Last weekend my daughter Anna and I headed up to the Racine County Fair. We enjoyed seeing all the animals and exhibitions, including the first placed pies and tomatoes. The highlight was the 4-H livestock auction; we watched the end of the steer auction and most of the market pigs.
I was once again impressed by how much you can learn about marketing and business from the event.
The livestock auction is the culmination of a much longer program: kids buy young animals and then raise them for several months. In the market hog program, someone buys a piglet weighing about 30 lbs and then cares for it five months or so. By the time it gets to the local country fair, the animal might be 280 lbs.
During the auction, each 4-Her comes out with the animal while the audience bids. Prices far exceed the market price. Live market hogs are selling these days for $1.20 per pound but prices at the Racine County Fair on Saturday were $3 and up.
The prices were all over the board. Bidding for most pigs started at $2.50 per pound, and then went up to $3.50 or $4.00. But some really took off, selling for $11 or $12 per pound. That is a lot of money for 275-pound hog.
In total, buyers purchased 77 steers and 241 hogs on Saturday. A lot of kids and animals!
Here are four things one can learn from the 4-H auction.
Most of the buyers were local businesses: Fox River Home Care, Wilco Excavating, George’s Grating, and Kevin Schmidt Siding all purchased animals as we watched. These businesses are supporting the community and their customers. This is the sort of thing that creates real value.
I sat next to a nice fellow at the auction who was a local electrical contractor. He was watching for several kids, hoping to support one of his customers.
This makes perfect marketing sense. If you show up at an auction and buy the pig raised by your customer’s child, you build that relationship. You were there for your customer. They, in turn, will likely be there for you. They aren’t going to go to another provider with a slightly lower price. They will give you a referral. They will support you.
Let People Know
The hogs that went for a lot of money had several bidders running up the price. The buyers were motivated and ready.
This means, of course, that someone let them know in advance. The odds that one of your suppliers will happen to be at the auction and recognize your kid and connect the dots is very low; it all moves too quickly. You have to give people a heads-up.
The learning: let people know when your kid is selling their pig, or when you are running a marathon for a cause, or raising money for a charity you care about. If you give people a chance to help, they will likely show up. More important, they will be thankful for the opportunity to help.
Enthusiasm Is Key
One of the factors that seemed to lead to higher prices was the kid. Younger kids generally did better than older kids, which makes sense. The more powerful factor: attitude. Some kids were smiling and cheerful and positive. They had dressed up for the occasion. They seemed happy to be there. These animals went for high prices.
Take Care of Your Customers
The Racine County Fair team rolled out the red carpet for buyers. They sent free passes to the fair to prior buyers, reminding them of the time. At the check-in, there was free coffee and donuts. A local store was sampling sausages and cheese (this is Wisconsin, after all). The check-in team was super organized and positive.
All of these things put the buyers in a good mood. By the time they settled down, the buyers were ready to bid.
There is still time to get to a county fair this year and watch the auction. I recommend it. You can also buy an animal and help a young person.
Last weekend Anna and I ended up buying a hog from a boy named Connor. We donated the meat to the local food bank and walked away feeling great about the day and rural America.