Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings LLC
Few businesses grow by chance — and Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings LLC is no exception to the rule. For more than three years, the steadily expanding family of brands has grown by acquisition and greenfield expansion in order to bring a strong line of products and services to growers throughout the U.S. Since launching in 2012, Pinnacle has expanded to include several geographically significant distribution and warehousing centers, designed to keep product in stock and at the ready for retail locations and producer customers all over the country.
Kenny Cordell, CEO of Pinnacle, has more than 35 years of experience in the industry. Throughout his lengthy career, he has held executive and management positions with a number of major agricultural supply companies. He works closely with an experienced and talented leadership team, including Dave Bullock, chief financial officer, executive vice presidents Mike Steffeck and Dean Williams, and Beverly Gates, chief legal counsel, all specializing in the varied operational and administrative functions of Pinnacle.
Between Pinnacle’s diverse brands and corporate operations, the company employs approximately 1,800 people working in marketing, manufacturing, research and development, distribution and retail. The corporation’s retail locations include nearly 200 stores falling under different branding according to region and mission.
Sanders is Pinnacle’s flagship brand, specializing in input products and technologies. This branch of the operation has been serving growers since 1953 and spans several regions across the U.S. Growers can count on Sanders for seed production, bulk fertilizer handling, chemical and crop protection, wildlife products and service, as well as Pinnacle’s trademark OptiGro Precision Ag Technologies — a state-of the-art online interface where growers can communicate with specialists and log and monitor field data.
Providence Agriculture and Performance Agriculture offer a similar suite of leading farm supply products and precision agriculture technology. Providence targets growers in the Midwest and along the East Coast, while Performance targets growers in the Mountain region and the West Coast. AgOne, serving the High Plains, offers aerial and ground chemical application services.
Development, manufacturing and distribution
These retail operations tie in closely with the company’s other brands, which function on the back end for development, manufacturing and distribution. AgVenture Pinnacle offers top quality seed products. Altitude Crop Innovations, LLC provides a more specialized and proprietary line of products developed specifically for independent retailers and cooperatives across the country that buy from Pinnacle’s Meridian Wholesale Distribution Division. Meanwhile Innvictis Crop Care LLC leads the charge on product development, manufacturing and marketing for crop protection, adjuvants and nutritional products, which are marketed through the Pinnacle Retail locations.
Steffeck serves as executive vice president of product strategy and procurement and is responsible for Innvctis Crop Care LLC, which splits its operations between marketing, development, regulatory and manufacturing. “Innvictis is a development-driven company whose core competency lies in the development, registration and commercialization of standard and proprietary products,” says Steffeck. “Our retail locations do a tremendous job executing on the marketing and sales of these products in their local markets.”
Innvictis is constantly striving for improvement with innovation at the forefront. “We are constantly brainstorming and developing unique product formulations and mixtures that ultimately bring significant value to our grower customers,” Steffeck elaborates. “We continuously evaluate chemical active ingredients to understand their weaknesses or shortcomings in performance. We then find chemical and biological components that improve that weakness thus offering a better, more complete product, whether that is a seed treatment, crop nutrient, nitrogen management product or adjuvant.”
One of the group’s most successful developments has been the OPTIGRO platform, a Web-based tool for managing data, tracking processes and nutritional diagnosis geared toward helping growers streamline their precision agriculture operations. The OPTIGRO platform has been under development, optimized and commercialized for nearly 10 years and was a valuable component that came out of the flagship Sanders acquisition.
The interface incorporates data from soil testing, tissue testing for in-season applications and remediation, and all the mapping and record keeping and planting scripts growers need to access in order to monitor and improve on-farm efficiencies. “Our OPTIGRO program currently documents 6 million to 8 million acres managed by growers and the program is expanding rapidly,” says Steffeck.
OPTIGRO has become a leading resource for growers across the U.S. Particularly when it comes to nutritional optimization and balance, growers rely on the data they keep to determine and remedy nutrient levels, managing manganese, zinc, nitrogen and other critical components of healthy soils.
“Across the country, people are finally recognizing and becoming sensitive to nitrogen leaching, so we have taken an aggressive development approach to better manage the nitrogen,” Steffeck adds. “We’ve built a Nitrogen Management portfolio of products that focuses entirely on the placement and protection of nitrogen and the minimization of volatility and leaching that occurs with untreated nitrogen applications. Ultimately, these additives allow better nitrogen utilization by the crop while possibly reducing nitrogen rates resulting in greater crop use efficiency and a much reduced environmental impact.”
Innovation with inventory
Dean Williams, executive vice president of distribution, manages all of the retail stores and the Meridian Wholesale division. Pinnacle has established a strong network and system for distribution that includes strategically located warehousing and retail to ensure products are available when growers need them all the while minimizing waste.
“Our hub and spoke model is a better way to do distribution in ag,” Williams elaborates. “The efficiencies we have built into our model will help our growers be competitive in a global market.” And when growers do well, so does Pinnacle.
To manage these efficiencies and continually improve upon them, the group is in a steady holding pattern of growth, making acquisitions and building new facilities for both distribution and retail. “We have a clear vision of how we want to look,” Williams elaborates. “We know where we want retail locations, where we want a strong wholesale presence and where we need to place our major distribution centers and hubs. And we have executed on that plan quite effectively by making 58 retail acquisitions and building 62 greenfield retail sites in just the last four years.”
The Sanders branded retail operations in the Southern U.S. are running at full capacity, encouraging more expansion both within existing territories and outlying regions. A central distribution hub serves Louisiana, Texas and other Gulf regions and another hub is planned for the East Coast — likely in North Carolina. The other component of expansion has been the retail in-store experience. “We focus on soil fertility, seed and variety selection and crop protection, and strive to be the grower’s trusted adviser throughout the growing season and crop planning season,” Williams notes. “To improve the way we serve our retail customers, we are looking at bigger service areas, bigger capacity and data service and bringing on additional in-house agronomy services with a hands-on touch.”
In the retail and distribution end of the business, seed is a major source of revenue. Pinnacle has deep-rooted relationships with suppliers, including Pioneer, for which the company packages seeds. Seeds of change
Heavily involved in several aspects of agriculture, Pinnacle bears witness to the often intense fluctuations of the market. Weather and crop shifts can make the agriculture industry unpredictable, but having the right supply relationships and strategically planned inventory in place can offset many of these challenges.
Kenny Cordell, CEO of Pinnacle, notes that the group’s structure is one of its greatest assets. He cites supply chain integration and diversity in services as major factors in Pinnacle’s success. This finely tuned system offers transparency and visibility; combined with strong communication both between branches of the operation and with customers and suppliers, Pinnacle has made itself a trusted partner for suppliers and growers throughout the U.S.
“One thing I’ve learned in my experience is that every year, every supplier runs out of product,” he elaborates. “Sales are missed every year because of lack of inventory or product in the wrong place. Our visibility sets us up to avoid missing those sales when we have the inventory out there.”
He looks forward to continued growth and adaptation, all the while keeping an eye on the goal of providing growers with high-quality projects at a competitive price in a timely matter. As a national retail distributor, Pinnacle has the business savvy and in-house resources to fulfill the needs of customers at a speed and price with which few in the industry can compete.
National business with local values
Despite Pinnacle’s reach in the agriculture sector, at its core, the business strives to maintain a local, family-owned feel. This company-culture philosophy ensures that acquisitions are handled with care and that the family businesses taken under the Pinnacle umbrella are able to retain the character that customers have long enjoyed.
With family ties to farming, Cordell knows better than most that growers need a trusted partner when it comes to farm products and services. “I grew up on a cotton farm,” he explains. “And I know that nobody is really successful if they don’t put the customer first. Farmers are feeding a hungry world. So if we can cut down our inefficiencies and wrap that around to the customer, that’s what we do.”
Cordell has big goals for the business. With expansion plans already in place, he has a vision for more distribution centers that will further improve the company’s performance, thus providing better value to growers. “If that’s done when I retire, it will be a great point of pride,” he says. He also plans to make the company a public entity by 2018.
While the business is only 3 years old, its roots stretch far and its leadership team brings decades of experience to the table. Commitment to agriculture and a consistent focus on innovation and improvement continue to drive Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings LLC forward in an ever-changing market.