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New Strategy: Ignore the Competition

Mr. Brown finished his career in software at age 50 to start a farm.  He bought a plot of land in Smalltown, Kansas, and moved his family to live on the 40 acres.  Observing the neighbors, Mr. Brown, saw that they were growing corn, wheat and soybeans, and selling their crops to the local Co-op.  He considered that strategy, therefore, to be what his previous industry would have called “best practices.”  

Mr. Brown (now Farmer Brown!) bought a 60hp John Deere Tractor, planted his fields and began to farm.  After the first harvest, he saw that the profit margins were tight.  He realized that he had to become very efficient, as his neighbors were, to have a profit left over after covering expenses.  His neighbors were familiar with that strategy, and also became more efficient.  Prices went lower, as efficiency increased.  Farmer brown eventually took a job in town to support his farming habit.  

Hold the story there for a minute.  Lets try a different, daring and possibly dangerous strategy from the start.  IGNORE THE NEIGHBORS.

Take it from the top:

Farmer Brown bought 40 acres of land in Smalltown, Kansas.  He looked around to find some potential CUSTOMERS.  A half hour drive from Smalltown, he found Middlesize, Kansas, with a population of 400,000 people.  Farmer Brown planted 2 acres of pumpkins and a small apple orchard, and advertised both in the local paper in the fall.  Many of the folks in Middlesize had never seen a pumpkin growing on a plant, and found it fascinating.  Parents were happy to pay full retail price for both pumpkins and apples, especially if the kids got the glorious experience of picking the crops themselves.  (And Farmer Brown was happy to let the kids do the work, and save him the trouble of storage, shipping, and loss of margins to a wholesaler.)  For his second year, Farmer Brown added a corn maze and a hay ride, and expanded the pumpkins and apple orchard.  The local paper wrote an article on Farmer Brown, because NOBODY HAD EVER SEEN A BUSINESS LIKE HIS in Middlesize before.  

In 2004, Authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne published a book called Blue Ocean Strategy: How to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant.  The idea, in summary, is that existing markets are “red oceans,” bloodied by the competition of companies fighting for the same customers (market share).  The authors encourage a search for “blue ocean,” wide open markets uncluttered by competition.  Blue Oceans take a little effort to discover, but they reward the adventurous with open waters and endless opportunity.

Christian 

 

 

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Pick Your Battles, Farmer Brown.

 There is no saying, as far as I know, that goes “thriving like a pig in an oak woodland.”  But there should be.  Watching the Berkshire hogs at Six Sigma Ranch shovel the black topsoil in the woods with their noses in search of acorns is a joy.  They’re even happier than the cows in the pastures, and certainly happier than the neighbor’s cows.  Since I am curious by nature, I wondered why.

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 Likewise, the grapes thrive.  There’s no place in the world better for growing grapes than Lake County (although our friends from Napa Valley, with whom Lake County shares a border, might argue for a tied game.)   The small beehive buzzes with enthusiasm.  But the apple tree by an old homestead near the tasting room only survives, and makes decent apples most years, but they’re not world-class.

 This made me think.  What do pigs, grapes and bees all have in common, that apples and cattle don’t?  They were here when we got here!  Lake County is home to wild pigs, wild grapes and wild bees.  And those all do great when we plant them on purpose.  But there are no wild apple trees or bovines here.  This seems obvious now, but I never thought about it as a rule for farming before:  When faced with a new plot of land, what should you plant?  Start with what’s already there!  Trying to make a living growing apples in our Mediterranean climate?  That would be a waste of time. 

On that note, Lake County is full of wild turkeys and quail.  So you might see some pastured poultry with a Six Sigma logo on it in the future.  And the blackberries invading the sheep pasture suggest that jam would be a good idea.  It sounds like we will have plenty of options for Farm-to-Table dinners in the next few years.

Christian

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