. Read More
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Break Ground For New Facility At Kennebec
October 20, 2014
Wheat Growers has broke ground for a state-of-the-art shuttle loader grain handling, fertilizer and agronomy facility in Kennebec, SD. Read More
FertilizerVerdesian Life Sciences Signs Agreement With Los Alamos…
October 20, 2014
Verdesian Life Sciences has signed a licensing agreement with Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop and market LANL’s latest nitrogen enhancement technology for plants. Read More
MicronutrientsStoller Group Announces Groundbreaking At New Office Bu…
October 20, 2014
Jerry Stoller, founder and president of Stoller Group, announced the groundbreaking at the site of the company’s future headquarters in Read More
Crop InputsBioSafe Systems Opens New Production Facility In Nevada
October 20, 2014
BioSafe Systems has completed construction of a state-of-art production facility in Sparks, NV, for its line of activated peroxygen products. Read More
Crop InputsPlatform Specialty Products To Acquire Arysta LifeScien…
October 20, 2014
Once the acquisition is complete, Platform Specialty Products will combine Arysta LifeScience with previously acquired companies Agriphar and Chemtura Crop Solutions. Read More
Seed/BiotechEPA Approves Dow’s Enlist Duo Herbicide
October 15, 2014
The Enlist Weed Control System, breakthrough technology to fight resistant and tough weeds, has received the long-awaited green light from federal regulatory authorities. Read More
MicronutrientsGypsum On Farms Could Help Keep Water Clean, Not Green
October 14, 2014
Gypsum, which has roots in the past as a farm soil treatment, also may have a bright future, and not just as a booster of crops but also as a protector of water. Read More
Photo credit: The United Soybean Board/The Soybean Checkoff.
Crop InputsVerdesian Grows Sales Staff
October 14, 2014
The new account managers will drive sales growth and support relationships with key customers in the plant nutrition and seed treatment and inoculants product categories. Read More
WebinarsUpcoming Webinars
October 14, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
CropLife 100The Andersons Purchases Six Grain Elevators, Four Agron…
October 14, 2014
The Andersons has acquired Auburn Bean and Grain of Auburn, MI, which will increase the storage capacity of its Grain Group by about 13%. Read More
StewardshipThree Ohio Ag Retailers Honored With 4R Certification
October 13, 2014
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced its first three agriculture nutrient service providers to achieve certified status. Read More
Eric SfiligojEntering Agriculture’s New Phase
October 13, 2014
The market’s giddy ride the past few years might be coming to an end in 2015, warns one industry insider. Read More
Eric SfiligojWar And Green Peace
October 11, 2014
A one-time member of Green Peace recently explained why he left the organization after 15 years. Read More
StewardshipCover Crops Add To Farm Sustainability
October 10, 2014
Farmers nationwide find cover crops to be a tool that helps groundwater, prevents erosion, builds soil quality and complements existing best management practices. Read More
EquipmentMeeting Changing Liquid Storage Needs
October 10, 2014
Tank and containment choices are expanding with shifts in farming practices and the economy. Read More
StewardshipEDF Launches Initiative To Reduce Fertilizer Pollution …
October 9, 2014
The effort will engage farmers and businesses throughout the supply chain to transform the way fertilizer-dependent grain crops are grown and sourced. Read More
ManagementMACA 2014: The State Of The Agricultural Industry, And …
October 9, 2014
The trade association’s annual gathering featured speakers from across agriculture and beyond. Read More