Innovative Communication Opens Doors to New Markets

Finding updates about products and activities at Earlybird Feed & Fertilizer is not hard to do. After all, the store has a team member dedicated to social media and web marketing.

Located in Goodfield, Illinois, Earlybird began as a fertilizer company in 1965. Today the 49-member staff also sells feed for commercial and show-quality cattle, hogs, goats and sheep as well as feed for turkeys and chickens.

Mike Orns, Earlybird’s Inside Sales and Feed Division Manager, is like the store’s traffic cop. He keeps everyone running in the right direction, he says, and it’s his job to be innovative and consider the big picture. From production to sales and regulations to promotions, Orns oversees the store and keeps the gears turning.

The store has grown so much that it’s owners challenged Orns to hire a new staff person, someone to focus on the use of marketing and technology to grow the store’s customer base.

“There are so many people now involved with social media, especially within the show audience,” he says. “We deal a lot with customers who show livestock and we’ve realized that’s how kids and others communicate. This opened the door wide for us to better communicate and reach that market.”

Specifically, Earlybird needed to publicize its connection to the success of many show ring champions. Posting photos, recognizing customers and marketing show products that helped get those champions to the winner’s circle needed to be done.

Scott Hardman was hired as the marketing manager for Earlybird a year ago. He had previous experience with a national youth organization, which included social media and website marketing. And, Hardman was also familiar with the livestock show ring.

Hardman says Orns was “very serious” about making Earlybird’s website state-of-the-art, and using Facebook and Twitter to enhance the store’s social media presence. Hardman has made it his mission to promote Earlybird’s successes with feed and product sales to livestock show families. And though the store has seen great results by emphasizing its show ring presence online, Hardman says there is much, much more to do.

“In the show industry, we are well aware we needed gratification of successes,” he says. “We needed to be much better at keeping up with our winners because we had a large number of them. The store needs to use Facebook as a major marketing tool rather than just a source of self-promotion for us. We want to help promote our winners.”

Earlybird also needed to expand promoting it’s successful customers from other species and added sheep, goats and poultry to it’s media plan. The store is located one mile from a major interstate in Illinois, and Hardman thought it should take advantage of that; for example promoting Earlybird as an easy stop on a person’s way home.

“We needed a bigger footprint if we were going to be found,” he says.

Both Orns and Hardman take advantage of the marketing tools provided by BioZyme®, Inc. Orns says the company is very good at direct mailing, and BioZyme always has a huge presence at livestock shows, which makes it an easy-to-recognize product when customers come in.

“It also helps that BioZyme products actually work,” he says. “When we can push examples of how the product has helped another person’s livestock project and can quantify their results, that helps us tremendously.”

Hardman says the store’s Area Sales Manager, Shandy Bertolino, does a great job at providing information on what BioZyme products are available. She hosts a meeting each summer and shares tools and marketing pieces that keep Earlybird’s staff updated on what BioZyme can offer. This kind of innovation helps dealers like Earlybird keep on top of new products, terminology and how to approach a customer about including BioZyme in their feeding routine.

Orns is quick to realize social media is not the only way to advertise and promote the fertilizer and feed store, but it is the most innovative way to do so. Social media and show ring families go hand-in-hand. Connecting with youth in agriculture is most efficiently accomplished through Facebook and Twitter so by enhancing Earlybird’s online presence Orns knows he is reaching more livestock kids who want to be as successful as those posted online.

To be sure his field staff is able to connect, post and promote products, Orns says he puts the best computers, tablets and smartphones in their hands for work, especially with the fertilizer side of the company. Earlybird’s owners are also progressive and have viewed Hardman’s social media work as a stride in the right direction.

Hardman tells how he used to come in to Earlybird as a customer purchasing livestock feed and supplements. Until he took the job as the store’s marketing manager, Hardman was not aware the store carried grass seed, emphasizing the point that innovation in social media is not just self-promotion. This kind of marketing can build a loyal customer base that will talk about using Earlybird’s wide variety of products and encourage others to do the same.

“As we continue to grow the number of Facebook followers, we can use that to better market our monthly specials and expand on things that are big and significant,” Hardman says. “The other big thing we need to focus on is to constantly grow the website and use it as tool to help us be more productive and process oriented. We will use social media as a marketing tool and invent ways to showcase the type of company we are.”

To check out Earlybird Feed & Fertilizer online, go to

Mike Orns – Inside Sales and Feed Division Manger
Earlybird Feed & Fertilizer Goodfield, Illinois

Current mobile device: Droid Turbo 2

Current Computer: Lenovo notepad

First, tell us what you feel separates your business from other feed supply operations? Service.

What websites, apps or tools can’t you live without? Email and texting

Why? Those are the best ways to communicate with me other than the phone.
How do you keep your to-do list? On a notepad with a good old pen and paper.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without? 
A calculator.

What’s your secret? Take care of the little details.

What are you currently reading? Several feed magazines, local and national news. I read some parts of the newspaper but only online.

How do you recharge? I enjoy time with my family.

What is your favorite and least-favorite task at work? My least favorite thing to do is manage conflict. My favorite task is working with customers.

What is one area you’d like to improve in regarding business? Organization.

Describe your ideal customer. One who pays on time and orders well in advance. I like those who are progressive and listen to leaders in the industry.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Listen to people.

Why do you love this business? Because we’re family-owned. We are in a great community, and the owners are family focused. Family always comes first.

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