Execute with Excellence: GROWMARK celebrates 90 years

Cooperative recognizes history while moving forward.

GROWMARK CEO Jim Spradlin, left and Board Chair and President John Reifsteck prepare for the cooperatives annual meeting.
GROWMARK CEO Jim Spradlin, left and Board Chair and President John Reifsteck prepare for the cooperative's annual meeting.
By DeLoss Jahnke

In 1927, nine local cooperatives organized to form the Illinois Farm Supply Company. Through the years, the company has grown and expanded well beyond Illinois, moving into Iowa and Wisconsin in the 60s, for example. In 1980, FS Services and Illinois Grain Corporation merged to form GROWMARK. Today, the cooperative is the nation’s third-largest ag retailer, operating in 40 states as well as Canada.

Illinois farmers have done business with the FS system for generations, yet John Reifsteck, the cooperative’s chairman of the board and president, says a key priority is to not take 90 years of strong relationships for granted.

“You’ve always got to earn the loyalty,” he said before the company's annual meeting in Chicago. “You can’t assume someone’s going to give you loyalty because of what happened in the past.

“That’s part of the value proposition – you’ve got to reach out to all of your producers and demonstrate that you can bring value to them on the farm in some way. Maybe it’s a product, maybe it’s a service, it’s a person, it’s a technology. That’s what it’s about: it’s demonstrating value to each individual, each generation.”

Reifsteck says relationships with customers is vital, regardless of that customer’s age or how long their family has done business with the cooperative. “Whenever someone says to me ‘well, this group isn’t as loyal,’ my question is always ‘what are you doing to earn the loyalty?’”

Along with its annual meeting, GROWMARK is conducting an agribusiness symposium, bringing leaders from businesses and universities to discuss current issues and empower members for years of future success.

Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com. 

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