After covering the ag retail market for 17 years, I think one of the most impressive character traits I’ve seen at most outlets is an unwavering positive spirit. More impressively, this has seemed to be the case when things were at their darkest.
Take the case of one MFA outlet I was visiting this past May as part of the Environmental Respect Awards competition. The Manager, Jim Gesling, was extremely happy that I was there to see the location in Centralia, MO. “Thank you so much for being here, and for recognizing the hard work of all our employees when it comes to environmentally stewardship,” said Gesling as he toured me around the facility. The entire time during my visit, this man was nothing but all smiles, beaming about the specialness of the outlet.
You would never have known that less than 72 hours earlier, Gesling had been dealing with a terrible loss. On the Monday of the week of my visit, MFA’s sister facility in nearby Clark had experienced a fire. Started by a faulty air compressor in the maintenance shop, the resulting fire virtually destroyed the entire Clark complex. Luckily, since the fire took place after work hours, no one was hurt.
Despite this extraordinary event, Gesling made no effort to have me postpone my visit to Centralia. In fact, the day before my trip, Gesling and members of his team had been at the Clark facility overseeing the clean-up effort, which was more than 80% complete three days later. Still, when I was on-site taking pictures and getting the facility’s background story for my article, everyone was in an extremely positive mood.
Now I’ve seen this kind of resilience in the past as well. I remember one of my first ag retail outlet visits in the early 2000s, when I visited a Morral Companies facility in Morral, OH. A few months before this trip, this particular outlet had experienced a devastating liquid fertilizer storage tank failure. The resulting spill had caused millions of dollars of damage to the facility itself, not to mention several rail cars that had been on-site when the disaster took place.
I had contacted Morral Companies about a visit to prepare a “how-to handle an emergency situation” article to share with our magazine’s readers. Then Vice President/COO John Boyd never flinched at the chance to tell this rather painful story, despite the fact that it had taken place only a few months beforehand, and the company was still actively performing the clean-up process during my trip.
I know plenty of people that do business with the ag retail marketplace often ask me if I think the frequent recent downturns in agriculture have blunted the enthusiasm of the folks that work in this industry. I always reply the same: “Not in the least.”
It’s because of the individuals such as those I’ve mentioned here — plus dozens of others I’ve met along the way over the past two decades — that I firmly believe this to be the case.