Some businesses are owned by families. And some just feel like they are a family. Laughlin Cartrell, Inc., an agricultural products distributor based in Carlton, Oregon, embodies the latter.
“Business is built on relationships,” co-owner Bob Laughlin emphasized. “I think the reason for our success is the development of those relationships over a long period of time. We’ve gone from a truckload at a time, to large volumes over long periods of time. And that’s what has caused the business to grow more than anything.”
Established by Bob Laughlin and Tillman Stone in 1982, Laughlin Cartrell distributes grains and protein products to customers throughout the western United States and Canada. As a fully vertically integrated company, it owns all of the grains and protein products that it sells and distributes.
“We used vertical integration before it was even a term taught at graduate school,” Stone said. “That was Bob’s idea, being able to originate and deliver the product to guarantee on-time delivery. We were one of the first companies in the industry to be able to do that.”
In an era of continued consolidation in the agribusiness industry, Laughlin Cartrell stands out for its continued growth as a privately owned company. In 1970, Laughlin built upon the foundations of his family’s orchard and crafted a multidimensional business that harvested, sold, delivered and bought fruit. This brokerage mentality naturally led to the addition of a transportation division, which operated as Laughlin Trucking. By 1982, Laughlin had partnered with Stone to create Laughlin Cartrell, Inc. and together, they turned their focus to the buying and selling of feed ingredients.
As the industry shifted to largely favor bulk shipments and bigger buyers, Laughlin Cartrell found a way to reach the portions of the market that its competitors were neglecting.
Stone explained further: “The units of shipment have become so large that the small dairyman in St. Paul, Oregon can’t take a delivery of 54 railcars of soybean mill. He just can’t. And the big companies aren’t messing with him, because he’s a small economic unit. What’s happened is that as the large companies have gotten bigger to take advantage of these transportation networks, it’s left a void. We chose to go after that market.”
With control over the product and the transportation, Laughlin Cartrell is able to offer its customers something its larger competitors simply can’t: peace of mind. There is no guarantee that a shipment sent via rail will arrive on time; with its own trucking company, Laughlin Cartrell is able to fill any gaps between delayed railcars. Such an arrangement benefits any company—large or small—that deals with just-in-time inventory. The Laughlin Cartrell team works closely with its longtime customers to ensure their particular business needs are met in a timely, efficient manner.
“We’ve developed relationships with these people,” Stone said, “and we try to help them make a profit. And if they make a profit, we make a profit. We want our customers to be positioned well in the market, or at the market.
It’s a mentality that Laughlin and Stone have carried throughout their entire business structure, often incorporating projects that directly benefit their communities and nonprofit organizations they are passionate about. And at least for the foreseeable future, the two business partners have decided to remain at the helm, fostering that same commitment to excellence and service in their younger employees.
“We’re not doing anything new and exciting, really, but we decided we’re really going to make the effort to carry it forward one more generation, perhaps,” Laughlin said. “All of that is obviously worth more to us than money. We care about our people. Sometimes when people kick you around a bit in this industry, you go, ‘What am I doing?’ But we made the decision and we made a commitment.”
Laughlin and Stone have worked hard to create a company culture that reflects the high esteem they hold for their employees, their customers and their communities—and it shows. Stone noted that his favorite part of the week was seeing the younger employees all head out to lunch together, building their own relationships and camaraderie. It is positive interactions like these that have made the years of labor all worth the effort.
“I’d really like to see this younger generation take what we’ve done and created here with our own hands and years of work, and keep it going,” Stone said.
And if you and your business are looking to build long-term success that echoes that of Laughlin Cartrell, contact your local BC+S office today. We have accounting and consulting teams ready to help you maximize your success and secure your professional legacy.