They Hatched this Missouri Business as Kids; Now, It’s a Booming Egg EmpireDavid Cawthon
Like many people in agriculture, brothers Dustin and Austin Stanton have worked on the farm since … forever.
“I literally jumped in as soon as I was born,” Dustin says. “My mom had complications with my birth, so she had to stay at the hospital. Long story short, Dad brought me home, and he’d never had a child before. He ended up putting me on the back cab of the tractor while he ground hog feed.”
Younger brother Austin may have been a bit older when he started working on the farm. But now, the 28- and 24-year-olds are ag veterans. Their egg business has been a mainstay of the Columbia Farmers Market for 14 years. Stanton Brothers Eggs serves 60 outlets, including grocery stores, school systems, restaurants and colleges. And the brothers have been recognized as one of the largest independent egg producers in the U.S.
Entrepreneurship on the family farm
The Stanton farm near Centralia has been in the family since 1845. Andrew and Judy Stanton have cattle and grow crops and hay. Their sons Dustin and Austin have eggs – and plan to someday hand the farm down to their own children.
But the brothers weren’t always looking to the future. Like many rural kids, they started looking for 4-H and Future Farmers of America projects.
“In 2007, I joined FFA,” Dustin says. “You have to have a project, and mine was chickens. I had 500 birds and started selling eggs at the Columbia Farmers Market. The first few Saturdays were terrible – I think it snowed. I sold half a dozen eggs that first Saturday, then one dozen the second.”
If you do the math, Dustin wasn’t old enough to drive. So what started as an FFA project grew into weekly forays with a brother in tow and a parent behind the wheel. It didn’t take long for the Stantons to sell more than one dozen eggs each week.
Soon, the brothers owned their own business that operated from the family farm. Andrew and Judy helped, much like how Austin and Dustin help with cattle or wheat. But eggs are the brothers’ business. In addition to the farmers market, they serve wholesale clients as well.
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“We have our products spread around, and that’s key,” Dustin says. “We’ve specialized in how we produce, but we’ve diversified in how we sell it. It’s a unique way to stay on the family farm and combine our passion for agriculture and entrepreneurship.”
As the business flourished, both brothers completed degrees at the University of Missouri. Austin’s degree is in agriculture systems management. Dustin’s is in agriculture business. Together, they make a balanced team.
“Austin focuses on the production of eggs and milo,” Dustin says. “I focus on sales and marketing. We meet in the middle on processing.”
Production, processing and sales are three businesses the brothers have wrapped into one. Call it vertical integration if you want. But they produce the milo the chickens eat. They sort, clean and package the eggs with the help of their mom. And they do all their own sales and marketing. Traditionally, those second and third steps would be done outside of the farm by third parties.
Building community and building business
Taking on all areas of the business means always learning, growing and building relationships. Whether it’s learning from mentors or being active in the community, the Stantons are just that: active.
“We believe in lifelong education,” Dustin says. “We continue to learn and grow and apply what we learn as well. And we try to pay it forward and help others.”
Austin and his dad just completed terms serving on the board of MU Extension in Boone County. Dustin just joined the local extension board as well. Both brothers are alumni of Future Business Leaders of America. The family is also involved with their church, Kiwanis, Rotary and Columbia Regional Economic Development Inc.
“We’ve gotten involved in Farm Bureau,” Dustin says. “It’s very well rounded, so it represents all of agriculture, and I think that’s key. It’s important to understand how it all ties together. For example, when corn prices are high, people think that’s good. And yeah, that is good, I prefer that. But on the flip side, we have livestock. And it creates higher feed prices. I think it’s really important to have a balanced approach to the whole system.”
Dustin and Austin share information and their passion with everyone they work with – including the customers buying a dozen eggs at the Columbia Farmers Market.
“I’ve thought about teaching, but you can still teach and not be a teacher,” Dustin says. “Every Saturday, when I go to the farmers market, half my job is teaching and helping others.”
Whether it’s a dozen eggs or thousands, the Stantons base all their sales on relationships.
“We have the most success with the relationship side of things,” Dustin says. “You always know someone who knows someone. I approach it that way. Being casual is key in the market we’re in, and having a comfortable rapport when you meet someone is a strong selling point.”
Keys to a successful business
Starting a venture at a young age had an unexpected benefit.
“If I was the age I am now and had a 9-to-5 job, I wouldn’t start anything like this,” Dustin says. “We started at an age when it didn’t matter if we fell down. But you can start at any age. There’s no limit for entrepreneurship.”
Dustin urges potential business owners to prepare – to a point.
“I think someone who wants to start a business should plan,” he says. “It’s not wise to think you have an amazing idea so you don’t need a plan. You don’t necessarily need a full business plan to get started, but you need to understand upfront that owning your own business isn’t 40 hours a week. On the flip side, some folks get analysis paralysis and never make a decision. You have to take leap of faith. Prepare, but just go for it.”
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