Colleen Scherer
Colleen Scherer

Fresh off the recent 2012 Agricultural Retailers Association conference and expo, my mind has been buzzing with the concepts and ideas shared at this annual event. The biggest takeaway message I received was the concept of relevance. Mark that word down. It’s making its way into being the next biggest buzzword in the business world.

In our age of fast information and tons of technical data, the concept of making information relevant and useful to the grower is increasing exponentially. John May, president of agricultural solutions and chief information officer with John Deere, showed attendees a video of what its concept of the future of farming looks like. It looks technologically advanced and even had a Star Trek-like feel to it.

With that level of technology, who’s going to serve those farmers and make that data relevant to them? Retailers. They are in the prime position to make understanding data, timing decisions and management options relevant for growers. Someone has to interpret the data, look at the trends and decipher future management decisions based on years of information. Retailers have that expertise.

Another key message from the conference was about how retailers make themselves more relevant to farmers. Carl Casale, president and CEO of CHS Inc., was the first to bring up the issue of relevancy at the ARA conference. He provided the example of K-Mart. He asked the audience how many people knew the name. Nearly the whole room raised their hands. He asked them how many of those that knew the name had shopped in the store in the last six months. A small amount of hands were raised this time. This point demonstrated Casale’s example about relevance.

It is not enough for farmers to know the name of your business. They have to use you for the resource you are. If they are not coming through the door, your retail business is not relevant to them. Thinking of relevance in these terms is a great jumping off point for steering your business in the right direction.

Another way relevancy showed up in the conference was during the breakout session with Karen Grabow, senior vice president of business development services at Land O’Lakes Inc. Although a lot of her presentation was about human resources development, she shared that how retailers look for future employees is changing and the way the search is being done is different than even 10 to 15 years ago. Retailers need to keep up with those trends to find the best candidates.

For example, posting a job listing online at a site like Craigslist, Monster or CareerBuilder is not reaching the best candidates any more. Potential employees are being found through social media, which has become the more relevant medium for job hunting and networking. Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and others are where headhunters and other human resource departments are going to find the best relevant candidates.

One participant in that workshop shared how he often watches the employees at his local McDonald’s to see if they have some of the skills and qualities he’s looking for, such as a good attitude, is friendly with customers and co-workers, resolves conflicts, etc. Employers can train people to do the menial and technical aspects of a job, but attitude and a willingness to learn are key traits potential candidates have that set them apart. This participant encouraged other retailers to not be afraid to step outside of the box in hiring potential candidates and he reminded them to be open when meeting people. They just might be your next employee.

So, watch for the topic of relevance to be key in 2013. This concept could be a huge driver in what makes one retailer stand out from another.