Riddle me this. What takes decades to build, can last for centuries, yet can be destroyed in an instant?
When George Promberger died in 1942, there was a 24-hour visitation over a three-day period. Pocahontas, Arkansas, had only 3,000 residents, but farmers from three states came.
Although George wore a suit every day, customers considered him the “farmer’s farmer.” From having the latest John Deere equipment to being the first in the state to sell hybrid corn, George had nearly everything a farmer needed to buy at Pocahontas Hardware.
During the height of the Great Depression, selling was tough. But George had four things going for him.
Relationship. At the front of the store was free heat, eats and drink thanks to an ever-fresh pot of hot coffee, wood-burning stove, barrel of peanuts and galvanized Arctic Boy watercooler. No one left hungry, thirsty or in need of fellowship. Everyone left refreshed. Does your business act as a “third place” for customers to hang?
Research. George traveled the nation, and he talked to experts at land-grant universities and upstart hybrid companies, such as DeKalb, Funk’s and Pfister. Relative to your competitors, are you up to speed on the latest?
Reversing Risk. George was so confident in many new offerings he sold that he would work with the vendors to create some way of reversing the risk for the farmer’s willingness to try something new. But it was still the height of the Depression, and the national drought didn’t make taking a chance any easier. How are you mitigating your customers’ risk?
Reputation. When it came to trying something new, growers knew they needed to constantly be checking with George. He always had something new to share, and his track record for offering innovative ideas spoke for itself. More than anything, he was a man who everyone trusted.
His lasting impression. For many years after George’s death, farmers would come to my grandmother with large checks saying, “This is to pay off my debt to George. He carried me through the Depression, and it took me this long to get caught up. That is your money, not mine. Thank you.”
When I last visited Pocahontas, a man told me a story about how George gave him and a barefooted friend $5 in the 1930s to “help that struggling new shoe store. That’s who your grandfather really was, Mark.”
If you want to persuade people, then follow the Four Rs of Persuasion, but more than anything else, build a reputation that will keep them talking about you decades after you’re gone.
Since 1990, Mark Faust has worked with the owners of dozens of seed companies, many of America’s oldest family-owned ag retailers and other ag businesses to help them grow and become much more profitable during the most turbulent of times. He is also a professional speaker, author and strategic growth coach to successful yet humble CEOs.