Greetings from Germany!

As I mentioned in my post from last week, the Oxbow team has been in Germany over the past days attending the InterZoo trade show and host the first ever Oxbow International Distributor Summit.  Pat and I were the host couple in a special wedding this previous weekend and could not make the trip, but I was happy to receive some updates from the crew.  Here’s what they report:

-The small animal community is definitely continuing to grow.  Most of the large EU stores stopped by the Oxbow booth interested in expanding their small animal section.

-The team was able to have meetings with many of Oxbow’s international partners while at Interzoo.

-The crew met Oxbow’s new Hungarian distributor for the first time at the show.

-The Oxbow International Distributor Summit had a strong turnout – distributors from the UK, Norway, Hungary, Hong Kong, Australia, Japan, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden were all in attendance.  It was so neat to have so many partners together and to come together as an Oxbow family.  The day went far too fast and there was much more that we would have loved to discuss, but it was a good start for our first event.  Plus, our distributor partners enjoyed building personal relationships and learning from other partners.

It’s always wonderful to receive positive reports after trade events, but I was especially happy to hear about the success of the distributor event.  As I mentioned last time, Oxbow has come a long way since 1999, when our first ever international shipment left the farm.  Now serving pets all over the world, we are so excited to see what the future holds!

Oxbow International



As I type this, members of the Oxbow team are en route to Nuremberg, Germany where they will be attending InterZoo – the world’s largest pet trade show.  In 2012, InterZoo featured over 1,500 exhibitors and nearly 37,000 visitors from 111 countries.  The success and scope of the InterZoo show are both testaments to the health of the pet industry.  We feel very honored to count ourselves among the regular contributors at InterZoo.

The history of Oxbow’s international business dates back to 1999 when we shipped our first ever international container to Japan (photo of this container pictured above).  At that time, I could have never anticipated the rapid growth and trajectory of our international business.  Today, we sell our products in nearly 30 countries all over the world.  To borrow a phrase from Dr. Kohles, it means so much to know that what we do on our gravel road in rural Nebraska has the ability to positively affect the lives of pets worldwide. 

This year’s trip to InterZoo will feature an exciting new Oxbow event.  Following the show, the Oxbow team will be hosting a special training event for many of our international partners.  This event will be modeled after our long-running Oxbow “Bunny Boot Camp” which takes place each year at Oxbow.  During the training, our partners will learn all about Oxbow, get a sneak peek at new and upcoming products, share feedback during roundtable discussions, and more.  We are excited to host this event, as we know it will only serve to strengthen our relationship with the international market. 

Best wishes to the Oxbow team and all of this year’s InterZoo visitors and exhibitors.  I wish I could be there, but I know you’ll all do great!   

Graduates

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the graduates of 2014 Oxbow Bunny Boot Camp.

Each year, Oxbow brings a select group of distributors and retailers from all over the U.S. and Canada to our farm and facilities for several days of tours, hands on training, and round table discussions on a variety of topics relating to animal health and nutrition.  While in Nebraska, our guests learn about Oxbow from the inside out.  They tour our facilities, learn our story, and give us valuable insight into how Oxbow is perceived and performing in the market.  Boot Camp is a learning experience not only for our guests, but for us as well.  In the end, we hope that all parties (guests and hosts) end up richer for the experience.

I can’t say enough good things about this year’s Bunny Boot Camp attendees.  This year’s guests were especially knowledgeable and willing to share their experiences and insights as experts in the industry.  I’m so thankful that they made time in their busy schedules to join us, and especially thankful for all of the insights that they contributed to the event.   

Congratulations, graduates, and thank you for helping Oxbow be the best we can be! 

Continuing Education



I often talk about Oxbow’s relationship with the veterinary community – how longstanding it is, how much we cherish it, and how we are always working to make that relationship even stronger.  Simply put, we love vets and rely on their expertise to help guide us.

We do our best to support and recognize outstanding exotics veterinarians in many ways.  We partner with every vet school in the US to provide support to aspiring veterinarians.  Our Oxbow Exotic Mammal Health Award recognizes a top veterinarian each year at the annual AEMV Conference.  We recently introduced a new web portal specifically designed to assist veterinary professionals by providing useful information, easy access to Oxbow products, and a dosage tool to help in critical cases.  All of these tools are designed with one goal in mind – to help outstanding veterinary professionals provide the best care possible.    

In recent years, we have begun to support veterinarians in a new, exciting way.  Our series of Exotic Companion Mammal Symposiums are designed to help veterinarians broaden their knowledge on topics related to exotic pet health and nutrition.  The day long events include lectures and round tables to some of the world’s top exotics veterinarians and provide Continuing Education credit to attendees.  We have been hosting more and more of these events, and the reception has been great.

Every day, our overarching goal at Oxbow is the same - to do our part to better the lives of small animals.  The most obvious way for us to accomplish this goal is by producing and providing healthy, species-correct nutrition and products to small pets.  By supporting the efforts of the veterinary community, we are able to help do even more for animals. 

Farm Life



Farm Life

“A farm includes the passion of the farmer's heart, the interest of the farm's customers, the biological activity in the soil, the pleasantness of the air about the farm -- it's everything touching, emanating from, and supplying that piece of landscape. A farm is virtually a living organism.”  – Joel Salatin

If you’ve ever read my blog, you’re no doubt familiar with my lifelong relationship with farming.  Farming has always been more than a profession for me.  It’s been, at once, a passion, an obsession, and a puzzle with answers that constantly change.  The rewards in farming are great (though not necessarily always in the financial sense), but the challenges are unending.  I recently described the process of growing hay to a student working on a school project.  When I was finished describing how fickle Mother Nature can be – how she can destroy even the most beautiful hay crop in a matter of minutes – I almost felt like the bearer of bad news.

It’s true, though.  Running a farm requires a forfeiture of control and a stomach for disappointment; an understanding that your success or failure is equal parts in your hands and the oftentimes fickle hands of nature.  This would be enough to scare most people off from the thought of ever wanting to call themselves a farmer, and understandably so.  Everyone with a job has enough stresses to worry about.  Having Mother Nature as your boss is the last work arrangement most of us would want to enter into. 

But then there are the gifts.  Those moments that keep you coming back after a day of broken hydraulic lines, blisters, and a rained on crop of hay.  The feeling of the sun on your back as you pass back and forth rhythmically through the field, raking alfalfa.  What’s left when that sun disappears – the quiet, cool, dark solitude you experience as you pick up bales at midnight in July.  The satisfaction of providing a product that meets the basic needs of living things.  And, for many in the profession, the company of the spirits of generations past. 

I will always be the greatest advocate I can be for young and future farmers.  If they ask me, I will tell them that there are no guarantees of success in the profession – only the promise that when it happens, it will provide a satisfaction that is pure and profound.  For me, that’s always been enough.   

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.

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