After losing his job following collapse of the firm he worked for, a young Dane decided to help solve a foot and mouth disease problem ravaging his country, and what was a humble beginning 22 years ago, has grown by leaps and bounds.
Nestled atop a neat, small hill in Naestved Denmark is a multi-national company that makes a unique product for the agricultural industry. J.N Jorenku manufactures Staldren, a special hygienic product for animals, and, which it exports to over 40 countries right across the world. And it is still growing, said Mr Jens Rassmussen, marketing director, adding: “Because we are yet to enter many other new markets.”
The firm has a warehouse, office premises and factory on 2,500 square metres of its 100,000 square metres of prime land. Surprisingly, it has only 12 employees at its headquarters, thanks to the high level of mechanisation. And spread across other countries, are 250 distributors.
But the history of this business, which has been experiencing tremendous growth year after year, reads like one of your classic rags-toriches stories, with all the ingredients needed to turn a great idea or need into a successful enterprise. And many such great businesses begin in the garages – recall how iPad giant Apple Inc began?
Some 22 years ago, a young Dane, disturbed about the deaths of livestock and losses incurred on farms due to foot and mouth disease, decided to do something about it. And the trained mechanic got to work in a garage.
Mr Johnni Pedersen, the founder and managing director of J.N Jorenku, said during an interview in his office: “There was a very bad outbreak of foot and mouth disease, which was giving farmers sleepless nights. Their animals were dying.” He added: “Before Staldren, there were only liquid disinfectants, which could not be used while the animals were still in the stable. Demand from farmers and veterinarians, therefore, was for a product that could be used to kill bacteria, foot and mouth, salmonella and cure pneumonia, whether the animals were in or out.”
Having lost his job at an animal feed company, the father of two knew he had his work cut out for him. The company had gone bankrupt and had to shut down. “I was trained as a mechanic and employed by the company that made special chemicals. I was very interested in chemistry and that’s why when the company shut down in 1991, I decided to start my own firm and seek a solution to the foot and mouth menace.”
He was determined to invent a powder product that could be used with the animals in the stable. It had to have the right pH, could be eaten without any side effects on the animals, had to absorb moisture, bind ammonia and kill all bacteria and fungus. And that is how he and some chemical engineers developed Staldren. “I went with my idea to a lab and we set down to work on inventing a powder product. After many trials, we came up with the product and when we tried it on farms, cases of the disease went down,” he said. “I was now ready to start my business with a very small mixer. I rented a garage where I could mix the minerals and chemicals.”
The next challenge was sales and marketing. The new entrepreneur had to manufacture and introduce a totally new product to would-be users all by himself. “It was a small start with a few bags. The farms were smaller and would buy between three to 20 bags. After mixing, I would go out to visit the farmers, explain the product and how to use it, and tell them about the benefits. Then I would go back to the garage, mix more, go out and sell it, get the money, buy more chemicals, mix more and sell more.”
The product was a success and as farmers loved it, demand and sales grew. “After a few years, the disease was gone. That’s the reason why farmers remember this product to date,” Mr Pedersen added. “I used to work at a dairy at night and deliver newspapers in the morning to earn an extra income. I was married with two young children and had a house to pay for,” said the down-to-earth entrepreneur.
But Mr Pedersen often had moments of doubts about the business and almost gave up. “Many times I would go to bed in the evening and I say, ‘oh so many problems with the factory, many problems with the staff … I wish I had an ordinary job to earn a salary,’ and many are the times I felt like giving up,” he recalled. “However, I held on. You’ve got to be strong, you have to go on and you must continue fighting.”
Because he didn’t have rich parents to support him, he had to start from the bottom and work his way up. The company continued to grow and he was able to employ some people, buy a bigger mixer and expand the garage. “As we grew, we had to keep moving the company to bigger premises and did this five times. But in 2005, we found this place and are now settled. The product has become very popular. The customers we had 20 years ago still use Staldren. Those whose children have taken over from them have followed in their footsteps and use it,” he said proudly.
Mr Rasmussen interjected: “We are now entering new countries at least every month.” He has been with the company for seven years. “We supply the product to many countries in Europe and have now entered Africa, Australia and Asia, as well,” he added.
In Denmark, the company supplies the product to 3,500 farms. “How many farms we supply to worldwide, I am not sure,” he said, but added that the company was optimistic that by 2020, it would be five times bigger than it is now. “We hope to cover most of Africa south of the Sahara and will also be in the US and South America. We are now working on getting into Brazil. Some of the challenges we face in such markets are stiff regulations of entry, but we hope to surmount these.”
But things have not always been so smooth-sailing for the company, which in 2008, would be hit by the financial crisis that ravaged the US and Europe. “The company was growing fast and we were selling big. We reached a sales peak in 2008, then complacency set in. Suddenly in 2009… boom…we lost a lot of turnover as sales dipped. And we learnt our first great lesson that even when things are growing fast and everything seems perfect, you have to take care and protect your customers,” Mr Rasmussen added.
In 2010, efforts were made to return the company to profitability through restructuring. Roles were changed, including that of Mr Pedersen, who, at the time handled technical issues. He took over from the sales manager and focused on parts of Europe and Asia, while Mr Rasmussen would do the rest.
“Now, we are growing very fast again. But we have learnt a lesson and know that we have to take care of our customers and support them as much as possible,” Mr Rasmussen concluded.
Source. Smart Farmer Magazine, issue 14 in April-May 2013, page 54-55