CAAR board and staff members reflect on CAAR’s evolving role in the industry.

Martin Kiefer
Born and raised near Lake Erie in Ontario, Martin is a graduate of Ontario Agricultural College and has enjoyed a diverse career in agriculture spanning 30 years. Martin currently works for Agrico Canada L.P. as Eastern Sales Manager. A member of CAAR’s board of directors since 2015, Martin is concluding his term as board chair at this year’s CAAR Conference.

Stan Loewen
Raised on a mixed farm near Abbotsford, B.C., Stan completed a B.Sc.(Agr.) majoring in Soil Science at UBC before joining Coast Agri. In 2000, Coast Agri became TerraLink Horticulture where Stan has been CEO for the last 17 of his 37-year career. Stan has been a member of CAAR’s board since 2014 and is currently chair of the membership value committee.

Lynda Nicol
As CAAR’s director of member services, Lynda’s focus is on member retention and recruitment, and providing member value through CAAR’s programs and services. Working directly with the membership value committee and through ongoing outreach efforts, her role continues to evolve to provide more efficient and valuable service to members. Lynda has been with the association for nine years.


The Communicator: When someone asks you, “What is CAAR?” how do you respond?

Martin Kiefer: For me, CAAR is the national voice for ag retail in Canada. I look at CAAR as an advocate, and as an organization providing communication and education for our members.

Stan Loewen: Ditto!

Lynda Nicol: I think Martin summed it up nicely

SL: It’s really clear – that’s what we are. And we’ve got what we call the ‘three pillars.’

LN: Yes, we have the three pillars of membership – communication and information, our networking events and opportunities, and our advocacy.

The Communicator: How has that answer changed from 10 years ago?

MK: CAAR has changed from an organization that existed primarily as a networking opportunity for ag retailers, to an organization that recognizes the need for advocacy and for uniting retailers on common issues that impact their business with regard to regulation, competition and society today. In terms of the three pillars that were mentioned, CAAR has a much bigger role to play today helping members navigate a much more complex environment.

SL: I think if you were to go back 10 years, they probably would have said similar things as far as what the three or four main goals were, but the emphasis or reasons for existing have changed. Ten years ago, they would have said CAAR was about information-gathering, but I think the focus has changed. CAAR realizes the need to be involved at the highest levels we can – to lobby government and to advocate. You can look at it from many directions and you’ll always come back to that. It’s so important for the industry to have that voice.

LN: Adding to what Martin and Stan have both identified, CAAR’s focus has sharpened, and the other thing that’s really changed is the level of connectivity and the delivery of services. There’s so much more direct contact, and a higher level of engagement and information moving from CAAR outward and from our membership back to us. Our purpose as an association representing national ag retail is solidified by our change in delivery.

The Communicator: Ten years in the future, how do you think the response to the same question will have changed or evolved?

MK: I see in 10 years from now that our industry will have continued to evolve and mature, and our customers – and their customers – will have different needs and demands. I see the role of CAAR being even more important at that point in time because the linkage between agriculture and society is becoming increasingly fragmented, or under strain. A national voice for ag retail will be all the more important so we can spread the good news about the business we do, and how we support the production of safe food in Canada. I see our role being strengthened, and our activity with member organizations like Fertilizer
Canada and provincial ag retail groups will be all the more important as well.

SL: The business of being an ag retailer is really important. As well as what’s already been said, I think it’s going to be even more important for retailers to stay connected. Ag retailers need somewhere to go to talk with experts on being in the ag retail business. You can go to a CAAR Conference and see our timely speakers, learn a lot and maybe find out what you don’t know, so that you can do better.

Ag advocacy isn’t going to go away – it will intensify. Governments will have a deeper reach into everything that we do. We’ve got to help the retailers do business.

LN: I agree. CAAR is on a solid path forward and the need for this association is only going to increase in the next 10 years.

The Communicator: Membership in voluntary associations, like CAAR, is on the decline nationally. Why do you think CAAR membership is important

SL: I’m going to answer that by asking some questions. Every ag retailer, whether they’re an independent with one location, a small chain or a large chain, has to ask questions like, ‘How will my organization stay with the times if I don’t see the broad picture that I get with an association, especially one that has a national focus like CAAR?

You have to ask yourself, ‘Can I, as only one voice, be effective at lobbying; when, for a very affordable membership fee, I can be a part of hundreds of voices?’ There’s way more strength in those numbers. I think you should ask yourself, ‘Do I want to spend my time addressing regulatory issues that affect my business? Or, do I want someone else to advocate on my behalf for a very modest fee, so I can stay involved and focused on my business and making money?’ If we want to exist in a successful industry, we all have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we have an obligation to participate in CAAR?’

I don’t think we’re doing ourselves any good by burrowing down into our computers, thinking the world revolves around our own narrow sphere. We can’t get the answers we need that way. We can be better businesses if we broaden our outlook. A lot of us count on sales reps from suppliers to tell us what’s going on, but they don’t have the time to do that either – not like they used to. If people just look at the value of belonging to a voluntary association, I think that they’ll join.

MK: Like Stan said, we used to think we could work in isolation, because it used to be that we could. You could keep yourself busy and focus only on serving your customers, but that’s just not the way it works anymore. There’s a much more connected community and a much more connected society that you have to be a part of.

As an ag retailer, you need some focus outside your business and CAAR can give you that. And that’s the challenge –
we look to members and say, ‘What more do you need from us and how can we serve you better?’ Stan was right, the fees are so minimal to the cost of running a business – why wouldn’t you be involved in a national ag retail association? We are your voice.

For ag retailers, competitive influences come from all around you – you’re facing challenges on all fronts – so you must be connected to society, you must be connected with your fellow retailer, you must be connected in the industry in order to evolve your business,
become a better retailer and be successful in the future.

SL: Another point I meant to mention earlier: CAAR has already developed some responses to matters of environmental concern. The environment is a huge focus for all levels of society right now and somebody needs to have a message ready to defend the industry – not in regard to the things that we can improve on, but for all of the things we’re already doing right. There is such a high level of stewardship and care in this industry – but we aren’t always seen that way, especially by urban populations. In the future, I think CAAR will be advocating for what we really are and helping us present a more positive image to the country.

LN: To close-off what Stan was saying, I think CAAR has a role to play in the positive and proactive communication about the value ag retailers bring to the agricultural value chain, and the good news stories about the positive things we’re doing in terms of environmental impact and sustainability. This is another
reason to be a part of the association – tying yourself to that good news story.

The Communicator: What challenges are you looking forward to addressing through your work with CAAR?

MK: I’m looking forward to continuing the recent focus, or refocus, on delivering services and programs our members need and ensuring that CAAR remains a strong and viable organization for its membership across the country.

SL: As the membership value committee chair, I’m really focused on getting the word out to non-participants in the industry and convincing them of CAAR’s value. We already have value and I only see that value increasing as we work so hard to become the advocate and the lobbying group that we want to be. I see CAAR as a good organization getting better. Personally, I just want to be a part of getting that word out.

LN: I agree with everything Martin and Stan have said, and for me, it comes down to continuous improvement. In some ways, the challenges we face are the same challenges we have faced year after year, but we continue to push forward. Stan mentioned engagement and providing value, which is what our membership value committee focuses on. Being able to share that broadly with our members – both existing and potential – that’s something I’m really excited by.

We want to have a strong value proposition that is continually strengthened and gets to a point where it’s so strong that you really wouldn’t want to say no. There’s real value in being a part of this association.

The Communicator: Personally, what has been most rewarding about the work you have done with CAAR?

MK: It’s been great to experience ag retail across the country. As an Ontario-born Canadian, you might be surprised to know that we’re a little centric – ‘the world revolves around Ontario.’ Getting outside of Ontario and meeting ag retailers from across the country has been a great experience.

We share common values and common experiences. I think we all have the same ambitions for agriculture in the future. That’s the commonality – I’ve been able to sit down with people and recognize that we may be separated by time zones, but we experience the same problems, although perhaps on a different scale. But we’re all one, we all want to achieve the same net results for our customer and for agriculture in Canada.

Working with the CAAR staff has been fabulous. They’re a great group of people, dedicated to serving the needs of our members. Working on the board of directors, they’ve all been a big help for me, especially these last couple of years as board chair.

SL: When I got into this industry and I heard people talk about ‘Western Canada,’ I was shocked to realize that it does not include British Columbia. I’m west of the Rockies and for years I had little communication about what was going on in the rest of the industry other than with sales reps. For me, it’s just being able to get a much bigger picture. When I joined CAAR my eyes were opened to what was going on across the country and I have way more knowledge now. To be able to participate at the board level has been really fulfilling. And getting to know the CAAR leadership staff and our board members has been such a wonderful experience. I’m delighted to be part of it.

LN: When somebody needs help or has a question, I take pride in being able to provide an answer. Working with our strong network of industry connections to find information and share it as proactively as possible is very rewarding for me. Sometimes we’re able to craft a direct answer to a question, and sometimes we have the chance to address it more broadly with a speaker at the conference or as a topic within our editorial.

The Communicator: Any last thoughts you want to share with members?

SL: For those who are not members already, I’d say take a test drive. Take out a membership and come to the events, read The Communicator magazine and look at the website – I think you’ll find there’s more than enough there to make you want to stay a part of the organization.

MK: I would reiterate what Stan said. Here is my message to members and non-members alike: This is your industry – get involved. Work with us. We want to work with you. Let’s make this organization the voice it should be for ag retailers across Canada.

LN: Just be involved and continue to make the organization what our members want it to be. Your engagement and your feedback as members – letting us know what you like and, honestly, what you don’t like – helps shape the future of this association and pushes us for constant evolution. That’s what we welcome and what we want; the ability to grow and to make sure that we continue serving our members in the way they require.

Editor's Note: This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

 

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