|Pleasant Hill Grain wins honor|
Pleasant Hill Grain founder Gary Hansen was honored last week as one of three recipients of the prestigious Nebraska Distinguished Entrepreneur Award.
Presented annually by the Nebraska Center for Entrepreneurship, the award recognizes significant achievement in business. Hansen, members of his family and the company he founded on his farm north of Aurora were honored at a banquet Thursday in Lincoln, which also featured a Young Entrepreneurial Scholars program and New Ventures World Competition for high school and college students.
Pleasant Hill Grain was established in 1998, when Gary and Anita Hansen began selling products over the internet from their family farm. Gary designed the company’s website, promoting products initially targeted at a Y2K market -- things like grain, grain mills, mixers, dried milk and canned foods. Sales have steadily grown, topping $10 million in 2008.
The company relocated last summer to the former Wild Bill’s facility in Hampton, a 30,000 sq. ft. warehouse, and now touts 25 employees, including two outside salesmen and the Hansen’s three children, Carly, Laurel and Kate.
The honoree shared some insight on business while accepting the award, citing a focus on customer service as the primary reason for Pleasant Hill Grain’s success.
"Historically, I can say that when things have been good our business has been good and when things have been bad our business has been good," Hansen said. "Why is that?"
Some people may think the answer to that question is linked to the internet, but Hansen disagrees.
"Today, everybody is on the internet. I don’t think that’s a difference maker.
"The reason why our business is so strong is that we’ve built a very good team and because essentially we’re not an appliance business. We export Nebraska values to 50 states and internationally. The vehicle is appliance sales, but our main product is service."
And sales are brisk. Despite a slumping economy, Hansen reported that sales in the past 30 days are up 30 percent.
"As I look at our competitors on the internet, I can see just beneath the surface that their focus in most cases is on technology," he observed. "Our focus is on customers, first of all. We never forget that the customer is number one."
Explaining his business philosophy even further, Hansen said reality isn’t plural.
"Some ideas are just wrong and I think it helps enormously to understand that in life and in business," he said.
Take two plus two, for example. The answer is always four, Hansen noted. Everything else is always wrong, and he believes there is no evidence to suggest that basic principle doesn’t apply to all of life, universally.
"We’re here to talk about and celebrate business tonight," he said. "Business works better when you get the answer to any particular question just right. The thing is if you don’t believe there is a right answer you are not apt to do the hard work it takes to find that one right answer which will make a difference."
He also shared his belief that business owners will be happier and ultimately more successful if their goal is to seek and achieve satisfaction rather than simply make a profit. In his experience, entrepreneurs with that goal often end up making more money as well.
"This is a great honor for myself, my company and my family," Hansen said. "To receive the entrepreneur of the year award is a great surprise."
Pleasant Hill Grain was nominated by Keith Heuermann of Phillips, who himself won the award as founder of BKH Popcorn. Phil Nelson, president of Hamilton Telecommunications in Aurora, is another former winner.
Two other companies were recognized as distinguished entrepreneurs Thursday. They included Don Adams, founder of Adams & Son Transportation Services in Hastings, and Robert Gottsch, president of the Gottsch Cattle Company, which has operations in Nebraska, Kansas, Louisiana, Texas and Missouri.