Scenic Valley Cooperative and Infinity Feeds LLC
The mindset used to be cooperatives and privately owned firms could never work together. However, Scenic Valley Cooperative (Scenic Valley) and Infinity Feeds LLC (Infinity Feeds) have proven otherwise, as the two companies have successfully operated as joint ventures since 2010.
The cooperative and feed mill are legally separate companies and each has its own board members, which Dave Schoonover, general manager, reports to individually. “Scenic Valley’s agreement to enter into a partnership with a private company was very innovative and progressive at the time,” explains Dave. “To have a cooperative and a privately owned company come together was unique and helped pave the way for similar successful ventures throughout the nation. While a manager with what is now Country Visions Cooperative, I was involved in discussions ultimately leading to the formation of CP Feeds of Valders, Wisconsin, a major competitor today.”
Dave has been involved in the cooperative industry for over 20 years and has always held an admiration for the operational style of the private sector. By combining the strengths and weaknesses of each business model, Dave saw how the partnership could be mutually beneficial to both organizations.
“I’m a low key guy,” he details. “Credit must also go to Scenic Valley and Suring Milling board members, Dave and Sheila Larscheid of Tri State, as well as Land O’Lakes business development personnel Bill Zuhlke and Rex Carlson.”
However, Dave does deserve some credit. “I manage a cooperative and I manage an LLC, but the approach is always business-minded,” he says. “Whether we’re returning patronage or equity, we take business and our customer’s best interests very seriously.”
Because both companies operate from facilities in Seymour, Wisconsin, which is located in one of the most competitive and progressive regions in the state, the organizations are able to share employees. All employees work for Scenic Valley directly and are leased by Infinity Feeds for a monthly fee.
Scenic Valley again revolved equity to nearly 1,100 customers. The cooperative offers members access to livestock feed, agriculture, diesel and automotive lubricants, diesel fuels, gasoline and now farm seeds.
A change in business structure prior to Dave’s arrival forced Scenic Valley out of the seed market, but four years ago the cooperative transitioned back into the seed market by partnering with national seed supplier Golden Harvest, a Syngenta company.
“Customers kept telling me Scenic Valley should re-enter the farm seed market,” Dave relates. Scenic Valley recently acquired a Dairyland Seed dealership in addition to selling Byron and Wolf River products. A former employee was recently rehired to increase company market share.
In 2001, the cooperative converted its fuel delivery system to the Automated Fuel Delivery (AFD) program, selling CENEX-branded products, which provides the company the flexibility to serve customers throughout the Midwest. As one of the first cooperatives in Wisconsin to convert to AFD, Scenic Valley was able to increase its market share by appealing to customers outside of the farming industry.
The cooperative upgraded its digital marketplace to the AgVantage platform in November 2014. The change offers cooperative members cutting-edge technology that was unavailable before, such as online bill pay and real-time invoice and purchase details.
“The upgrade has gone better than expected,” says Dave. “Pre-planning and training, our conscientious staff and the professionals from AgVantage have been critical.”
A true testament to its sales and production employees, Scenic Valley won Third Vice-President honors in 2009 and placed No. 4 nationally for most feed tons sold compared to the previous year. The prestigious award is given by Purina as part of the Chow Honor Council sales program.
“Our sales and membership numbers don’t compare to larger organizations, but we have been successful,” says Dave. “A lot of the credit goes to our employees and board members. Many of them have been here for 30 years and have invested their lives into the cooperative; I just help move people in the right direction.”
Scenic Valley also operates the award-winning Center Valley General Store, a convenience store, selling gas, propane, fertilizer, local cheese, wine and maple syrup, animal feed and a variety of other goods.
Infinity Feeds was formed June 1, 2010, and is also the product of three entities joining forces: privately owned Tri State Feed and Grain; Suring Milling, a mercantile cooperative; and Scenic Valley Cooperative – all of which continue to own a share of the company.
Infinity Feeds operates a feed mill supplying feed to dairy, beef, swine and deer customers. A key advantage Infinity Feeds has over the competition is access to three feed mills: its private mill in Seymour, Wisconsin, plus two Purina-owned mills located throughout the company’s trade territory. The company plans to upgrade its Seymour location; the entire site was mapped four years ago for future expansion.
Infinity Feeds was scheduled to become fully Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point certified as required by the Federal Food Modernization and Safety Act by the end of 2015.
“We began the process 18 months ago,” explains Dave. “We’ll easily spend $30,000 with ongoing administrative costs, so our biggest challenge has been convincing employees and customers that the change will be beneficial in the long run.”
As both companies grow and change, customer needs and demands also shift, making it imperative that employees receive specialized training for their respective positions. “Our customers like the ability to place orders and pay for purchases from either company at our main office,” explains Dave. “Having a key point of contact for specific departments and products makes it easier for both us and our customers to get the support they need.”
The joint-venture business model, and managing two companies from one office space, provides Scenic Valley and Infinity Feeds several advantages, such as reduced administration costs, allowing both organizations the ability to hire higher caliber professionals, as well as reduction of duplicate processes, which saves time and money. Scenic Valley Cooperative and Infinity Feeds LLC will continue to work together and provide affordable services and local products for the people of Wisconsin.