Andy Stock's hay customers get more than just invoices in the mail from the 29-year-old Murdock, NE, grower. He expresses his gratitude for their business by occasionally sending them thank-you notes, gift cards or holiday packages.

“Next to producing high-quality products that meet my customers' needs, extending a personal touch to them is a good way to stand out in a competitive industry,” says Stock, who took over the family business after his parents passed away in 2006.

He harvests 400 acres of alfalfa and 100 acres of teff and bromegrass in 3 × 4 × 8' bales. His best customers are dairy producers from Indiana to Mississippi with 300- to 1,000-cow herds. Medium-quality hay is sold to local feedlots.

Stock shared some of his best tips for retaining and gaining customers at last month's Mid-America Alfalfa Expo in Kearney, NE. Chief among them was communicating on a regular basis.

Prior to closing a deal, he represents his hay as honestly and accurately as possible.

“I often get comments from my customers that the hay is better than I described it to them over the phone,” he says. “Maybe I'm hard on my product, but I would rather have it that way than the other way around.”

Upon receiving an order, he aims to get it shipped immediately, calling one or more of the five trucking brokers he works with. “When my customers call and say they need hay, they needed it yesterday,” he says.

He then follows up with a phone call a day or two after the shipment was scheduled to arrive to make sure it met his customer's expectations. He also asks when the client will need another load.

Two years ago, Stock hired a friend with ag marketing expertise to develop a colorful Stock Hay logo and catchy slogan, “We put the Pro in Protein.” The logo and slogan are prominent on Stock's business cards and correspondence.

For about $200, his friend also set up a Web site, www.stockhay.com. In 2008, the site averaged nearly 200 visits and over 1,230 hits per month. Visits are the number of people who used the site and hits are the average number of pages that each visitor looked at. On average, last year's visitors looked at 6.15 pages.

Stock carries a camera and uses it throughout the growing season to take photos of his operation. This year he plans to send 2010 calendars to his customers. He'll select his favorite images and have the calendars made at Wal-Mart for $17 each.

“I think the calendars will be a nice little gift, plus they'll keep my name and contact information in front of my customers daily,” he says.

A few years ago he had his logo printed on sweatshirts that he mailed in December. Last year he bought packages of Nebraska-raised beef from a neighbor and shipped them to his best customers during the holidays.

“Those are just little things I do to thank them for their loyalty and to help them remember me,” says Stock.

He schedules a trip every winter to visit clients face to face. Last year he flew to Mississippi to meet with dairy customers and their nutritionists. He's also had three out-of-state customers take him up on his invitation to visit his farm and go out for dinner.

“They rode in the tractor with me while I was baling and just seemed to enjoy checking out the hay and learning about the operation.”

He can be reached at 402-867-3341 or andy@stockhay.com.