Monday, October 25, 2010

Farm American

We’ve been saying it for a long time in agriculture, we need to be proactive in our efforts to educate the consumer about domestic food production and the farmers and ranchers that grow it rather than being reactive to the latest inaccurate accusations from an anti-ag group. There’s not a better way to do this than to tell our story one person at a time and let consumers get to know us, let them meet a real farmer or rancher. But we’ve also talked about how great it would be to tell our story on a bigger stage to a bigger audience. With limited resources and opportunities it hasn’t happened yet, however, that is about to change.

I truly believe that the opportunity we have been looking for has just landed in our lap. Even more amazing than that is it’s coming from someone with no ties to agriculture at all yet he realizes the important job that farmers and ranchers have and wants to help tell the story of the 21st century agriculturalist. His name is Barney Visser and he owns the Furniture Row chain of furniture stores. Like most farmers and ranchers, Visser is a self-made man and a great example of what you can achieve with hard work. He started with a single store in Denver selling an invention of his called the bean bag chair. That single store turned into the fastest growing furniture chain today which includes brands like Denver Mattress and Oak Express.

Visser recently formed the Furniture Row Racing NASCAR team but unlike most teams he wanted to use his to promote worthwhile causes when possible. When he was presented with the idea of promoting the American farmer and rancher he knew it was the right thing to do. At one time he had 800 employees in Colorado making furniture for him. Unfortunately he had to eventually close it down though because he couldn’t compete with less expensive imports. Reflecting back on that experience Visser stated that it was bad enough he now has to get his furniture from overseas, the last thing he wanted is his food coming from there. So over the past year he has spent millions of his own money developing the Farm American project.

The Farm American project has several facets to it. Visser has generously offered to turn the Furniture Row Racing team into the Farm American team. The Farm American car ran at three Sprint Cup races this year and we were fortunate enough to be at the final running a few weeks ago in Fontana, CA where we got to meet Visser and his family and the entire race crew. The paint scheme is beautiful on the car and really stands out among the rest of the field because it’s not cluttered with advertisements. Along with this, we want to develop a traveling interactive display that would be set up in the Fan Zone at every race. It would include having local farmers and ranchers there to share with consumers what they do, a real farmers market, farm machinery simulators and other great teaching tools. Research has shown that this segment of the project can reach 33% of the American public every week.

The next phase of the plan also highlights the commitment and generosity of Barney Visser. He is going to allow us to use all of his retail locations across the country to promote farmers and ranchers as well. This will include in-store displays featuring local farmers and ranchers as well as promotional material included in their advertisements. Visser has even offered to re-paint all of his delivery trucks to match the paint scheme on the Farm American car. This would reach another 30% of the American public.

Finally, the Farm American car and traveling educational exhibit could be available for various other functions, including fairs and shows.

When you add it all up, this project could reach nearly 200 million people. That’s an astonishing number! Unfortunately, it will take some money to bring this project to it’s full potential. As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Visser has already put a couple million dollars of his own money into it to get it off the ground. Now it’s time for agri-business to step up and help the farmers and ranchers they depend on to tell their story.

The Farm American project will need to raise $22 million in order to implement all of the components and operate for a full year. Now I know that seems like a big mountain to climb but in reality it’s not. When you think about the economic impact that agriculture has on this country and the importance of this issue, that’s a small price to pay to educate our consumers. It would be tough for individual farmers and ranchers to raise that kind of money so that’s why we need ag businesses to step up.

We need agri-business to realize that they need to become partners in our efforts to tell the real story of modern agriculture. It’s been great to see some companies realize this and trying to do what they can to help. For those, it’s their opportunity to become part of something even bigger than themselves. If there are companies out there that feel it’s not their responsibility to help tell this story, then they have a shockingly short-sighted view of what needs to be done. I plan on asking all of these companies, both privately and publicly, to help with this project. Their survival depends on our survival.

So what do we need from you? We need your voices. We need your passion. We need you to help share the story of the Farm American project so we can share the story of the American Farmer and Rancher with 200 million consumers. These ag businesses will need to hear from each and every one of you about why this is important. I am going to commit to giving my business to the companies that support this project and will encourage all of you to do the same. It's also important for me to stress that neither Visser or Furniture Row Racing will be profiting from this project.  They are doing it because it's the right thing to do. 

Above all else, we want this effort to stay very positive! The anti-ag groups like to stoop to that level on a regular basis. We don’t have to, our message speaks for itself. So thank you in advance for keeping all of your comments very positive and helping us make this incredible project a reality.

Let me know if you have any ideas, comments or questions and stay tuned for more updates!


Jennifer said...

What a wonderful opportunity for farmers and ranchers. Thank god for people like Barney Visser. I can't wait to share this with my students this afternoon.

Jan said...

This sounds like an awesome opportunity. I'm not so sure on the $ though. Double digit millions is tough to look at when $12,000 is out of reach and "hopeless." With enough people it's reachable...just not sure there's enough people. What people say they support and what their $ supports isn't the same. I hold out hope that will change.

Anonymous said...

The Furniture Row car has ran for several years with less than stellar drivers such as Kenny Wallace. Furniture Row is self promoting in my opinion. Some of the competitive teams would like to have $22M budget. This one car team that has never been competitive won't come close to garnering much attention for the farmers. While I am all for being an advocate of agriculture, this is not the team to reply on and money can be well spent other places. Regan Smith is the best part of this team and I wish him the best of luck.

Tom said...

My first post didn't meet with the the censors rules apparently. So, I will say this, I think the money could be better spent some where else IF we could even come up with that amount.

Troy Hadrick said...

@Jan We aren't asking producers to fund this. I've been seeing producers step up to tell their story one person at a time. Now I want agriculture businesses to do their part to help share our story.

@Anon I'm not sure how you can say the people at Furniture Row are self-serving. Barney has spent $2 million of his own cash on this project. When the FA car runs there isn't a Furniture Row sticker anywhere on the car. For someone with no ties to ag I'd say he's been incredibly unselfish. If you read my blog post you will find out that the $22M would also fund the traveling educational exhibt that would be feature in every FanZone at every race as well as other events. And the competitive teams normally run with budgets closer to $30M, FYI.
If you have an idea for how we could use $22M to reach nearly 200 million people, I'm all ears.

@Tom I haven't censored any of your posts. This was the only I got from a Tom. Feel free to try resubmitting your original post.

Anonymous said...

While Furniture Row's intentions are honorable and well-meaning, the execution is lacking. The NASCAR audience, even if every member doesn't exactly know where their food comes from, isn't the one agriculture needs to reach. They're not buying Food Inc. and the the Omnivore's Dilemma.
You can be assured that Wayne Pacelle and Michael Pollan know precisely who they can reach, and how best to do addition to the already-converted. Agriculture spends far too much time and money talking to itself. The NASCAR project is just another example. No agribusiness believes $22 million isn't much money. Just ask some of them.

Leah Beyer said...

Troy what a blessing agriculture has its fingertips. I think we (agriculture) get too focused on having the best racer, star, whoever promote us and don't notice all of the people in the middle who probably can have a bigger impact telling the story of raising food. Thank you for sharing this opportunities with all of us willing to come together and start with those who believe in our hard work, integrity, and ingenuity.

Anonymous said...

So what you guys are saying, and let me get this absolutely straight, I don't want to make a mistake here is--this is hopeless, let's not even try? And you call the guy who funded the biggest part so far self-serving?!
You should be ashamed of yourselves! All we've been asked to do is spread the word and you're already running off like frightened little children who see a monster under their bed! The LEAST we're can do is try to get help!

Patrick said...

This response will have to be done in two parts as I have much to share...

Let's get this on the table right up front. I am part of the Furniture Row Racing team. I am the person that built the Farm American model. I am also a Midwest farm kid that baled hay, hoed beans and put fence posts down during the summer. Froze his tukus off cleaning barns in the winter. I've picked and sorted tomatoes for weeks on end, been run over by steers while vaccinating and have had to wipe my eyes clean dealing with leaky valves on anhydrous nurse tanks. I was a State Officer in the FFA, Star State Farmer in Agribusiness and have my American FFA Degree. Then I spent 20 years as a Farm Broadcaster. My family still actively farms, and I bleed American agriculture. While I may be a 'team' guy, I think I've earned the right to say something here as an agriculturalist.

@anonymous: If this program were simply paint on a car and patches on a uniform, your comments about how much it cost would be spot on. However, paint and patches are the smallest part of this effort. This isn't a NASCAR sponsorship. It is a multi-dimensional communication initiative. In fact, the car is just a linchpin that binds together a dozen other communication tools that carry the weight. Do you have any idea how much it costs for the season just to rent the real estate to park the AgExperience tour we haven't even built yet? Roughly $1m. Let's forget about the mobile tour, video vignettes in every American Outdoorsman episode (which airs in more than 80 million US households), and a farmers market at every track. Furniture Row is dedicating its retail assets to the effort. Between store traffic in 335 stores across 31 states, presence in their advertising, on their delivery fleet and many other elements, Furniture Row touches 30% of the US public every week. You can't buy this kind of support unless you are willing to build your own national retail chain and dedicate its resources to a cause that earns you nothing. The program was specifically designed so that even if the car didn't perform, the program would still be successful.

One other fact it is important for everyone to understand about the dollar amount. Standard rule of thumb in the sponsorship business…for every $1 spent on a traditional program, which is what @anonymous' 'competitive teams' comment refers to, $2 will be spent by that sponsor to properly activate the sponsorship. In other produce and place all the advertising, POP materials and external support pieces it takes an additional $2 for the first $1 you spent to buy the rights. In the end, a $20m sponsorship costs closer to $60m...if done right. Because Furniture Row is dedicating resources that are already part of their infrastructure, activation is built into this $1:$2 ratio. $22m is buying what would otherwise cost agriculture $50-$60m. And that's IF you could find a national retailer that would give you access to their organization.

As for competition, you must have missed the two top 15's in a row. One of those was with the Farm American car in Fontana, where roughly 4.5 million viewers and a few million radio listeners saw and heard about Farm American for more than four straight minutes because of our jump to the front. There has barely been talk of the race this last weekend without discussion of how Furniture Row's third top 15 in a row, if not its first top 10, was stolen away because two other drivers accidentally put our car in the wall causing damage it took us 50+ laps to fix. We use Hendrick engines, Childress chassis' and are ahead of schedule in a three year plan to be a Chase team.

Part Deux next...

Patrick said...

Part Deux...

So you don't think the 160 million consumers we can reach through the NASCAR crowd and the customer base of Furniture Row companies are worthy audiences? I spent more than 30 minutes with someone that would shock you at the Bristol race who was completely sold on Food, Inc. Myself and two farmer guests we had on hand managed to at least partially change her mind. On my way to that race I encountered a PETA RV traveling to the same destination. Several people around the garage each weekend have been encouraging friends and family to watch Food, Inc. Some names you would know well are closely associated with groups that haven't done agriculture any favors. That's just part of what the racing element of Farm American can touch. We haven't even talked about the non-NASCAR, furniture buying consumers we can reach through Furniture Row.

Agriculture spends too much time and money talking to itself, and this NASCAR project is just another example? Latest research shows approximately 600,000 of the 75 million NASCAR fans are farmers and ranchers. Is there a good reason we would forsake engaging the other 74.4 million simply because less than 1% of the total is farmers and ranchers…not to mention forsaking the tens of millions touched through Furniture Row assets?

I am failing to see how this program doesn't measure up to everything Troy and Stacy…and thousands of others…believe it is.

I find it unfortunate that someone from within agriculture would draw judgment on a program they don't fully understand. Would talk it down. And would then accuse 'self promotion' of the only person whose cared enough about farmers and ranchers to actually invest dollars in their message. The same person who dedicates his spring Talladega car to the National Day of Prayer simply because he's deeply vested in his faith. Shame on him? No. Shame on you.

I'm here with no secrets, no hidden agenda, no self promotion. Just a passion to raise the awareness of America's farm families, and their importance to American's daily lives. I dedicate myself to assembling and proposing bold, new ideas that will accomplish this goal so agriculture is in front, not playing catch up.

I believe if someone wants to say there's a better way, they should be prepared to offer that alternative. Like Troy, I'm all ears…

We can sit here and debate this all day long if you like. Having been in the middle of consumer relations campaigns for the last decade, I am absolutely comfortable with what this program will do. In the mean time local, state and federal agencies will continue making it tougher to farm because consumers aren't weighing in. They're comfortable with "Made In Wherever" stickers, which works for the most part. Its easy to say 'what's the big deal if our food comes from somewhere else'…because everything else does. Foreign governments and critics are taking advantage of this weakness, accelerating the process of production moving somewhere else. If we're not willing to take bold steps shoring up consumer relations now, lets not waste each others time and just pack our bags.