Mercer Milling Inc.
Located in Liverpool, New York, Mercer Milling Inc. is of the leading feed mill suppliers in the Northeast. Producing a complete line of feed ingredients, including mineral and vitamin premixes and specialty products, Mercer is committed to helping the region’s ever-changing dairy industry meet all its feed needs and serves as much as 95 percent of the New England dairy market. The company’s full range of products includes custom premixes, as well as macro/micro feed ingredients, medications, milk replacements and preservatives.
First founded in 1828 as a three-story gristmill along the banks of the Seneca River, Mercer Milling was purchased in 1965 by James Colten who had previously been a salesman serving feed mill industry clients including Mercer. “The owners said ‘we don’t want to buy anything, we want to sell you something,’ so my father purchased the business,” says Bill Colten, current owner and president of Mercer Milling.
While the company traces its origins back over 100 years, it was a fateful equipment failure in the ‘70s that led Mercer down the path it finds itself on today. “In 1977 we stopped manufacturing flour because one of the waterwheels went down and it was too prohibitive to fix it,” says Colten. Mercer took the blow in stride and simply got another company to package flour under the Mercer label.
The company continued on manufacturing animal feed throughout the early ‘80s before delving into the premix business in 1984, when James Colten used his connections from his salesman days to help expand Mercer’s bourgeoning premix business. “He was building off that customer base in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania and the premix business steadily grew,” says Colten. Today, Mercer’s distributes products as far afield as Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.
New facility drives growth
After purchasing a second mixer in 1994, business grew steadily at Mercer to such an extent that by the turn of the millennium, the company sought out a larger base of operations, moving from the company’s historic red mill building in Baldwinsville, New York. “We continued to grow and in 2002 I purchased our existing location in Liverpool, New York,” says Colten.
The Liverpool facility is a far cry for the quaint red mill where Mercer spent its first 174 years. The cutting-edge, 60,000-square-foot facility tripled Mercer’s productivity and sales. The largely automated operation, run off a WEM 4000 Batching System coupled with Feed Mill Manager software, allows the company to function with a much smaller workforce. The move also precipitated a change in the company business model, as the business stopped directly servicing dairy producers and instead began to focus on premixes for the dairy feed industry, which now account for 95 percent of Mercer’s business.
Another cornerstone of the Liverpool facility is the Phlauer Double-Rotor Horizontal Batch Mixer, which ensures that all products are mixed with near-total uniformity. Since 2003, Mercer has expanded the Liverpool facility five times, helping the company grow into one of the leading feed mill suppliers in the Northeast.
It wasn’t only the new facility that helped drive growth at Mercer in the early 2000s. The demise of feed manufacturing giant Agway in 2002 marked a major shift in the market, with many of the company’s former employees venturing out into the agricultural industry as consultants. While these consultants retained many of their previous clients from the Agway days, they needed a feed producer who could mix up their proprietary blends. “That has been a big influx for us,” says Colten.
Seeding customer loyalty through consistent output
When it comes to the dairy industry, producers need to be assured that they are getting a product that ranks high in both quality and consistency. At Mercer, there is an ironclad process in place to ensure just that. “From the time we take the order and it gets entered and taken into production, it gets sequenced and two or three samples of each batch are photographed and compared with the ones in the library,” says Colten. “We also go through the daily production records before the product is shipped just to make sure there are no overages or shortages.”
Mercer prides itself on its commitment to superior logistics, ensuring that the right products arrive on time with the exact mix users are looking for. One niche where Mercer excels is its ability to do warehousing for clients, which can help to drastically decrease the number of steps it takes for a product to get from point A to B. “Customers can pick up products or we can deliver it to them from another vendor. That saves them the cost of shipping a pallet — they can take a truckload and bring it here and we can get it to the final destination at a lower cost and just invoice them” says Colten. “They just place the order and we take it from there.”
Colten himself knows a thing or two about logistics. Growing up in the industry, he has worked nearly every job the company has to offer, from truck driving to inventory control, production setup, truck dispatching and financials. “I’ve done it all,” he says.
Customer satisfaction tops Colten’s list of the most important metric for success in a company. “Putting together products, fulfilling customer needs, getting the order through: that is a big thing for me,” he says. “That and following through to make sure the customer is satisfied.”
While Colten sees his own retirement coming four or five years down the line, he is confident that he has built a strong company that will withstand the test of time and threats from other, larger competitors. “We can compete with multinationals because we do not have the same overhead structure and our purchasing is probably comparable in most things,” he says.
With a strong commitment to quality, a long history as a trusted name in the dairy industry and a state-of-the-art facility, Mercer Milling Inc. will continue to be one of the Northeast’s leading manufacturers of private label and custom premix feed.