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Stillwater Milling Company: A Leader in Agricultural Product Sales and Service
Stillwater Milling Company (SMC) has been around in a number of incarnations since 1891. What began as a processor of wheat flour and corn meal has grown into one of Oklahoma’s leading agricultural supply operations. In the 1950s, industrial innovations and changing work and home lifestyles reduced demand for flour. Fewer people were baking at home, and supermarkets were on the rise. The business shifted gears, focusing on animal feed production, and moving into the handling and purchasing side of grain operations.
David Fairbanks, president of SMC, has been with the company since 1979. “The man who hired me was Haskell Cudd [“Mr. Cudd”],” David says. “He started working for this business in 1933. At that time, the company was floundering and in bad financial shape. Mr. Cudd later became majority owner and president of the company; he worked here until he passed away in 2007 at the age of 100, still coming in occasionally in his later years. Mr. Cudd made this a modern, thriving business in his lifetime. A lot of longtime employees learned from him.”
David holds a degree in agricultural engineering from Kansas State University. “My first job was with The Mill Mutuals Insurance, a specialty insurance company for agribusiness and feed mills,” David recalls. “I used to insure this company. I started work here on the same day as Mr. Cudd’s daughter, Alice Fowler.
Alice served as president of SMC from 2005 to 2011, and according to David, he gained familiarity with the operations of the agricultural-focused business. David proved a sure fit for a leadership role at SMC, achieving his current position upon Alice’s retirement.
A Growing Selection of Services
Along with progressive leadership, the company has grown at a steady rate. SMC has four Agri-Center retail stores in Oklahoma. “Our main location is Stillwater, Okla., where we manufacture all of our feed,” says David. “On-site, we have our feed mill, a retail store, a grain elevator and our administrative offices. We have three branch locations in Oklahoma, including Davis, Claremore and Perry to offer a range of services. All of our stores offer products and agronomy services for our customer. We also provide feed for over 100 independent dealers in Oklahoma and the surrounding states.”
The team at SMC is constantly evolving to keep up with consumer demand, and David says his team has introduced several initiatives over the last few years to fill emerging needs. “We are doing a lot of medicated feed, so we are set up for that,” he says. “It’s a significant part of our business. Our Davis location has a large Brighton jewelry and accessories outlet, where our other stores don’t do that at all. We have also found a small niche providing athletic drying compound for ball fields. It’s hard to find, but we supply it.”
The business has found longevity through drawing repeat business from regional customers. “I would say the number one thing that sets us apart in this market is our reputation for providing a quality product at a competitive price,” David elaborates. “Over the years, we have maintained a modern feed milling plant, modern delivery equipment and made every effort to provide customers what they want. Diversity is key to the success because otherwise it’s all seasonal.”
The economy and extreme weather conditions have created a challenge over the past few years at SMC. “Oklahoma cattle numbers are down 21 percent since 2010,” David explains. “We’ve had a major drought for two years. During that time, three of our competitors closed down. We have picked up part of their business. Our business has been good but times have been tough for our customers. We need our customers to do well so we can continue to supply them. We’ve had fair moisture this season, but that can change quickly.”
One business secret, David explains, is taking a slow and steady approach to business. “We prefer to grow into something instead of jumping into something new,” he says. “We brought different stores onboard, but we’ve allowed them to maintain their own identity. We learned to be conservative and diversified. We continue to do a lot of learning right now. We are doing things here that despite 30-plus years in the business, I have not done previously. It’s always a challenge, but it’s rewarding.”
Some recent upgrades include some new warehouses and new equipment. “We recently purchased a couple of new floater units,” David notes. “Large machines to spread fertilizer or to apply ag-chemicals. Those machines cost about a quarter-million dollars apiece. We have not boosted our manufacturing capacity in about five years.”
Small changes here and there benefit both the business and its customers. “I don’t foresee anything major over the next few years,” David continues. “We might add a store here or there around Oklahoma. We do not want to venture too far from the path we are on now. We’re well capitalized and efficient as we are.”
Selective evolution is a common theme throughout the business’ history. By sticking to what customers need and what the team can perform well, SMC continues to develop at a comfortable pace. David and his team rely on their own, created stability. Loyal customers, constant innovation and flexibility are helping Stillwater Milling Company maintain a market niche in agriculture.