The holy grail in marketing for the vast majority of small purebred cattle breeders is to sell their bulls privately off the yard. But this objective may not be as easily reached as may seem possible from the outside looking in.
Selling is an art. It can be learned readily enough, but producers must have some natural proclivity for the skill. Unfortunately, breeders may be reticent and uncomfortable in this role and when standing toe to toe with buyers their inherent unease is frequently all too apparent.
Buyers are uncommonly sensitive to any signal that might cast doubt on a breeder’s honesty, particularly on birth weights. Unfortunately, industry history suggests birth-weight records may on occasion reflect market demands more than actual weights and any words however casual that reinforce that feeling are deadly in terms of building the essential confidence needed.
But, all this aside, there are fundamental preparations producers would be advised to undertake before the selling season begins.
For small breeders with limited market penetration moderate dollar amounts can be advantageously spent on classified ads in local papers. Familiarity promotes comfort and a name repeated with regularity creates an aura of stability even if expected calls responding to these ads may be slow in coming. Unless one is fortunate to own some particularly outstanding show winning animals, it can be years before a breeder develops a name that draws buyers as its own recommendation.
Selling bulls privately may be the objective, but to get there you really need to begin by promoting your breeding program off the farm. No venue is more effective than local exhibitions. People expect to see the very best of your animals since there is no pressure for you to sell. Visitors to these exhibitions understand not all your cattle will meet this level of performance or dressed up appearance but a display well represented in ages and ably manned will encourage people to visit your farm, which meets your original purpose.
HAVE INFORMAT ION
The most effective tool for selling (other than the condition of animals themselves) is having enough information. People are spending good dollars and wish to assure they are getting fair value. That they may choose to dismiss certain statistics is not the point — they should still be available. A seller can never be certain what value a buyer places on specific traits so its best to have more numbers than you think might be needed rather than to presume a buyer’s information expectations necessarily parallel your own.
Whatever one’s opinion might be about the value of EPDs, those numbers should be available. In my experience, as a seller and occasional buyer, they were of less importance than friendliness of the farm dog, but clearly numbers of folks differ or EPDs would already have been consigned to the ashbin of history Those who are persuaded such numbers are relevant should be given the opportunity of examination.
In preparation for our sale season we found it advantageous to have every statistic deemed remotely relevant itemized, copies of which were given to anyone interested in wandering about the pens. Birth date, birth weight, 205/365 day performance, frame scale, scrotal size, sire and dam mature status and of course prices. As bulls were selected their line was highlighted so buyers could see the stats and tag numbers of what had already been sold
One of the most advantageous selling aids is to cultivate quiet bulls and the best way to do that is halter break each one — nothing insurmountable for any aspiring purebred breeder .
Clipping bulls in late winter may or may not be a good idea but pubic hairs should be trimmed back to show a clean underline whatever else is done in this regard. This is good basic management practice as it removes the possibility of sheath infection through contaminated hairs being drawn into soft tissue by penis retractions.
GOOD PRESENTAT ION
Where physical separation is possible it is advantageous to have bulls already spoken for separated into another pen at least one empty pen removed from bulls still for sale. In our experience customers looking for better bulls arrive early in the year and in consequence the best animals were assigned first. If left in the same pen as bulls still available new buyers would naturally gravitate toward bulls already sold, only to be told they were no longer on the market.
The fewer animals there are in a pen the less confusion there is for customers making their first cut toward final selection.
Some preparations are so basic it never ceases to be a surprise when they were not followed. Clean bedding is a must. Even a few square bales of straw tossed out as top dressing is better than a sea of bare lumped-up frozen turds stretching corner to corner in the shed and pen. Even if economic times are tough an oblique expression of caring for animal comfort by topping up bedding is better than doing nothing.
If a breeder has advance notice of an arriving potential client, the first priority should be to hit the pens running with hair brushes in hand. It only takes a few minutes to comb a bull and the improvement in optics can be remarkable. Opportunities to create a favour-able first impression should never be casually dismissed or deemed unimportant.
KEEP ‘EM CLEAN
Tag is not acceptable under any circumstances for any buyer with more than drive by experience will immediately gravitate toward examination of the scrotum. A bull may have a touch of frost damage on the very bottom and still be perfectly fine, but if seen in scab condition buyers may prefer not to take the risk. A bull showing scrotal frost damage should have its testicles palpated ahead of time for the comfort of both buyer and seller. If damage is severe the bull can be pulled out of the pen but if such injury is inconsequential a customer can be assured of testicular integrity if the question arises.
Folks working off the farm during the day are severely handicapped in making yard sales as buyers are obliged to adjust their visiting schedule to the owner’s convenience rather than the other way around, something not every customer is prepared to do. If someone is travelling for an hour or more to check out a neighbour’s cattle the incentive to make that trip twice in order to see a second herd is just not there and a sales opportunity may be missed. The remedy is to engage other family members.
Every adult or teenager can be an effective sales person. With a good stat sheet and a knowledge of where pedigrees are filed there is no reason they cannot be persuasive. But they have to care. Indifference or outright hostility cannot be hidden.
One the most disconcerting experiences for a buyer can be to walk up to the farmhouse door, have someone open without inviting you in, declare the husband is not home, that she herself knows nothing about “his” cattle and you will “have to” come back. A customer doesn’t “have to” do anything. Friendliness and inherent courtesy will hide a multitude of sins while the reverse will only magnify what might have been manageable objections.
Part of successful selling is to try to create a relationship of shared values. The immediate common denominator is that both buyer and seller are clearly in the same industry. From there on it becomes a matter of finding where these interests intersect or overlap for mutual benefit.
Sellers must be prepared psychologically to deal with the inevitable bottom feeders.
Some buyers have no measure of value beyond price and whatever sum may be quoted its invariably too high. There are a bevy of superficial reasons why they are unable but more frequently unwilling to pay more than steer price plus a $100 and only if they are feeling particularly expansive that day. They only have 10 heifers to breed and cannot afford to pay “a lot” for a bull. That is not the seller’s problem. They knew they’d need a bull when they held those heifers back. “That is more than I budgeted for.” Too bad — you misjudged the market. Meeting a buyer’s budget is not the seller’s responsibility.
Most experienced bull suppliers will write these kinds of folks off as having neither present not future market potential. When asked to discount prices the best response is to send the guy to another supplier. Sure, they’ll come to you for 50 bucks but they will also leave you for 50 bucks. Worse, they will tell everyone they know that you cut price under pressure and there goes your regular trade.
Stick with your asking prices. Volume discounts sure, but within reason. Dropping 10 per cent on both bulls if a guy buys a second one makes no sense. There isn’t that kind of money in the business.
Sale closing opportunities can be advanced by other means. Free delivery in a restricted area. Delayed delivery — sometimes agreeing to feed the bull for another two months makes more sense than walking away from the sale. This is a discount in everything but name but you leave your price list intact for the next buyer who may wish to load and leave.
Selling as an art is interesting and rewarding. A host of factors come into play and it is up to the seller to try to ascertain what they are and how they affect their client’s decision-making processes. There are all manner of hints as to how a buyer will respond to a range of stimulative issues — sometimes you guess right, sometimes you don’t.
Don’t become suicidal if a buyer comes and goes without dropping a cheque. Not every “looker” is a buyer, but if you have presented a good product with courtesy and knowledge the fellow heading empty up the road may still be the best advertising your time and effort can buy.
Stan Harder is a mostly retired Angus breeder living at St. Brides, Alta. You can reach him by email: [email protected]