Your average dairy farmer has little time for smooth sales talk. Farmers are practical people and Shane Smith takes an equally practical approach to his job as manager for StockRock, a unique surface product for farm races.
“What I really like is that I’m going on to a farm to solve a problem - usually a huge cow lameness problem,” Shane says.
Coming from a rural background himself, Shane knows that loss of income for farmers through cow lameness can be huge.
“The number of lame cows could be anything between 10 and 30 percent over the whole production season, and with big herds that can run into tens of thousands of dollars.”
He also has a huge passion for the product that he has commercially pioneered. It took years of development and a lot of hard work to convince farmers that using the mineral zeolite (trademarked as StockRock) on farm race surfaces was a worthwhile investment.
After leaving school Shane worked as a seasonal agricultural contractor in the Waikato region. Seeking something more permanent, he got a job with an earth moving contractor. In 1996 he purchased his own six ton excavator and leased a truck from his dairy farmer brother-in-law and built up a family-owned business, Central Excavations Ltd.
As time went on the company became more focused on rural sector jobs.
“One of the things I noted quite early on was that to be successful in the earth moving industry we needed to have our own supply of materials so I was always looking for an opportunity. Part of the farming work was with cow sheds and required specialist material that didn’t damage cows’ hooves. We had been using red vale race rock from a quarry in Albany that worked pretty well, but it was running out.”
A meeting with Waikato dairy farmer Paul Tidmarsh who had, through trial and error, discovered that using zeolite on his race surfaces reduced lameness in his large herd, was a turning point. Zeolite was mined at Ngakuru near Rotorua and Tidmarsh was a founding director of Blue Pacific Minerals. He originally trademarked StockRock, but in a move somewhat reminiscent of the biblical parable of the talents, he offered both Shane and another contractor 200 ton (?) of the rock each to see who could sell the most.
At the time most farmers knew nothing about StockRock.
“Development started from zero,” Shane remembers. “We used that 200 ton to do our trials and found that zeolite’s natural cementing capabilities were amazing. Races didn’t break down so they lasted a lot longer. We also found that the small particles or stones on the existing races, which is usually where the cows pick these hard stones, didn’t come off onto the concrete surfaces.”
Shane ended up selling close to 3000 ton in a year.
“I was then offered the opportunity to be the preferred contractor. I said I wanted to be the only contractor.” In 2005, his company bought all the assets of the quarry along with the rights to mine the zeolite for StockRock and to operate the quarry for Blue Pacific Minerals.
“It was our job to build the brand and the income as fast as we could and by mid-2012 it was finally paying its way,” Shane says.
In 2013 Blue Pacific Minerals bought the business from him as a going concern, and since then Shane has worked for them managing their StockRock sales.
Most of the StockRock’s clients are in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, and more recently, the top of the South Island. It keeps Shane and his machine operator crew of three on the road for much of the working week.
“My job is to sell the process to farmers and make sure that where they are spending their money is the best option at the time. It’s working with the farmer to get the best value for money. I tend to look at things in a bigger picture. Often it is more than just having a smooth surface on the race. The cow flow sometimes can be terrible because races are not wide enough for the amount of cows they’re milking, or they need to pour a bit more concrete so the cows can turn more freely without digging big holes in the race. It’s making the whole farming process better.”
Shane prefers to meet farmers face-to-face which can mean a lot of sitting behind the wheel, sometimes driving up to 1000 kilometres in a day. He likes to keep fit and in March this year completed his first Ironman competition in Taupo, finishing in 12 hours, 45 minutes. Now he’s in the swimming pool at 5.30am three days a week and trying to find enough time to run and cycle for another two Ironman events before the end of the year. It also keeps him looking pretty sharp, something his mother always insisted upon, although he admits a dayglow vest is a bit of a challenge when it comes to looking elegant.
As a salesperson Shane believes in walking the walk.
“In our game you can tell a farmer what you’re going to do but if you can deliver that’s what gives you good credibility. We’ve got farmers who are on their fourth StockRock job now and they see the value in it. It’s certainly not the cheapest thing they’ve ever done - and they always tell me that- but they always say it’s the best stuff they’ve ever used.”
These assertions are backed up at national Fieldays in Hamilton where the StockRock site has twice won awards – the latest in 2016 for Best Innovative Showcase Site Award from more than 1000 sites.
“We do get amazing feedback,” Shane says. “At the Fieldays people just come in and talk about the change StockRock has made to things like cow flow and hoof injuries. That in itself is really rewarding.”