If you had a dollar for every time you’ve heard the word “disruption” in regard to Canadian ag retail in the past three years, how much richer would you be?
In recent years, Canadian ag retail has experienced significant disruptions to its traditional business practices, including new digital players entering the market and bringing new technologies and considerations for ag retailers with them.
In September 2020, a new digital startup called Agro. Club Canada entered the Canadian ag industry with a web-based platform aiming to make it easier for farmers to order crop inputs, including seed and crop protection products online.
Our intent is not to disrupt the channel, but rather to disrupt inefficiency itself.
Agro.Club initially launched in Russia, and within two years of operations had attracted over 10,000 farmers representing two million acres, 4,000 grain and food companies and 200 retailers and distributors to their service. In Canada, Winnipeg-based seed distributor CANTERRA SEEDS is the first inputs manufacturer to sign on as a partner.
According to Neil Arbuckle, managing director with Agro. Club Canada, the vision is a “digital ecosystem” where all companies in the current channel can participate. Agro.Club says its key objective is to connect the full agriculture value chain, including ag retailers.
Our intent is not to disrupt the channel, but rather to disrupt inefficiency itself,” he says. “Our motto is ‘together for success’ and we’re inclusive of the channel players.”
In its first company launch, Arbuckle says their team focused on solving a pain point impacting retailers regarding manufacturer rebate programs. When farmers order products through Agro.Club, program incentives and rewards are automatically calculated, saving retail staff the task of manually calculating this information per customer. In the case of CANTERRA SEEDS, the purchase details are still finalized between farmer and retailer.
Digital strategy is about more than e-commerce; it’s about enhancing your staff and asset efficiencies along with the understanding of your business and your customers.
An Ecosystem for all Players
In addition to manufacturer portal that connects to retailers, Agro.Club Canada is currently working with a group of retailers in Western Canada to develop the digital and data services they need for their own businesses.
After Agro.Club Canada builds its inputs platform, Arbuckle says the company will expand to other areas of ag such as grain, equipment, financial services or the livestock sector. Farmers use the platform for free – it’s manufacturers, retailers and other partners that pay a service fee when they use the platform to offer products or services and to gather their campaign data.
"The service fee applies to the businesses, because in terms of our model, we’re appealing to retailers and manufacturers first off, and trying to deliver value to them,” he says.
Starting with retailers and manufacturers differentiates Agro.Club Canada’s model from direct-to-farm platforms like Farmers Business Network (FBN), or AgraCity, both of which remove levels from the value chain.
Shane Thomas, who writes a blog about the Canadian Ag retail channel called UpStream Ag, has recently joined the company as a digital business strategist.
“The Agro.Club model reinforces that digital strategy is about more than e-commerce; it’s about enhancing your staff and asset efficiencies along with the understanding of your business and your customers,” says Thomas.
Retailers Embracing Innovation
Unlike many other platforms, Agro.Club Canada is making its North American debut in Canada, rather than in the United States. Arbuckle says this is due to the Canadian ag industry’s proven interest in adopting new innovations and technology, further demonstrated by uptake from retailers on Agro.Club’s “Early Partners Club” of Retailers.
“The Early Partners Club gives those retailers input into how we develop the service. We can ask those ag retailers for some feedback to adjust some of the things that we’re doing to make our platform even more responsive to how they will use it to get through some of the challenges that they see in their own business,” says Arbuckle.
Many inefficiencies that retailers encounter day-to-day were based in data management, wasting significant time extracting, analyzing and monitoring business data, like sales, margin, and accounts receivable, as examples.
“That reduces the time that ag retail is actually selling product, or developing strategy and tactics, because they are creating spreadsheets,” says Thomas.
To that end, Thomas says the Agro.Club Retail Cloud IQ software will provide retail partners with customized dashboards to automatically provide much of this data in a more efficient format for retail employees to view, analyze and act on.
“If there is a business platform that can help automate and digitize those tasks and save a retail employee 75-85 percent of the time, it’s a great opportunity to add value to retail,” he says.
Agro.Club has encountered a bit of a misconception since they have launched in Canada on the functionality of the service. Arbuckle says Agro.Club is not strictly an e-commerce platform and that e-commerce is just one of the numerous solutions Agro.Club can provide to its partners.
“We know that retailers are faced with the choice of building IT solutions on their own, taking something off the shelf or waiting to be forced to adopt new solutions. With our platform, a retailer can plug into their existing IT systems without having to make a full switch or invest in an expensive upgrade,” says Arbuckle.
Because of this flexibility, he sees great opportunities for Agro.Club to complement a retail’s existing digital agriculture strategies.
“If a company is delivering digital agronomy solutions to the ag retail, we can be very complementary to that,” says Thomas. “Our goal is to really work with retailers to establish their goals in terms of an e-business journey in agriculture and help guide them toward the right solutions for their business needs.”
Visit canada.agro.club to learn more about upcoming functionality and opportunities for ag retailers.
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