THEN & NOW
When Landscapes Magazine featured Mark and William Reus in 2002, their deer corn business was growing. They were selling more than 150,000 bags a year. Today, that number has almost quadrupled. They have added automated equipment to increase efficiency. Two more family members have joined the business. And they are in the process of a major expansion.
William and Margaret Reus remember well the humble beginning of their family's deer corn business. They were looking for a better way to market the crops they grew on their 1,500-acre farm near Hondo, Texas.
"We'd have a trailer filled with corn, and Margaret would rake the corn toward me, while I filled the burlap bag," William says. After the bags were filled, they would hand-sew them closed. "I finally told her that she had to stop when the rake kept hitting her in the stomach," he says. At that time, Margaret was expecting their fourth son, Nelson, who is now a college graduate, married and working for the family business.
Today, that business, now called Reus Grain LP, has grown so significantly that it barely resembles the operation they started by hand 25 years ago. Hi-tech equipment has replaced the rake and trailer. The product line has been expanded. And three of their sons, Brian, Mark and Nelson, work full-time for the company. Another son, Philip, teaches and coaches at Anderson High School in Austin.
Brothers Share Load, Contribute Unique Skills
As the general manager, Mark has been the reason for much of the company's recent growth. Since 1995, when he graduated from Southwest Texas State University and came to work at the farm, he has been actively recruiting new business and broadening the customer base.
"Mark's on the phone all the time, talking to customers and lining up business," says Brian, his older brother. "He also drives trucks and delivers. He believes it is very important to stay close to customers and have direct contact with them."
With previous experience as a maintenance manager, Brian is the go-to person when any equipment breaks down. Brian also oversees construction of their current expansion, which will increase their storage capacity.
Nelson, a 2005 graduate of Texas A&M University, brings knowledge to both the grain business and the farming operation. He majored in agronomy, which makes him a valuable asset on the farm, but the grain business demands most of his time. He also handles the specialty line products, and the family relies on his computer skills to adjust the high-tech equipment when needed.
"We each bring our own skills and have our own areas of responsibility, but titles don't mean anything around here," Brian says. "We jump in and cover each other."
Delivering Great Customer Service
William, Mark, Brian and Nelson each have a commercial license and often drive one of the family's four 18-wheelers to make deliveries. Some days, all four trucks are on the road at the same time. They make deliveries to 30 retail stores, in locations as spread apart as Ozona, Del Rio and San Antonio, as well as many stores in the Texas Hill Country.
"It saves money, because we're all getting paid already. Plus, it's good customer service," Mark explains. "If I wasn't making deliveries, I would still be on the road calling on customers. I might as well do both at the same time."
Brian agrees. "It's very important to our customers. They appreciate having direct contact with us. We can talk to them about the product load and market prices. They are able to talk with someone 'in the know.' Most delivery drivers can't offer that," Brian says.
That service, combined with a quality product, keeps customers coming back. "Once they get started with us, they don't leave," Mark says. "The grain is so clean, they notice it right away. So unless the price is too far out of line, we will keep our customers."
Robot Helps Increase Production
The Reuses have invested in high-tech equipment to increase efficiency and meet growing demand. Their equipment includes a semi-automatic sewing line that electronically weighs each bag and a system of conveyors.
But the technology star is "Willie," a Fugi Ace Robot System programmed to perfectly stack any number of bags on a pallet. The robot, which they purchased with financing from Texas AgFinance, allowed them to double production in 2006, from 250,000 bags to approximately 500,000 bags, with two fewer employees.
This summer, they expect their new recleaner to arrive from Denmark, which will allow them to fill as many as 9,000 bags a day. William recognizes that the stakes have gotten higher as the investment costs have increased.
"The little steps we've taken over the years have been cautious, and we've never looked back," he says. "Now the investments are much larger, and I finally realized that we're in it for real."
He is grateful to have a longstanding relationship with the staff at Texas AgFinance, who care about the family business and provide financing to help it succeed.
"The Reuses are a remarkable family," says Y.N. Strait, branch manager for Texas AgFinance's Uvalde office. "It has been our pleasure working with them over the years and helping them grow their business."
Good Relationship With Local Farmers
Mark also credits their relationship with local farmers as a key reason for their success. They have storage for 100,000 bushels of corn on the farm, and they buy another 500,000 bushels from local farmers. Often, they can get all they need within a 20-mile radius.
"There are farmers who want to sell to us before anyone else, because we haven't lost touch with what farming is. Because we're still farming, we have the same concerns as our neighbors," William says.
Their good relationship with the community is one reason that Reus Grain was named the Hondo Chamber of Commerce Agribusiness of the Year in 2007.
Finding Time to Farm
The Reus family produces much of the grain on their own farm, but the demands of the grain business have made it harder to farm.
"Before, we used to farm and make time for the grain business. The grain business used to be part-time, seasonal," William says. "Now, it's the other way around. We have to make time for farming. It works on my stomach sometimes, needing to be in two places at one time. I think about that while I'm driving deliveries and my tractor sits idle."
That is not the only thing that concerns them. They also keep a close eye on the current grain market and fuel prices. Ironically, their rate of growth is also a concern.
"There's no way that we could go through another fall without this expansion," William says. "Based on the level we grew in the last two years, it's scary because you can outgrow your facility. And when you're maxed out, you can't afford to break down because it takes so long to get parts."
Mark closely monitors their growth, too. "If we grow much bigger, we'll have to change how we do things," says Mark, who is committed to the personal service the business is known for. "But I don't worry too much. We've got to take every day one at a time."