Day two of the Agricultural Retailers Association annual conference and expo offered a variety of speakers from differing backgrounds to offer attendees new insights and perspectives that could help them in their businesses.

Kicking off general session, Daren Coppock, president and CEO of ARA, welcomed attendees to this year’s conference, titled “Ag Retail Top Guns: Preparing your business for the future.” He introduced the first speaker Carl Casale, president and CEO of CHS. Casale’s presentation, “Navigating a Dynamic World” highlighted variable influences impacting ag retail businesses. These influences included the impact of China on food, feed and fuel demands. He discussed world demand for grain products and pointed out where shifts in demand and production are anticipated to be in the next decade. Casale’s key point was in asking retailers how they remain relevant to their customers. He provided the example of K-Mart. Nearly everyone in the room recognizes the brand, but a small fraction had actually shopped at the store within the past six months. He stressed that retailers need to find out how to be relevant to their customers to succeed in building their business.

Following Casale was Charlie Stenholm, former Texas Congressman and Senior Policy Advisor with OFW Law, who offered his “Post-Election Analysis and the Impact on Agriculture” presentation. Stenholm started off saying that the country’s two-party political system may split into a three or four party system as factions within both the Democrat and Republican parties that may want to leave their original party. Stenholm stressed that both parties seem to be ignoring the big problems, but eventually they will have to sit down and learn how to compromise. He also drew parallels between the agriculture industry and the oil and gas industry. He said both are intrinsically linked. They both need each other. Other topics he touched on included biotechnology, immigration and cooperating more fully for mutual benefit with Canada and Mexico.

ARA’s Coppock provided a look at the accomplishments ARA had achieved within the past year. The biggest achievement was the Hours of Service legislation. He outlined the key topics and strategies ARA is working on, with a strong emphasis on member services.

Awards were also a big part of the day’s events as awards were given for the ARA Retailer of the Year, the AGCO Operator of the Year, the ARA Distinguished Service Award and the ARA Jack Eberspacher Lifetime Achievement Award.

The 2012 Retailer of the Year Award was presented to Dale Locken, CEO of South Dakota Wheat Growers Association. The AGCO Operator of the Year was presented to Glen Slabaugh, Clunette Elevator Company, Inc., Leesburg, Ind. Ken Manning received the ARA Distinguished Service Award and Jim Thrift received ARA’s Jack Eberspacher Lifetime Achievement Award.

Finishing off the morning segment, John Foley, a former Blue Angel, spoke to attendees about “Strategies for Successful Plan Execution.” Foley shared his experiences as a Blue Angel and explained how the job demanded many qualities that retailers could expand within their own businesses. Key points included working closely with a team, building trust, debriefing to gain knowledge, and striving to be the best. His key motto was “Glad to be here.” He reminded retailers to always be grateful for the success they have.

After lunch, ARA featured two breakout sessions. One session was titled “Developing Your Flight Crew” by Karen Grabow from Land O’Lakes. She explained how to recruit and retain good employees and how to develop the next generation of leaders. She highlighted the different stages of human resource development and how HR’s role has been shifting over time. She provided multiple research data from cooperatives, independents and public retailer companies, providing their strengths and weaknesses and blindspots. She had the attendees participate in discussing strategies, pitfalls and ways to improve employee’s accountability. She stressed the need for companies to develop an accountability culture to foster better communication and to solve problems quicker.

Bill Keogh, AgKnowlogy, during the other breakout session talked about “how do we achieve sustainable growth” by an ag retailer. His point was to understand the customer and do what will build on customer satisfaction. “We know a lot more about the acre than the man,” he said referring to farmers and their land. There is huge focus on being technical in this ag of precision ag rather than understanding the customer more deeply.

Companies have to have a strategic focus to visualize how service is delivered now and look at what the customer is doing that the ag retailer could support. There has to be a key customer account plan, Keogh said. Share of business is driven by customer experience. “Share of business is a report card on how well you meet needs,” he added.

Also during this session, the R-7 Tool precision data tool from Winfield Solutions was explained. This was a complete switch from the man to the acre topic in the afternoon. The R-7 refers to explaining the value and use of data about right genetics, right soil type, right plant population, right cropping system, right traits, right plant nutrition and right crop production.

The R-7 Tool takes Answer Plots data and cuts, slices and dices it for use by ag retail agronomists salespersons and farmers. Additional data such as soil maps, yield maps and satellite imagery are added into the tool.