April 2016
Co-op Matters

Putting Service First

  Chris Casey, manager of Jay Peanut Farmers Co-op, proudly holds the 2015 E.P. Garrett Manager of the Year award with his wife, Jennifer, and children, Anna Claire and Trenton.

Chris Casey named AFC Manager of the Year.

It takes a lot of effort and skill to make a business turn a profit in tough economic times, but Chris Casey seems to have the Midas touch no matter the circumstances.

Casey has always managed to make his Quality Co-op location profitable, and he’s even turned around several unprofitable locations throughout his 14-year career with Alabama Farmers Cooperative. His hard work and dedication to increase sales and profitability year after year led to his selection as AFC’s 2015 E.P. Garrett Manager of the Year.

Truth in numbers

Being named manager of the year is about numbers – profit, growth, sales, inventory and net income are all factors – and Casey’s numbers definitely tell the story of a talented manager.

Casey began his career working to implement the Master Farm Program at all of the Co-op locations, but when a manager position opened at Fayette Farmers Cooperative, he jumped at the opportunity. In two years, he turned a Co-op that hadn’t been profitable in years into a thriving business that has done well ever since.

Casey then moved to Altha, Florida, for four years. Here he was general manager of three Co-ops. Again, he turned the stores around and they were profitable after his first year.

Since Casey arrived at Jay Peanut Farmers Cooperative in Florida six years ago, sales have tripled, and profit has increased every year. Patron equity has increased by 132 percent, and patrons have received $2.2 million in patronage during his tenure.

Chris Casey graciously accepts the award for the 2015 E.P. Garrett Manager of the Year from AFC President Rivers Myres.  

Great service, great business

Casey said the secret to his success is simple. It’s all about great service.

“You’ve got to service what you sell, treat your customers right, give them a good product at a good price and do what you say you’re going to do,” Casey said. “Everybody’s got a price. You’ve got to differentiate yourself, and the way you do that is by treating people the way you’d want to be treated.”

Pat Chesnut, who has served as credit manager and head of Cooperative Financial Services, said Casey is known throughout the company for his excellent customer service.

“He’s a great Co-op manager, and more than anything else he puts customers first,” Chesnut said. “What he provides through his service and attention to the customer overrides price. He is so driven and has such a good work ethic. That’s why he’s been able to turn around stores that have not been successful in the past.”

James Fudge, AFC’s vice president of management services, interviewed and hired Casey in 2002.

“Chris has been a great hire,” Fudge said. “He’s one of those kinds of guy you’re grateful to work with. We’ve been able to watch him grow and season, and turn into a manager who deserves the award as much as any other who’s gotten it. He maintains an intense level of customer support, and it’s paid off for him.”

Times have been tough for farmers for several years, and Casey and his team have gotten creative to help customers get the most bang for their buck. One of his strategies is to educate farmers on new products and technologies to help them stay efficient.

“When I was growing up we always went to grower meetings, and then everybody quit doing it,” Casey said. “So when I got back to Jay, we started having them again, and I think that helped us sell more products. As times have changed and everything’s gotten so tight in the last six to eight years, we have to help them stay informed.”

In addition to prioritizing customer service, Casey is passionate about being a good boss.

“I treat my employees like I want to be treated,” he explained. “I’ve got great help. I wouldn’t be able to do this without Lisa, Mike, Ronnie, Eugene, Brent, Derrick, Justin or Bae.”

Ricky Aldridge, manager of Walker Farmers Cooperative in Jasper, worked closely with Casey when he managed Fayette Farmers Cooperative and has witnessed his management style firsthand.

“He doesn’t micromanage. He gets in there with his employees, and that means a lot,” Walker said. “He hires good people, and he doesn’t just give orders. He loads feed and fertilizer like everyone else.”

Family first

Casey said his down-to-earth management style originates from growing up on his family’s cotton, corn and cattle farm in Excel. His parents, Shelton and Gloria Casey, raised their kids knowing how to work hard.

“My dad taught me how to work, and my mom kept me straight – she probably deserves more credit than anybody,” Casey recalled. “I was given a lot of responsibility at an early age, and that has helped me in the long run.”

After two years of playing college basketball at Alabama Southern Community College in Monroeville, Casey returned to the farm to work with his dad and older brother, Payton. Five years later, he returned to college – this time at Mississippi State University – and earned his bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics. Shortly after graduation, he interviewed with AFC.

“I love what I do,” he said. “I always knew at an early age that I wanted to run a Co-op or be a salesman, and it took me awhile to get there, but I’m so glad I did.”

Casey said he would not be where he is today without the support of AFC, Agri-AFC and his local board of directors, who have allowed him to update equipment and build a fertilizer warehouse and equipment shed without putting his store in debt.

“They’re a good, loyal group of people to work with,” Casey said. “I’m very indebted to them.”

Before presenting the award at AFC’s 79th Annual Meeting Feb. 24 in Montgomery, AFC CEO Rivers Myres commented on how much Casey has grown in the past 14 years.

“Chris is known for his intense passion relative to the performance of his Co-ops,” Myres said to a crowd of almost 300 attendees. “I will say that marriage and children have had a mellowing effect on him.”

Casey credited his wife, Jennifer, and two children, Anna Claire and Trenton, with helping him balance his work and home life.

“Before I met Jennifer, I didn’t have anything to keep my time occupied, and I was so consumed with work all the time,” Casey said. “I demanded a lot of my employees and never stopped working. Having a family has given me better perspective – it’s not all about work. They’ve helped me become a better manager. Those two kids have given me more joy than anything.”

Jill Clair Gentry is a freelance writer from Montgomery.