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Out & About is sponsored by DSM Nutritional Products Ltd

A Visit to Davidsons Animal Feeds

OUT & ABOUT by Andrew Mounsey

“Our buzzword is consistency in everything we do. We focus on

as part of an extended family; everyone is important. Farming is a family

consistency of service for our customers, from the salespeople and

business industry and this creates synergy and understanding between

from our drivers who see and interact with them. We need consistent

Davidsons and their customers – it really does make a difference.

quality from the mill and consistent nutrition from the products. We

William tells his staff to give his number to farmer customers so that,

want our customers to know that, when buying from us, they get that

if they have an issue, they can phone him direct – “I may not have all

consistency in service, quality and in value. Everything that we do, right

the answers, I’m not a nutritionist. But I will listen, I’ll take it on board

across the organisation, we have to ask ourselves, ‘This action I am

and do what I can to inform, assist, resolve – whatever is required,”

about to perform, how does this add value to my customer?’ We are

he says.

not looking to be the cheapest supplier, and hopefully we’ll never be the most expensive – what we are looking for is consistent value.”

“First and foremost,” says William, “what a farmer requires of their feed supplier is that when they go to their silos or their bins and open

This is how William Davidson sums up the ethos of Davidsons

the chute, feed comes out.” Remembering to order feed takes up a

Animal Feeds. The company was founded by William’s father Billy

small proportion of a farmer’s thinking time, in amongst all the jobs

Davidson in 1977 and grew rapidly by providing a local alternative

which they have to do in running their farms. But that small proportion is

supplier and a more personal service than much of the competition.

100% of what Davidsons do, so the company has to understand and do

Today it can claim to be the largest manufacturer of animal feed in

its best to achieve the objectives set by the customer when the orders

Scotland. While Billy Davidson is still officially the Managing Director,

are placed. The ethos is to do exactly what they say they will do – not

the role he fulfils on a day-to-day basis is more akin to that of a

to promise what cannot be or is not intended to be delivered. And it is

Chairman, while William, officially Operations Director, actually acts

working: sales are growing, they are getting closer to customers and

more in the capacity of the MD.

to suppliers.

Davidsons’ focus on consistency applies to products and services

The last time I visited Davidsons, in the spring of 2013, the offices

for customers but also benefits suppliers. As suppliers to Davidsons

were in two buildings and on three floors. “Accounts were on the far

know that they can rely on this consistency, this in turn helps with their

side on the top floor. Nobody ever went to accounts and it was a trek

own suppliers and thus strings benefits along the supply chain; this

for accounts to come to

allows value to be passed along the chain and on to the customer.

see anyone else!” William

There are many things in any feed business which cannot be controlled

explains. “My dad was in

– for example the weather and the markets (both the one which the business buys from and the one which its customers are selling into). And while it is necessary to be aware of these and to understand them,

“We want our

it is important to focus on elements which can be controlled, and that

customers to know

is how consistent value can be achieved.

that, when buying

All members of staff are treated equally and everyone has the

from us, they get that

same opportunities, no matter that each has their own role to perform.

consistency in service,

All are part of the team and there are no prima donnas. It is a family

quality and in value,”

business with Billy and William at the core but with everyone regarded

says William Davidson

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Right: Views of the new office building. From top to bottom: The courtyard, the boardroom and the training room

one corner, transport in another, me in another and the laboratory was tucked away at the back of the building. Sales were across the yard in a separate building so people were crossing vehicle routes carrying envelopes from one place to another – and a trip to see someone for a necessary two minute conversation could take half an hour by the time you’d said ‘hello, how’s it going and cheerio’ to the people you met along the way.” The situation had evolved according to need as the company had grown, but what had resulted was fragmented and clearly far from ideal. William was lucky enough to go on a ‘Learning Journey’ with Scottish Enterprise which took him over to the States. The group visited many different businesses in different parts of the country: amongst others, a hotel, a magazine publishing house and an architect’s office in New York City, a design company and a clothing retailer in San Francisco and a couple of universities – all nothing whatsoever to do with feed but all successful organisations from which lessons could be learned. One of the talks, Williams recalls, was advocating the benefits of being ‘Messy’ in business. He took some persuading, being someone who prefers his working environment to be neat and tidy with everything in its place. How, he wondered, could being messy be an improvement on order? Eventually, it clicked. What was being spoken about was people, not things. Don’t put them, like different raw materials, into silos – mix them up and get them crossing over each other and, that way, communication and cross-fertilisation of ideas are nurtured. “When I got back I realised I had a hundred silos in the factory, but I had just as many in the offices, and that was holding us back.” So last year, coming out of a good winter for the trade, William decided to have a go at creating the kind of beneficial ‘mess’ he had learned about, bringing all the office staff together in one building to provide his leadership with the help of having people around about

obviously hugely important to Davidsons to be able to make the move

him. A different animal from his father, whose entrepreneurial style

in before the height of the winter feeding season.

had been so essential in building the company up from the beginning,

The sales team were fantastic during the process of the changeover.

William saw this as an opportunity to change the working environment

Their original office, which was one half of one of the existing buildings,

to one which suited his management style and would help him to grow

was sealed off from where the refurbishment and building work was

into his role in the future.

taking place. A temporary kitchen and toilets were installed outside and

William brought in an architect and explained what he saw as the

they continued working while the new build, consisting of a canteen,

problems, and how he would like these to be solved. Together they

toilets, offices, laboratory, store rooms and a training room, was added

walked round the site, looking at what people did and discussed the

alongside. Not only did they have to keep going while the building work

brief, which was to give everyone their own space, but close enough to

was taking place, last year William was also brave enough to stick his

facilitate teamwork and communication. The architect came back with

neck out and regionalise the salesforce – so they had that restructuring

a courtyard idea, which spaced people out but gave visibility (“there’s

to cope with as well and at the same time! Previously, each telephone

nowhere to hide, including for me,” comments William, pointing to the

salesperson may be calling a customer in Cumbria one minute and

glass front of his own office). With a few tweaks, the idea was adopted

Inverness-shire the next. It was decided that it made sense to organise

and the decision made to go ahead in May 2013. Ground was broken in

the telephone sales team on a regional basis according to the number

the first week of July and, in spite of the architect’s belief that it would

of available customers. Davidsons as a company had embraced the

probably take until Easter 2014, the building was handed over complete

use of telephone sales as a cost-effective means of selling to farmers,

and finished on 25th November – some achievement by the builder and

perhaps to a greater extent than any other in the feed trade. Certainly,

Feed Compounder March/April 2014 Page 25


Left: Part of the office sales team hard at work That the change to regional sales teams was accepted readily by people who had been doing things differently for a long time is testament to the trust which has developed in William’s leadership. He first started taking on such a role in 2009, and he believes that such trust is built on communicating his ideas to the team, explaining the reasons behind them and making sure they know that changes are not irreversible if they don’t work out. But everyone is prepared to give them a go. He began on the operations side in the factory and has also run the transport department in his time, which gives him a good grounding in the business and was excellent preparation for a leadership role. they had reduced the number of traditional sales rep on the road over

He could do most of the jobs in the business himself if required and

time – maybe too much, they now believe. More recently, in order to

he knows what can be achieved easily as well as what might be a

help sales growth by getting closer to their customers, they have started

bit more challenging. To help spread a similar level of understanding

to recruit external reps to complement the telephone sales efforts, with

and communication across the company, the management team has

both now organised regionally. It wasn’t easy to make this change;

done such things as putting a driver in the sales office for a morning or

some of the telesales people had been calling the same customers

one of the sales team on a truck or in the control room for half a day,

for up to 14 years. However, it is working well. They now have sales

allowing them to see how their colleagues work in other parts of the

teams in the department with subject matter experts in each team for

business. Across the whole workforce they know that the people before

each region. It also means that the people who deal with customers

or after them in the process of serving the customers are working just

in a particular area can attend events within that area. The sales team

as hard as they are.

consists of ten people making

I asked William about the dynamics of taking over the day-to-day

calls from the office, together

running of the company as the second generation in a family business,

with six on the road and Tommy

and once more he pointed to assistance he had received from the

Davidson (pictured left) as

Scottish government. This came in the form of mentoring in his transition

sales manager, who places an

from being an operator, to managing operations through to being a

emphasis on continued, steady

leader of the business. It was, he admits, a challenge. “In operations,

and sustainable sales growth,

we don’t like anything to change,” he says. “Just keep giving us product

achieved by getting close to

to make and we’ll make it. If something comes up, we’ll firefight it –

and understanding customers.

that’s the ethos in operations, and that is where I had spent most of my

Sales have grown from just

working life. But as you transition into the leader, you’ve got to recognise

over 80,000 tonnes in each of the three years from 2009 to 2011 to

the need for change and then drive it right across the team. How my

130,000 tonnes last year, a clear indication that the strategies are

dad did that with his entrepreneurial spirit was to just get it done. He

working. William himself is also actively involved in sales, speaking to

went that fast that everyone ran behind him as quickly as they could

his own customers on very a regular basis, which helps him to keep his

to make it work! I need to do things differently because I’m not that

finger on the pulse of the markets the company is selling into.

person – what I need is a few key guys round about me.”

The business is very much focussed on feed – they do supply

William’s team consists of an operations manager (Gordon

some third party products but those are on the fringe of the company’s

Mullen, a recent appointment from a different industry), a transport

offer. The feed produced is mostly compounds, with some blends, but

manager (Stephen Hunter, a farmer’s son and for 20 years a driver

regardless, everything is produced through the mill; the blends are

for the company who knows the customers and the job inside out), a

simpler mixes and not ground or pelletised but otherwise produced

sales manager (Tommy Davidson – whose role in growing sales has

in the same way as the compound. And speaking of compounds

already been mentioned and whose surname is purely coincidental)

and blends, William believes there has been something of a change

and a finance manager (Gary Dow, not originally from the feed industry,

in emphasis towards the former in his markets in recent years. He

who joined a few years ago). The five of them sit down as a senior

believes there a variety of reasons for this trend, including changes

management team (with an average age of around forty, which is

in pricing policy from suppliers of pelleted co-products as well as the

impressive for our industry) around a table once a week to discuss the

implementation of UFAS accreditation across all feed suppliers, which

running of the company. Operational day-to-day communication with

has narrowed the cost differential. At the same time, changes on farms,

the sixty-strong workforce is carried out by the managers, whereas

such as the introduction of robotic milk parlours have mitigated towards

communication of strategic information giving a business overview

feeding complete compounds.

comes directly from William.

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In the past, the company has focussed very much on having the

Right: Billy Davidson – the

latest technology – as a result it has one of the most modern feed

man who started it all back

manufacturing plants in Europe. And they continue to work hard to look

in 1977

after it, but William has changed the emphasis to developing the people within the company, by appointing the best people for the roles and by allowing those already in the business to take on new challenges and

only regret is that I’m not any

responsibilities. The new building includes an impressive training room,

younger myself!” Billy sees a

which is large enough to seat everyone in the company at one time,

lot of opportunities opening

and training takes places on a continual basis on all areas, undertaken

up in the industry. He tells me

by a local specialist training consultant, by directors and managers and

that the mill has three times

by external suppliers.

the capacity that it is currently producing, and believes there is scope

William was keen to emphasize how Davidsons Feeds has evolved

within the existing trading area to double their sales, whether by

and matured. For a good part of its history, within the trade and the

organic growth or through acquisition (“We have the firepower to do

local farming community, the company has been associated almost

that if the right opportunity comes along at the right money, but today

exclusively with the man who founded it and has driven it forward.

I don’t see anything worth getting excited about.”) He believes one of

“My dad. The leader. The wee guy with the fiery temper,” as William

the company’s great strengths is its very tight management style with

describes him. And to be sure, Billy is the person who started it all

the ability to makes decisions very quickly and to act on them. He

and made it as successful as it has become. And he is still around

also believes in a one-site operation saying that it is not possible to

every day and oversees everything. As William says, “I like to do the

manage effectively from a distance. So if, in the future, an acquisition

analysis down to the last dot, he likes to go with gut feel. There is a

is made it would be to bring tonnage into the mill at Shotts. But for the

balance – he makes sure my analysis is timely and I make sure that

time being, the emphasis will be to continue to invest in people and

we’ve actually done some analysis!” But today, as I hope this article has

their development, to maintain a first rate production and transport

demonstrated, there is a team of people providing a consistent reliable

capabilities and to grow organically.

long term partner to suppliers and customers alike. It is not a one-man band, it is a well-run and sustainable family business.

William believes that Scotland has a great brand in producing food and drink and that being part of the food chain in Scotland is, therefore,

Billy himself emphasizes the point. “We’ve been through a

a great place to be. The devolved Scottish government recognises this

transformation in recent times, right across the board. William is making

and is very keen to promote it, and more than once the company has

a tremendous job of it – he’s far better at it than I am. My problem is

been helped with training and development. “We are part of a good,

I have no self-discipline or patience. I know what I want to do and I

down to earth and honest industry dedicated to producing quality, safe

can drive but William has the patience and we work better as a team

food and we are lucky enough to be able to supply the feed. You can’t

because he imposes the discipline on me. I think it’s tremendous. I’m

produce Scottish dairy products, Scottish beef and Scottish chicken in

more enthusiastic than I was 20 years ago. Our oldest person in the

any other part of the world. So for me, there is great opportunity and I

sales team is forty (and he’s been here twenty years) and right across

am very positive that there is more than enough business out there to

the company we have people who are in the twenties and thirties. My

sustain our growth for years to come.”

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Feed Compounder March/April 2014 Page 27

Davidsons Animal Feeds  

A visit to Davidsons Animal Feeds