Conversations with visitors to the commercial exhibits at World Dairy Expo points out that they come for a number of reasons.
Curiosity seems to be the driving force for many: What's new in the industry?
"I don't want or need a milking parlor right now, but maybe in three or four years," a central Wisconsin dairyman says. "My son has suggested that he'd like to come back to the farm after he graduates from college - then we'll probably expand our herd. I want to be ready."
Curiosity prompts many retired or never-have-been dairy producers to want to see where dairying is now and where it's going. They aren't milking cows now, but like to see what is going on in terms of new equipment and products.
A retired dairyman admitted he was totally confused by the great number of teat dips being sold.
They seem so scientific today," he says. "I don't understand much of anything."
Hard core comparison shopping is readily available at Dairy Expo. Sometimes it's in terms of dollars, sometimes it's features, sometimes the response of sales representatives is the important feature.
Placing orders is why some producers come. Many exhibitors offer special deals during the week or may even sell the things they have on display.
Of course, the newest of the new equipment or service are introduced at World Dairy Expo. The item might not even be available yet - but, this serves as an early look.
I do try to tour the exhibits in hopes for seeing the new, different or unusual - but, as usual, I never did get to see many products up close or talk with all the purveyors.
The following are some things that caught my attention.
The bright yellow LEO TMR mixers on display in the outdoor trade mall were new to Dairy Expo. In fact, the line just went on to the U.S. market last January.
Owner Nico Leonard explains that he has been manufacturing and marketing the mixers in South Africa since 1988.
Leonard is a design engineer and had visited the U.S. and Dairy Expo a number of times over the years. In 2000 he began work for Kuhn-Knight at Brodhead, even as his company in South Africa continued operation.
A year ago, Nico and son JD - a senior at UW-Plattevile majoring in international relations and marketing - started a sister company to the one so far away and began marketing the LEO line in Monroe.
Why another TMR, I asked? There are a rather large number of well established TMRs that have been used by dairymen for decades.
"We have a line of innovative products featuring durability and performance," Leonard says. "Our mixers can process a high percentage of hay and have been proven in service for many years."
LEO Agriculture is billed as "Wisconsin's own," is very new to the mixer market in this country and did draw attention at Dairy Expo.
The "Comfort Slat Mat," another first time World Dairy Expo exhibitor, drew a lot of attention to it's display in the New Holland Trade Center. The Irish company has sold the green cow mats that are shaped to fit individual concrete slats in a slatted floor system since 2006.
Tony Dunne, the sales representative, says the system has been installed in 4,000 dairy, beef and veal barns across Europe and is often used in conjunction with robotic manure scrapers. The company claims reduced lameness, dryer and cleaner floors, and custom design and fitting.
The company brochure says the system is: "Bringing the comfort of outdoors, indoors," and that the system has won a number of "green" awards in Europe. (Green is also the color of the individual mat slats.)
Dunne says one of the reasons for the Dairy Expo display is that the company is seeking a U.S. manufacturer.
It is a unique and different product and so new that several dairy producers who looked at it said they thought it was a "great idea" but wanted more information and would like to see one in use.
Also new to World Dairy Expo were sister companies SmartLic (nutrition supplement block) and AminoMax (plant-based bypass protein), although they had been around for some time.
Larry Smith, Mankato, MN, explained that his company is putting more emphasis on the dairy industry and that his nutrient supplement blocks provide protein, minerals and vitamins in a form that cows like. He is also seeking to grow recognition of his products among dairy producers and seeking to grow a dealer network.
Les Berghorn, New York-based regional sale manager for Afgritech, the marketer of AminoMax, also wanted increased exposure of his company that has added canola to its plant-based multiple bypass proteins (patented via Kansas State University).
Bia Thomas was born in Brazil and lived in the UK, Argentina, Italy and Tobago, but had never been to Wisconsin until Dairy Expo week. She came to represent her new company (she is COO), iNVOTEC Animal Care.
While getting a PhD at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, she did research on pH as applied in the ethanol industry. The result of a long story is the new company that will begin selling a bolus that is placed in the cow rumen, reads the pH and temperature and transmits the information to a PC. The producer can then make adjustments in herd management, production and herd health.
So far the system has been used in a half dozen European countries and the new U.S. company will begin offering the system in January.
World Dairy Expo served as an introduction to the company and its products.
Another new company with an exhibit aimed at introducing a new dairy health tool was Advanced Animal Diagnostics (AAD) of Defiance, MO. They will soon be selling technology to large herd owners and veterinary clinics that can test for white blood cells in milk via fluorescent imaging. The system tests each quarter individually, thus offering early detection of mastitis.
Company sales manager, Tim Griswold, Black Earth (yes, the well-known Tim from Black Earth), explains that the system involves a drop of milk from each quarter put into a collection device, transferred to a slide and inserted into a reader. Results are available in about three minutes.
Again, AAD used World Dairy Expo as in introduction and information event and, from the number of visitors who stopped at the booth, it appeared a success.
True sales people
Each of the 860 commercial exhibitors at World Dairy Expo have their own reasons for being there and not all of them are aiming at direct sales to dairy producers. Companies are there to introduce, promote, market and, perhaps most important, to talk directly with current and potential customers.
Exposure and information is of no value unless the exhibitors get it and use it. That's why most ask for names and addresses, maybe they are running a contest, a discount promotion, a giveaway or even a free ice cream at the GEA stand.
They followup with phone calls, email or a personal visit. I've heard farmers say that they don't want to give out their name in fear that they will be inundated with sales calls and mail.
Of course, that's the whole idea.
It's very expensive to pay the exhibitor's fee, haul a booth to Madison, bring in brochures and sales material, schedule representatives to be in Madison from their homes perhaps a thousand miles away, and pay food, lodging and transportation for a week at Dairy Expo.
Then there are the professional sales representatives who do what most people would never consider - sell products they believe in.
Linda Lynch, Tomah, is a true "pro" and is unusual in that she is one of but a few women who represents a company (Wieser Concrete Products) that markets large, heavy equipment that is used outdoors and is a major investment for a livestock producer.
"I worked in a feed, seed and farm supply company for a couple of decades," Lynch says. "This is something not a lot of women do. That's where I learned how to sell to both men and women."
In 1999 she joined Norbco, a New York-based manufacturer of barn equipment (now owned by GEA) and opened a Wisconsin store in Tomah. Then it was on to Tulare, CA, "in a pickup with my clothes," she says. "I found an empty building and put a new Norbco store together."
In 2008, Lynch returned to Wisconsin to join Wieser Concrete Products at Maiden Rock, to replace the famed super salesman Phil Miller, who was about to retire.
Unlike many women who are sales representatives and carry brief cases and sample kits, Linda Lynch, sells 16-foot-tall concrete panels for bunker silos and half-acre big slatted barn floors. Oh, yes, she also supervises three other sale representatives.
Linda will be at the big farm shows representing her company while enduring cold, heat, rain and snow and sometimes wise cracks from friendly farmers who may later buy a bunker for a 1,000 cow herd.
Not everyone can be a successful marketer of big farm equipment, Linda Lynch is one - and she loves it.
Another of the true farms sales "pros" is Greg Lueth, of Rib Lake, who represents Canada-based ValMetal selling a wide range of dairy equipment ranging from feed carts to mixers to silo unloaders.
He introduced me to Debi Hancock who works in the ValMetal distribution center at Tomah and was at Dairy Expo for the first time.
"She's the one I call when I need something fast for a farmer who needs it yesterday," Greg says. "She's here to meet farmers and learn what we do at the sales end."
"This is really an education for me," Hancock says. "I met farmers and dealers and heard about our products during Greg's discussions with them - and, I heard their questions. I learned so much."
Greg and Debi agree that serving farmers is a team effort and her visit to Dairy Expo will prove invaluable to their sales efforts and in serving farmers.
It's sometimes perceived that sales people just sit around, take orders and get big salaries. How wrong that is - it's work and more work while facing weather, the economy and competition. Selling is what some say "makes the world go around," and without commercial exhibitors and their financial investment, World Dairy Expo would be where it was in 1969 - penniless.
John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.