|Fertilizer sales field tough, competitive
April 21, 2003
Selling fertilizer would appear to be an easy job in the San Joaquin Valley,
where agriculture is the No. 1 industry. But Scott Peterson faces a challenge
every day he goes to work, trying to beat the odds in a lucrative,
yet competitive, field. He is the California-Arizona sales representative for
Tradecorp, a Spanish company that produces fertilizer and sells it around the
world. He works the wholesale end, marketing Tradecorp products to retailers.
Peterson is one of hundreds of chemical salespeople -- hawking everything
from ammonia to zinc -- fighting for a slice of the valley's $15 billion
"We're bombarded by salesmen with new products or products they say work
better than what we're using," said Gary Layne of Simplot Soil Builders in
Hughson."A lot of times they're just blowing smoke, but they sound very
convincing. That comes with this business."It helps to have an armor-plated
ego, valley chemicaldealers say, because rejection is routine.
"There are sales guys for every chemical company out there, trying to make
the same deals with the same customers," said Doug Doty, manager of the
Western Farm Service outlet in Modesto. "There's a lot of competition."
Not only does Peterson have to try to outperform the competition each day,
dealers say,he must do it with more expensive products. He markets premium
fertilizers and minerals,including acids, iron, boron and other materials that
are applied periodically to protectthe valley's crops and help generate plentiful
harvests. Peterson's job is to spreadTradecorp's name through the ag
community and get its products into the hands of farmers.
The company exports to 30 countries but has little presence in California.
Few dealers carry the products, and those that do not said they have shown
little interest in adding them.Tradecorp's products target the horticulture,
fruit tree and citrus segments, and its top markets include South Africa,
France, Chile and Turkey.
One of the selling points used by Peterson is that the company's solid fertilizers
break down quickly in water, allowing them to be carried to plants via drip and
microirrigation systems. While his ultimate customer is the farmer, Peterson
spends more time in his car and in offices than he does on farms. His role is
to convince fertilizer dealers that they need to carry the products.
He has encountered some difficulty, dealers said, because many of his
products are more expensive than available alternatives.Tradecorp products
cost 15 percent to 25 percent more than the average retail price for similar
products, according to dealers.He sells premium goods, dealers agree, but in
this tight farm economy it is a challenge convincing farmers to
spend more than they must.
Tradecorp backs Peterson
Traditional -- and cheaper -- materials might be slightly less effective, but
dealers say that rarely is enough to justify a grower paying the higher price.
Tradecorp did not answer The Bee's requests for information about Peterson's
performance. However, it appears that Peterson still is working for the company.
Eric Van Innis, Tradecorp executive director, visited Peterson in Modesto on
Jan. 21and said the company supports Peterson "100 percent."Chemical dealers
who previously were in contact with Peterson said they had not heard from him
since his wife's disappearance Christmas Eve. Peterson did not respond to
requests to discuss his job.
Many dealers who have bought products from Peterson, or had been approached
by him, declined to be identified for this story."It's a tragic story that no one wants
to be linked to," one dealer said. "I've already taken calls about this, and I don't
want to spend any more time with it. "But that does not mean that those in the
industry do not talk about it.
"He's been a topic of conversation since we found out he's a fertilizer salesman,
" Doty said. "He's never come to our store to sell, but I've lost count of
the people who asked me if I met him."
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