You can learn a lot about marketing at a 4-H market pig auction.
Last week I went to the Northwest Michigan Fair, a charming, old-time county fair, complete with the corn dogs, snow cones and “The World’s Biggest Alligator.” My kids and I had a grand time inspecting farm animals and studying the newest Massey Ferguson tractors. We also sat in on the 4-H market pig auction.
In the 4-H market pig program, kids purchase piglets, care for them for six months or so and then sell them off at the local county fair. The Northwest Michigan Fair featured 4-H auctions for hogs, steer, lambs, ducks, chickens and rabbits.
The prices in the auction we watched last week were remarkable. The hogs started at $2.10 per pound, with most selling for $2.80 or $2.90. A few of the animals sold for well over $3.00 per pound.
Anyone who follows the price of hogs knows that $2.80 per pound is an amazing price; live hogs usually sell for less than $0.60 per pound.
It is all the more remarkable because the 4-H pigs aren’t actually better than other pigs, at least not notably so. There is no promise of exceptional quality.
So what is going on?
The key point is simple: it isn’t about the hogs. It also isn’t really about the kids. The 4-H auction is all about relationships; buying a pig or a steer at the 4-H auction is a way for a local business to support the community and cement personal connections. So local businesses show up and support friends and customers; last week I watched as Arbor Oil bought a hog, followed by Red Ginger Restaurant, Springfield Roofing and Northline Oilfield Services.
It makes perfect sense. When you buy a market pig you build a relationship and create loyalty. It is tough to push back on the price of a new roof when the roofer just supported your kid at the local pig auction. You don’t call Geico looking for a better deal when your local insurance agent bought your family’s pig.
Back when I was in 4-H, I sold lambs at the Erie County Fair. I wasn’t a particularly good marketer at the time; I didn’t tell many people I was selling a lamb. If I had a kid selling an animal in a 4-H auction today, I would spread the word; I would tell my insurance agent, accountant, electrician, plumber, car dealer, roofer and pediatrician. They wouldn’t all show up but I’m certain a few of them would. And if they bid and bought the animal I would be loyal for a very long time.
Here is a good piece of advice: if you ever hear that your customer’s kid is selling a hog at the local fair, go buy it.