Sonny Beck
Sonny Beck
NEOGA, Ill. — A Beck’s Hybrids employee who recently drove for hours to deliver two bags of seed to a farmer wasn’t thinking of the bottom line. But that type of behavior is exactly what company President Sonny Beck is looking for.

“That was not a good economic decision,” he said. “Was I happy about what he did? Absolutely. Taking care of our customers is what we are about.”

That mindset is what has made the family-owned business one of the fast-growing seed companies in the U.S., Beck told customers gathered here for one of the several field shows put on by the company.

He maintains that because the company is private, farmers get the full benefit of Beck’s products and service.

“You can’t serve two masters. You can’t serve shareholders and customers,” he said. “Increasing research on new products is one of the things we use our profits for. We return a portion of that to our ‘shareholders.’ Who are our shareholders? Our customers.”

Evidence that Beck’s is on the right track may be found in the percentage of repeat customers, he said. Average retention from one year to the next is about 50 percent, but it is much higher at Beck’s.

“Retention of our customers is what has allowed us to be the fastest-growing seed company in the U.S.,” Beck said. “In our industry it’s 50 percent. All seed companies know that.”

Beck’s began a marketing program in 2009 in which customers ordering a certain amount of seed received a free all-terrain vehicle or flat-screen television.

“We started out with 1,399. We currently have 1,315 of those customers still doing business,” Beck said. “That’s 94 percent retention. That’s over four years. That means we lost only 1.5 percent every year.”

Of those 1,399, 273 were farmers who had never done business with the company before. Nearly five years later, 237 of them still buy seed from the company, a retention rate of 87 percent.

Vice President Scott Beck pointed out that the company, unlike many of its competitors, has seen a steady increase in market share over the past few years. Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta have all seen their market share rise and fall slightly, partly due to acquisitions.

“Beck’s growth is a steady trajectory upward,” he said. “We’ve not gone out and purchased other brands to try to increase our market share. With people in close proximity to our customers we can provide better service.”

The company regularly offers a number of other promotional products to reward loyal customers. That includes those who buy their seed exclusively from Beck’s.

“That’s really an unusual animal,” Sonny Beck said. “In the Midwest most farmers buy from two or three seed companies, to get diversity in what they’re buying. But with the Beck’s model, we have choices. We have three kinds of rootworm control, three kinds of corn borer control, two kinds of glyphosate control and LibertyLink.

“You can get everything in one store, and it’s been tested in a university-like atmosphere. We don’t care who wins. That’s the reason they can feel comfortable buying all their seed from one place. And we have the best quantity discounts.”

Another feature considered part of the “Beck culture” is the replant policy. Contingent upon evaluation by a Beck’s representative, the company replaces seed for replant free of charge. That is especially important with commodity prices that have fallen over the past year.

“When you think about next year and $4 corn and $250 for a bag of seed corn, that means it’s going to cost you $100 per acre to replant corn next year,” Beck said. “You can’t afford to have to replant any acres next year.”