Mike Stefan hopes that, when current and potential clients glance at their calendars, they think of him.
Stefan, a North Collins, NY, custom harvester, and M.J. Schmitt, one of his employees, take hundreds of digital photos of their work. They select the best ones each fall and have them put on calendars.
Stefan mails or hand-delivers the calendars during the holiday season, along with personalized notes.
“The calendars are a big hit,” says Stefan. “After the year has passed, some people cut the calendars off and keep the photos on their office walls.”
He and Schmitt, a part-time, award-winning photographer, try to take pictures at every farm they work on.
“As we travel from farm to farm here and in Pennsylvania, there's always something neat to take pictures of,” says Stefan.
Over the past few years, a friendly competition has developed among his clients to see whose fields and farms are featured.
“My customers get excited when they see that they're featured on the calendar.”
Stefan uses photos taken from his best clients' operations and makes sure different areas are represented.
“The calendars feature a collection of photos and a caption telling where they were taken. This lets potential clients know we're not afraid to travel.”
Stefan and his crew, which includes his father, Joe, and five part-time employees, custom harvest several thousand acres per year. They work from Lake Ontario into Pennsylvania, operating a 27' disc mower-conditioner, 48' rake, two 35' tedders and two 3 × 3' balers.
The father and son also make and market their own hay from 800 acres of owned and rented land. They grow orchardgrass, timothy and oats.
Stefan works with a local print shop to have the calendars made at a cost of less than $5 each. He has around 100 calendars made each year.
“I'm getting a lot of public relations value from an investment of around $500,” he says. “One year, we didn't take many pictures because the weather was so nasty. So I gave away something else and heard a lot of complaining.”
While the calendars are a useful marketing tool, Stefan keeps a camera with him on the job for other reasons, too.
“One time, an accident happened right in front of me — a farmer's tractor was hit by a car. I took the camera out and shot pictures of the scene. Legally, they could have been worth a lot to the farmer.”
Photos are also useful for diagnosing breakdowns and submitting receipts for reimbursement of warranty work.
“When I have a breakdown, I take digital pictures and download them to the equipment company with a description of the problem,” says Stefan. “That's helped get quicker responses from the equipment manufacturers. Additionally, the pictures are kept on computer file and in a file cabinet, giving a complete history of each machine until I trade it in.”