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Middleman thrives in the feed, grain trade

The market for blood meal, elevator dust, malt sprouts and peanut harts is booming. Just ask the folks over at Lackawanna Products Corp.

From grains to animal fats, catfish meal to gel bones, Scandinavian oats to citrus pulp pellets, LPC has what farmers and many other customers need – and that's one of the reasons it's thriving.

In an economic climate where many businesses are downsizing, LPC has doubled its staff size in the past 10 years and continues to grow. In fact, the company – celebrating its 30th anniversary this year – hasn't laid off an employee. Ever.

That's because business is good.

LPC is a trading company that secures ingredients of all varieties from local, national and sometimes even global suppliers and acts as the middleman for buyers. Traders spend their days buying product, selling it and then figuring out how to get it to its destination. In terms of the commodity trading business in the United States, hundreds of thousands of pounds of feed and grain are traded every day, according to Scott Schultz, the trading floor manager at LPC.

Most commodity trading goes through companies such as LPC. Schultz said the key to LPC's business is finding deficits and filling customers' needs. That's the exact philosophy the company was founded on.

In 1982, company owner Tunney Murchie had an idea: What if I can make a living selling things that other people throw away?

From that idea came a company of 110 employees that nets between $50 million to $100 million annually.
Other than a diverse and deep inventory list that has kept its customers satisfied all these years, Schultz attributes the success of LPC to two factors: family and size.

Murchie built LPC with the notion that overseeing a successful company meant building a family that wanted to work together and for each other. When you know your neighbor and the men or women working across the hall, in other words, it makes sense that you would want to hold up your end of the bargain.

Sandra Brucker, Murchie's top assistant, has been with LPC for 11 years. She has relished working with people who are like family, she said. It's the environment that Murchie occupies as well – he works out on the floor with the other traders.

"He tells me all the time that he's the man in charge of 100 families," Brucker said. "He has to stay on top of things and stay competitive. That's really important to him. He is generous to a fault. Scott is one of our best traders, but one of the girls that just came to work for us [in reception] is just as important."

The other reason LPC has been so successful is because Murchie has made good decisions about growth and customer development.

Schultz said LPC's competitive advantage is a low-tech, one-on-one style of business. There is no website or iPad application.

LPC has outlasted most of its local competitors. Agway was a competing large feed company, Schultz said, but it failed because it lost its vision and grew too fast.

LPC works with a coalition of suppliers and trucking firms from its main headquarters in Clarence. It has two warehouses for production, five satellite offices for communication and transporting, trucking deals with many of the truck companies in the U.S. and Canada, and a fleet of railcars that move on all major railroads for transporting the product.

Traders are the fuel that makes LPC run. Traders have to be ready for the unexpected and are always on the phone. Every day is different, and these workers are the ones that make the deals and move the product.
According to Schultz, traders become veterans quickly because there isn't much turnover at LPC. The company looks for talented and dedicated traders. "We don't have a revolving door [hiring wise]," Schultz said. "Usually when we hire somebody and they come in, they stay."

Being a successful trader requires a good understanding of numbers and geographical areas and knowing how to get things from point A to point B.

"At times, being on the floor can be like being on the New York Stock Exchange, where people are yelling back and forth," said Schultz, an 18-year veteran on the floor. "That's why I have it open air up there. Sometimes we need to communicate. ... It can get loud. I don't want to say rambunctious, but that's the nature of the beast. Some people don't like that environment; we do."

Schultz's most memorable trade came the day he made his first one: a deal to re-landscape the entire Louisville, Ky., waterfront. It took 45,000 tons of crushed granite to do it. LPC had the granite mined out of Arizona and transported to Kentucky via railcar. The railcar was unloaded and trucked over to the site, and Schultz did it all from his office chair on Sheridan Drive – back before the company moved to Main Street.

"It was interesting. It was intriguing," Schultz said. "We were, at that point, mostly a feed company. ... To be able to do it without going there or even seeing it – it was kind of amazing."

email: mparrino@buffnews.com