The Equity has had a good year. With so much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the ability to do business in many industries, The Equity moved into a new headquarters, expanded their Effingham Farm and Home Store, and saw record revenues.
That’s why the cooperative was awarded the Excellence in Business award from the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce.
“The Equity story is one of innovation and forward thinking,” said Chamber President and CEO Norma Lansing when announcing the award.
“Thank you Effingham Equity for pioneering ag growth in the world, locally and globally,” she said.
The Equity is the largest independent agricultural cooperative in Illinois. It does business in agronomy, feed and livestock, grain services, energy and at its storefront, where it sells home improvement items, feed and other goods.
“On behalf of the 475 members of team Equity, I'm proud to accept this honor,” said Equity CEO Bruce Vernon when he accepted the award.
In a follow-up interview, Vernon and Equity Chief Financial Officer Karen Whitt discussed what they believe led to Equity's successful year.
“The growth of this year was due to decisions made 18 months ago. The growth of last year was due to decisions made 18 months before that,” said Vernon.
The most recent result of this multiyear planning process was The Equity’s multimillion dollar expansion of its Altamont facility, originally opened in 1976, which wrapped up this spring.
“We’re building more facilities, but also modernizing, expanding, automating,” said Whitt.
The newest location for The Equity is in Farmersburg, Indiana, bringing the total number of locations open for business to 23.
“We’ve done almost a location a year for the last six years,” said Vernon.
Two factors provide the fuel for this growth: an industry that’s doing well and a team that can execute those long-range plans.
“Farmers also obviously have been impacted by COVID, but they’ve had some decent years,” said Whitt.
And she’s right. It’s a good time to be in agriculture. Corn futures are currently at a seven-year high, with soybean prices climbing as well.
“We do well when our producers do well,” said Vernon.
But what Vernon brings up more than any other topic is the employees of “Team Equity.”
With planting season in full swing, The Equity is in crunch mode, with staff in its agronomy division working overtime to make sure farmers have what they need.
“When the farmer says ‘I’m planting tomorrow,’ we have to be ready,” said Vernon. “We act like UPS at Christmas time.”
Vernon is proud of his company’s investments in its employees, particularly their professional coaching and “Equity University,” a professional development program, which he says is a win-win, helping his employees and his bottom line.
This year has also provided unique challenges to The Equity thanks to the pandemic – though with agriculture being an essential business, The Equity was able to continue operations.
They did this by implementing strategies that many big businesses tried: having employees come in on work rotations, restricting employee interactions based on location to minimize risk of COVID-19 transmission, having some employees work from home and setting up an internal “COVID Task Force.”
“We needed to keep our co-workers safe, our farmers safe, our customers safe,” said Whitt.
Moving Equity's headquarters to a new location in December 2020 also helped mitigate some of the risks of working in the pandemic. The new location, just north of Effingham in the former Mid America Motorworks building, has more space for employees to spread out and social distance more effectively.
The Equity also started offering curbside service at its Farm and Home Store, which has been popular and will remain in place for the foreseeable future, even leading to the expansion of the store to include a new “Customer Fulfillment Center,”
This comes after expanding the store’s offerings in 2019 to include more home improvement items and update the store’s dated layout and counter.