The Generosity of Family

Not only were both of my parents instrumental in creating Oxbow, but they also put in many hours of operational work too.  We printed and applied countless labels to plain bags in the early years in our efforts to control costs.  Some of you may remember some of those early bags.  Both mom, dad, Pat and I would work until midnight applying labels to bags for the next day’s packaging.   Sometimes, I am still amazed at what we did purely by determination and perseverance.  Mom and dad even “stuffed” thousands upon thousands of bags with timothy hay for nothing except a big “thanks until you are better paid.”  (That’s an “old farmer response” to a neighbor who had come to help with a farm chore.)  That’s what neighbors do…..and that’s what families do.  Here is a picture of mom and dad stuffing hay into a bag in their garage.  By this time, our garage was too small.  As mom’s health started to fail, dad actually figured out a technique where he could do the whole process himself.  Thank goodness we don’t still do it this way!

Kitchen Table Days

Mom and Dad were very instrumental in the beginning stages of Oxbow Animal Health, for which I will be forever grateful.  Together, with our farming background, we formulated some key, innovative ideas for nutritionally-premium products for small herbivores.  Helping us was the fact that we had witnessed and appreciated the effect of premium hay upon the health of our own farm animals.  But, how were we going to build distribution?  How were we going to create marketing materials?  How were we going to actually ship the products?  How were we going to control the costs of all of the different bags and boxes and labels and tape that were going to be needed? 

All entrepreneurs struggle with these decisions...and quite a few don’t make the right ones.  But, with Mom and Dad sitting around the kitchen table with Pat and I, talking through the “what ifs”, we were blessed to make enough “good decisions” to help us down the path that has led to where we are today.  For this, and so much else, I will be forever grateful to my parents. 

Remembering Mom

My mom, Mary, passed away 3 years ago, and this past month would have been her 93rd birthday.  My mom was a very special lady, as most moms are. I never saw her angry (with me anyway, but my sisters were another story.  Just kidding.)  Everyone had a common perception of my mom - that she was “such a sweet person.”   This was a common sentiment shared at mom's funeral, and I know they will say the same at mine..."His mom was such a sweet person!”

The photo above is part of a very touching and meaningful memorial that the employees of Oxbow made for my mother.  This plaque accompanies a beautiful oak tree planted in my mother's honor at Oxbow. 

Thoughts on a Photograph

An Oxbow employee paused to take the above picture on his way to work this morning.  There’s so much about this that I love.  The vast expanse of land and sky.  The post-daylight savings sun rising later, promising more daylight later in the day.  The farmland, unencumbered by buildings.  The last notes of winter, giving way. 

What I love more than the photo itself is that fact that it exists.  That someone who works for Oxbow cared enough about the landscape to pause, snap a photo, and share it with the rest of us.  I am proud of my heritage – how I grew up on a farm, raised my children on one, and have my business there.  In the same way, I’m honored to have employees who appreciate the beauty of the country, and who are willing to escape the city and make a slightly longer drive to make Oxbow the company that it is today.  

Premium Attributes

I just read an interesting poll on Small Animal Channel ranking the attributes that pet owners value the most when purchasing hay for their pets.  The number one choice at 50% was nutritional analysis, followed by hay color at 18%, brand reputation at 14%, and softness of the hay at 10%.  Other attributes included package features and strand length. 

Being a self proclaimed “hay geek,” I’m always interested in knowing what pet parents value the most when it comes to their purchases at the pet store.  In looking at the various answers to this question, however, I’m led to think more broadly about the factors leading to the purchases we make as consumers, and what it means to the companies producing the products we choose. 

Any company wishing to be perceived as “premium” strives to produce the highest quality product possible.  By looking more closely at customer buying decisions, it’s clear that premium is not black and white.  Producing a product with premium attributes in certain areas but not in others excludes any number of potential customers who may value one attribute over another.

A commitment to producing a premium product means never settling.  Whether you produce cars, electronic devices, or hay, your commitment to quality must be all-inclusive if you want to be among the select few who earn the title of being a premium brand.