Located in Springville, New York, Gramco Inc. is a family-owned and -operated retail and wholesale feed dealer with a focus on custom dairy feed. The independent company has weathered many shifts in the industry over its 100-plus years in business and emerged as one of the most trusted names in feed in western New York.
Founded in 1911 as the James H. Grey Milling Company, the name was consolidated to Gramco in 1958 when Donald Mattison took over the business from his father. After Donald’s death, his wife stepped in and kept the company running should any of their children decide they might want to take up the family business one day.
Today their son Bob Mattison is at the helm and steering the century-old business into the future, overseeing a major expansion and keeping Gramco humming along in the often unpredictable dairy feed market. Bob has technically been with the company since 1972, but his roots with Gramco go further back. “When my dad took over in 1958, I used to ride with him when he would go and visit various feed mills,” says Mattison.
The flexibility of independence
With 43 years of experience, Mattison has witnessed many changes in the wholesale and retail feed industry. The demise of agricultural giant Agway presented a big opportunity for companies like Gramco. “It’s not like other large organizations sucked up that customer base; most of it went to independent feed mills,” says Mattison. “That is when a lot of independents became stronger and some larger companies took their eye off the ball on dairy.”
That oversight on the part of larger companies allowed Gramco to firmly cement its niche in the dairy feed market, where the team prides itself on serving large and small producers alike. “We have at least 10 customers who milk more than 1,000 cows, but we also have people milking 30 to 40 cows who are making a great living. We love our smaller customers — we grew the business with these guys,” says Mattison.
That affinity for smaller customers reflects Gramco’s own status as a modestly sized independent, but being smaller can often be a good thing, according to Mattison. “We are different from the big guys because we are willing to be more flexible,” he says. “They are not so willing to bring in new products, but I’m always willing to see how it works and if it helps my people.”
Working with outside nutritionists and independent consultants, Gramco produces custom feed mixes to meet the myriad needs of its customers. “They are a power in the industry right now and we have lots of good ones here in western New York,” says Mattison.
Consultants visit farms and do their own in-depth analysis to determine which blend of feed is going to work best for any given herd, developing tailored plans to help ensure health and efficiency. “They help guys to find the weakest link and correct it,” says Mattison.
Consultants are not for every operation — some feed mills employ their own nutritionists and deal directly with producers — but this model has presented Gramco some unique opportunities. “The bigger companies really don’t like the consultants — they would rather do it their own way — and that leaves the door open for me for more growth,” Mattison says.
Balancing growth and efficiency
Gramco is a member of Cooperative Feed Dealers, which pools the buying power of the region’s small, independent feed mills, allowing them to source grain, minerals and other ingredients at a lower price. Mattison has turned to the Cooperative more and more over the last two years, largely due to its prices and staff. “They have very good values and two commodities traders there that I deal with who are very aggressive and knowledgeable,” he says.
While the Cooperative also deals in other specialty items — like those you would find in a retail farm store — that’s not the primary focus for Gramco. “We have very little space for it and I don’t want people consumed with stocking shelves; my game is manufacturing,” says Mattison.
With a fleet of 17 trucks, Gramco can deliver feed to customers within a 100-mile radius of its Springville location and occasionally further using independent haulers. The company employs 38 full-time employees, with the occasional contract worker hired on a temporary basis as needed.
The last five years have seen “tremendous growth” at Gramco, according to Mattison, but that growth came with some challenges. “I got upset because I felt we were losing our efficiency,” says Mattison. “We got so busy that we didn’t have enough bins and mixing capacity. The question was: am I going to continue to let growth happen or am I going to contract my business?”
He decided to splurge on new trucks, bins and weighing equipment as well as more bulk storage for pellets and meal seed as well as a conveyor system. The net effect of the spending spree? Gramco now has an extra 1,000 tons of on-site mixing capacity and can accommodate new product lines. Mattison is also working to upgrade the facility’s computer software so that it’ll be easier to meet the stringent new Food Safety Modernization Act rules set forth by the Food and Drug Administration.
All these improvements are just one way Gramco is working to stay competitive in a volatile global market. “The dairy industry is very dynamic,” says Mattison. “We are at the mercy of the price of milk on the world market and with the American dollar so historically high right now, we can’t compete on our exports, so the price of milk is low.”
Global markets and multinational competitors aside, Mattison still has great affection for the wholesale and retail feed business. “I love it — the employees, the customers, the relationships with our brokers — I just want to see everyone do well,” he says.
Above all else, Mattison relies on that old tried-and-true rule of business: the customer is always right. “You don’t get cranky with them, even if they’re wrong, we have to bend over backward to rectify the situation,” says Mattison.
With unprecedented growth over recent years, an expanded facility and close relationships with consultants and customers, Gramco Inc. is sure to be serving the western New York dairy feed market for years to come.