Archive for Wednesday, March 22, 2000

Couple learns to run ‘nutty’ business

March 22, 2000

The standing joke around the home of Randy and Jean Davis these days is the response to the question: "How's business?"

"I just say, 'It's nuts,'" said Randy Davis, who with his wife last July purchased a nut company in Independence, Mo.

Learning to run their new business, Farmstead Treats, at the beginning of the busy season of the year, was hectic. Or as Jean Davis succinctly puts it: "It was like baptism by fire."

From the first of August through December, the Davises worked at the company seven days a week, 10 hours a day.

Now, with the holiday rush over, the company is in its traditional lull period.

They bought the nut company from Jane and Gordon Swan, who had established it more than 20 years ago.

"The Swans began by pruning and taking care of the pecan trees on their farm and selling the pecans," Randy Davis said.

"Soon, so many people came to buy them and they ran out. They started hitting up their neighbors to buy pecans from them. It got so big they couldn't keep up any more."

So, the Swans began buying pecans and other nut products from growers across the nation and they moved their business to a 3,600-square-foot building at 501 E. 24 Highway in Independence.

The primary customers of the company are groups that purchase the nuts to sell in fund-raisers, Randy Davis said. In fact, he said, most are church groups in the Kansas City area.

In addition, the company sells to individual customers who saved the package labels purchased during fund-raisers and called the company to order nuts on their own.

The Davises considered about 100 businesses before deciding on the nut company, he said.

Randy Davis was familiar with running his own business because he formerly owned and operated Quantrill's Flea Market in Lawrence for 20 years.

"It was a mom and pop operation that had been a success for more than 20 years," Randy Davis said. "We weren't just buying blue sky. This company had a track record there that was proven."

The Davises have added to the company's product line. A color brochure now includes chocolate-covered nuts, dried fruit and Grandma's fruitcake, a light fruitcake made in Nebraska. Later this year, they plan to add gourmet coffees to their repertoire.

The couple started the company's first website recently:

Not ready to stop there, the Davises plan to turn the business from seasonal to year-round, starting next January.

One of the secrets of the company's enduring success is that the products are guaranteed. Each shipment is taste-tested for freshness. The nuts and treats arrive in bulk and are run through a conveyor-belt system and funneled into plastic sacks that are then sealed and labeled.

During the pre-holiday months, it takes about six full-time employees to keep up with the processing.

"During the thick of it, the nuts come in the back door and they can go out the front door on the same day," Jean Davis said.

"It's wild," Randy Davis added.

Having run the flea market for so many years is paying off in this business, Randy Davis said.

"You learn to work with all different kinds of people," he said. "Customer service is the most important part of it you've got to be able to take care of the people."

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