Gerritsen says this approach works because the trust built between the producer and the nutritionist ensures that if you meet the customer’s goals and make them successful, Vita Plus will be successful too. A prime example of that trust is seen as customers begin feeding all their animals according to Vita Plus nutritionist recommendations — including dry cows, heifers and calves — in addition to the milking herd.
“Another equally significant part of the equation is how we develop a feeding program that’s right for the producer,” says Matt Jorgensen, assistant manager, Vita Plus, Loyal, WI. “A team approach, which includes our nutritionist, the producer and their veterinarian, the local banker and, in our case, an agronomist, helps us work smarter with the customers, and provide them all the relevant information necessary to make the best management decision.
“Especially in these trying times, having as much information available and a team working on your behalf can make the difference between survival and selling out,” adds Jorgensen.
From its humble beginnings in a barn outside of Madison in 1948, Vita Plus as grown to become a thriving company which today includes 12 manufacturing and warehousing facilities, and more than 75 dealers that serve thousands of customers in seven states.
During that time Vita Plus dealt with many changes to their business — shifting from poultry to focus on the dairy, swine and beef markets, expanding their service area outside of Wisconsin, and shifting to an employee-owned company in the ‘80s — and the challenges they face today are no less daunting.
Nevertheless, Vita Plus has relied upon its belief that by serving the core focus areas — along with keeping an open line of communication at all times — allows them to weather challenges better than other companies.
“If you look at the areas that pose real threats to our industry, issues such as maintaining high customer satisfaction, keeping operating costs in check, building efficiencies into production, and training and retaining a qualified workforce, these are not a problem for us,” says Jeff Winkler, operations leader, Vita Plus, Madison, WI. “Our customer focus, the employee-ownership and drive for manufacturing and delivering the best quality product takes care of many of those issues.”
Winkler certainly knows something about meeting challenges. Part of a legion of Vita Plus employee-owners with 20+ years of service under their belt, Winkler and the rest of the Madison team managed through probably the most significant challenge.
Like many of its sister facilities, Madison’s mixing plant is fairly old (other plants run anywhere from 20 to nearly 70 years of service) and was built before Madison became a city of nearly 300,000. Vita Plus housed its corporate offices, manufacturing and distribution facilities all on a parcel of land just a shade over 1.6 acres in size. Trucks rolling in and out at a dizzying pace created distribution bottlenecks at the location, and more importantly, safety concerns.
Being land-locked by main city thoroughfares on two sides and the University of Wisconsin’s Arboretum on another, meant expansion was out. But a fortunate deal on available warehouse space on Madison’s east side, allowed Vita Plus to move its distribution center (DC) four miles away from the original location, which delivered a threefold benefit.
“The move eased our congestion issues at the manufacturing facility, got our distribution closer to the Interstate and other highway corridors, and opened up the space we needed to safely store and disperse product,” says Winkler. “Efficiency skyrocketed after the move and our DC serves as the hub of our wholesale business. With products coming from other Vita Plus locations, the DC location allows us to get great turnaround times for product delivery.”
Space concerns weren’t limited to the Madison location. Both the Columbus and Lake Mills, WI sites are somewhat squeezed into their locations, with Amtrak, city streets and private property bordering the plants.
The Lake Mills location is bordered on all four sides by a private property, state highway, a state bike trail and more wooded private acreage. For Tony Newton, general manager of the Lake Mills location, the lack of flexibility for expansion outside the plant meant some changes needed to occur inside in order to grow the business.