Creating a niche while scaling growth – Kyle Beauchamp, KB Custom Ag Services
When he started his own custom harvesting business in 2007, Beauchamp admited, “I had no clue what I was doing.” But he recognized a need for quality forage, and today KB Custom Ag Services employs 250 people and harvested 150,000 acres in three states last year.
Click here for Beauchamp’s PowerPoint presentation.
Nearing the end of his college career, Kyle Beauchamp took a job working for a custom harvester and “fell in love with it.” He recognized a need for quality harvesting in eastern Colorado and decided to make it his life’s work. With only a small amount of experience, he graduated from college and started his own custom harvesting business in 2007.
“I had no clue what I was doing,” Beauchamp said, “so I decided to jump off the cliff and learn how to fly.”
Today, KB Custom Ag Services LLC, headquartered in Ault, Colorado, harvests throughout the Texas panhandle, Colorado and Kansas. With 250 employees, the company harvested 150,000 acres last year.
During his presentation at the Vita Plus Custom Harvester Meeting, Beauchamp shared the growing pains he experienced as he learned and developed his business.
“We were lean and mean,” Beauchamp said, describing his business in its early years. “Honestly, I wasn’t scared of nothing because we had nothing.”
By 2010, Beauchamp saw the need for skilled labor, but that came at a higher price tag. He also purchased a shop and office, increasing his overhead costs. He said he entered the manure spreading business as a source of year-round compensation.
Beauchamp started to see his work pay off in 2014 when he began harvesting for large out-of-state accounts. While this held a lot of business potential, it came with several complicated logistics, including housing for out-of-state staff and moving and scheduling equipment over long distances. He recognized the need for higher-level operations management and said he also needed to rationalize what accounts and regions allowed for the most profitable growth. While it was emotionally hard to do, he said he had to give up some of his smaller accounts.
KB hasn’t added many new customers in the last three years. Rather, Beauchamp said he’s focused on matching his business’ growth to the rapid growth of his existing customers. He said this has changed a lot of his vendor relationships as not all implement dealerships, fuel suppliers, or insurance companies, for example, can meet his diversified needs. He said KB Custom Ag Services now has an extensive parts inventory to make sure they have what they need when they need it. Beauchamp also had to “scale up” his business team, adding staff specialized in human resources, accounting and administration.
With a large staff and diversified marketplace, Beauchamp said he needed to create “meaningful metrics to measure success.” He built a matrix with all the components a crew leader influences. Because some locations or harvest conditions are more difficult than others, he added a job difficulty score to “level out the playing field.” Crew leaders are judged based on this matrix and bonuses are awarded accordingly. Beauchamp said it has been a great motivation tool; other employees now want to work to become crew leaders.
Beauchamp also started a “Seed to Silage” program. Whenever possible, the KB team gets involved in seed selection, soil testing, crop scouting, irrigation scheduling, and plant health in addition to assessing crop maturity and scheduling harvest. Beauchamp said taking on these tasks pays dividends in terms of forage quality because they don’t have to wait for a customer to say a crop is ready and they can be more efficient with their time.
Beauchamp said finding and developing his team will continue to be one of the biggest challenges for his business. He said hiring is a balancing act between skill and personality. He said he used to think, if employees had the right attitude, he could train them for a job, but now he recognizes certain skills are hard to train. He said he believes many skills are less intuitive for new staff today because fewer farm kids grew up learning how to work with equipment and crops.
For other custom harvesters looking to grow their businesses, Beauchamp recommends they find their niche and learn how to differentiate themselves from others in the marketplace.
“Really understand your strengths, your weaknesses, and what area you are in,” he said. “If it don’t work, stay out of there.”
Beauchamp also reminded attendees that building a business like his required some risk-taking and ingenuity. He said no other businesses were like his, so he didn’t have something he could use as a model.
Smiling, he said, “When you’re trying to build something like this, you’re building from the ground up with no real plan.”