COMMUNITY CULTURES ALIGN ACROSS NEW BORDERS
With the Delta Ag Group now extending into Western Australia as part of its acquisition of David Grays Aglink (DGA) and Agquire Rural Holdings (ARH), Rosie O’Keeffe gains an insight into the history of these businesses and what the merger means for both companies.
The David Grays Aglink mantra is aligned with its sense of community – “locals supporting locals”.
And, while the company now boasts servicing more than 40 branches as wholesale customer stores and its own 8 retail holdings across the state, the sense of community in each of the outlets is strong.
Each Thursday night in the small town of Cadoux in the north eastern wheat belt of Western Australia, a district with around 35 local growers, all come together socially. Usually for a barbeque and perhaps to pick up their local supplies at the same time, the gathering has also been known to have other important elements such as health checks offered to those in attendance.
“Perhaps in other larger regional centres, rural stores just sell farm inputs, but we also sell hardware, general store items, liquor, lottery, fuel, postal services – our retail holdings really are community hubs,” David Grays Aglink General Manager Warren Stirrat says.
“We will look at the opportunities to go to very small rural townships and we will then really make sure we immerse ourselves in those communities.”
There are two segments to the David Grays WA business. Firstly there is David Grays Aglink which is a rural inputs wholesale business servicing 40 independently owned rural retail branches throughout the regions of WA, from Kununurra in the north to Esperance in the south east.
The second part of the David Grays business are the 8 wholly owned rural retail branches located throughout the main cropping belt of WA.
Today in the DGA network there are 70 staff, including 35 employed in the retail stores, and 35 staff employed in the wholesale section of the business. Most of the team members have been working in the DGA business for several years, and some since the first day of operation back in 2005.
Whilst the David Grays Aglink story began 16 years ago, the David Grays name and its business establishment as a supplier of agricultural chemical products to the farming community dates back to 1939.
The company was originally formed as a supplier of stock feeds and is now a highly diversified business with involvement in waste management, pest control, aerial spraying, consumer products, commercial formulation (toll manufacturing) and commercial agriculture through its David Grays Aglink branding.
The waste management division originated in 1992 when David Grays secured the local distributorship for SULO wheelie bins and became WA’s largest supplier to government, mining and industry. The pest control division commenced operations in the mid 1940s when David Grays first diversified into the formulation and supply of DDT and Dieldrin, while the consumer products division really grew to prominence in the 1970s when the products Outdoor Fogger and Scram became popular in the effective control of flies and mosquitoes.
Since its inception, the David Grays company has remained a family-run business, with David’s son David joining the enterprise in the early 1970s after studying a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Western Australia and now his own sons Nicholas and Benjamin are a part of the business.
David took over the reins earlier than expected when his father passed away in the mid 1970s. Whilst the business continued to grow under his management, it was in the 1990s that the next major transition
occurred with the larger expansion into the broadacre market, joining with the company to later become known as the Aglink brand.
It was then that Warren Stirrat and John Cross, both still in management with the company today, led the operations of the Aglink side of the business, expanding the reach throughout the years.
“The move into Aglink was when we really focused more on broadacre and horticulture and then we expanded into the seeds and trial work with AgroAdvantage, working with a number of suppliers,” David Gray explains.
“We had known the potential for expansion across Western Australia was there and the development really hinged on the contacts Warren and John had and understanding the importance of servicing the independent retailers in smaller districts that were distinctive from where the corporates had a presence.”
David Gray and Warren both attribute the success and growth of the business to its sense of community and the relationships garnered between the team and the customer base.
“It’s really about the culture and the community. That’s the strength of the independent, we are all local within the region and contributors to the community. That makes it a very workable model. The farmers like to support a business which is supporting the community as well and we work well with each of the outlets in community and charity events to, and we’ll support those ventures in any way we can.”
Warren, who is third generation in his family involved in agriculture, with his grandfather originally settling on a farming property at Muntadgin in 1926, first started working in the industry 30 years ago and worked in various roles across the state before he accepted the David Grays opportunity.
“I recall we were despondent with the corporate environment and there was a real appetite from other agricultural agents that wanted involvement with a business with high level customer service, so we grew the business from 5 to 6 agents to 15 to 20 in just a few years,” Warren recalls.
With the Western Australian broadacre cropping area spanning some 8 million hectares and with 3,500 growers, and then horticulture operations close to the coastal areas, there continues to be opportunities for expansion. And that was a driving force in the David Grays Aglink business now merging into the Delta Ag network.
With other corporates merging, Warren saw that as an independent and Australian-owned company to continue to operate and potentially grow into the future, scale and size was needed.
“I really felt it was time to bring our retail outlets (ARH) and David Grays Aglink wholesale business together, and this opportunity with Delta meant we could achieve that,” Warren says.
“It really was a natural step for a growing independent business to come together with another business that share the same values. We can now really look at extending our network.
“Whilst it’s important for our suppliers and customers to know we are now a part of the Delta Ag group, it was also equally as important to us to retain our identity, so we will still be trading as David Grays Aglink and that is the brand our agents and growers have resonated with.”
David Gray agrees that in having Delta’s ownership of the Aglink part of the company will enhance further expansion opportunities.
“When we started to talk to the Delta management team it was obvious that our cultures were very similar and that to me was one of the most important factors in getting together.”
Delta Ag’s Managing Director Gerard Hines is also excited about the opportunity the expansion will bring for the wider network and growers across the group’s footprint.
“This exciting development has launched our company into the large Western Australian market in a substantial way and will give us initially around a 25 per cent share of the Western Australian crop protection market, the largest market in Australia. This merger also gives us a big uplift in geographic and seasonal diversity and provides our overall business with better balance in terms of diversity of earnings and a strong base to add additional services like Livestock Marketing, Finance and Real Estate activities.”
Warren Stirrat believes that there are exciting new opportunities for Western Australian agriculture overall and with an increase in residents moving to the country for a rural lifestyle, he is excited to develop the team and the David Grays Aglink network further, along with increasing the David Grays Aglink offerings in its AgroAdvantage, retail and its procurement divisions.
“We have a very loyal workforce and team and very few people have left the company after joining the David Grays family,” Warren explains.
“The merger with Delta Ag has also given these wonderful staff members the opportunity to invest in the business if they choose to.”
Teresa Bartolone is the administration manager for the business and is responsible for consignments. She has seen the company from just a handful of staff and she is proud to have been involved in the family-owned company since 2005. She had been working with Warren prior in the agricultural industry and has enjoyed her role as it has evolved over the years.
Simon Hazelden started in the business temporarily having immigrated from Zimbabwe, and now, 15 years later, he is still working within the team, now as Business Operations Manager for the retail stores. He says that the business has been through growth curves and new systems for procurement have been instrumental in keeping ahead of inventory especially in challenging times such as the Global Financial Crisis.
“It was important for us at the time to develop a consignment stock model into our business with the aid of four key suppliers. These operating systems have become a key cornerstone of the business. It’s all integrated so there is a visual window for the supplier to see where the stock is and all the sales data from the products as well,” Simon explains.
Simon believes that COVID-19 has cemented the importance of local retailers such as the David Grays Aglink business, and whilst tracking operations at these outlets can be challenging with such a large ‘general store’ offering, he believes the services are so important to the communities.
“We have seen how much communities are relying on their local businesses. We are excited about the opportunity to expand into other rural communities across the state. Whilst some of the smaller retailers may not be large profit drivers, they are an important part of these townships and the districts and we need to keep them in operation. Aligning with Delta now certainly allows us the ability to increase our footprint for further retail outlets throughout Western Australia.”
Doug Hanna, who manages procurement for the wholesale and retail stores, has also been working with David Grays Aglink for several years and he says it has become critical to be ahead when it comes to forecasting requirements.
“Procurement has changed dramatically in the last 15 years that I have been involved in the business, and I believe it has also changed dramatically in the last two years and in the last six months. It has always been important to negotiate the right price and terms, but it has become crucial to have accurate numbers for individuals and the overall business to make sure that there is stock available, but there doesn’t become an excess of stock,” Doug explains.
“It is especially important now with season 2022 upon us, with expected shortages with suppliers from China and price increases not seen to this extent since around 2007, inventory management, pricing and terms is critical.”
Doug adds that being able to make decisions for customers and supplying products in a short timeframe is also a point of difference.
“There is a number of loyalty tools the business has that really provides value over price. Working on the research trials through AgroAdvantage also ensures we provide information on new products so farmers can have the latest information at their fingertips.
“Being aligned with Delta now will also increase our scale for opportunities for customers with an increased ability to purchase products from suppliers. It’s a real bonus.”
David Grays Aglink AgroAdvantage is the agronomic and technical services division. The network has seven trial sites located across Western Australia giving the opportunity for agronomists, advisors and growers to view and understand the new chemistry and seed lines before they become commercially available. The trials and development program allows growers the chance to see firsthand how new molecules and seed varieties may fit and the role they can play in their own individual situations.
The main trial site is located at Dumbleyung with others from Geraldton to Albany and Esperance, and regular field days are renowned throughout the industry, attracting more than 250 growers in attendance. John McBride, AgroAdvantage Lead, joined the David Grays Aglink business 14 years ago, however has more than 25 years experience in the seeds industry, at the forefront of new products developed for growers.
“We have really seen a progression over the years from pollenated varieties to hybrids that are increasing yields and profits for growers,” John says.
“As an independent business our AgroAdvantage offering is unique in that it evaluates a series of products with a side-by-side comparison of horticulture and broadacre varieties.
“In the horticulture seed lines we could have 6 to 10 trials happening across a range of products at any one time – tomatoes, onions, carrots, spinach… In broadacre this year we have eight trial sites across the state with a product range with five major contributing seed companies demonstrating 15 to 16 molecules and various seed lines ready to be introduced to the market.”
David Gray believes that the future of agriculture in Western Australia is bright. “The agricultural industry in Western Australia has expanded and new crop varieties are bringing new opportunities for farmers too. I think Western Australia has become known as a mining state, but I keep reminding people how important agriculture is. It’s a vast countryside and there is certainly plenty of opportunity here.
“I see nothing but a great and positive future for agriculture going forward.”