From Thought to Bought — The Backstory of Whitetail Institute Products

By Charles J. Alsheimer

There is a notion in our society that says, “If you have a good product, you don’t have to worry about sales, they’ll take care of themselves.” Frankly, the person who came up with this line obviously believed in the tooth fairy. Very few things in life just happen. For a company to be successful, it must come up with a high-quality product, understand how to make it appealing, be able to formulate a great game plan and have the dedication required to carry out the marketing plan. When all these factors come together, success follows.

A Little History

In 1968, Alabama native Ray Scott walked away from a successful career to follow his dream of bass fishing. At the time, many thought he was crazy, but through time he chased and caught up to his dream by founding the largest sport-fishing organization in the world, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.). In the process, his vision wound up creating an entire industry that thrives today. Though Ray is synonymous with bass fishing, he is also passionate about whitetail deer. His passion for bass fishing spilled over to deer in the mid-1970s, when his son Steve got him interested in hunting whitetails. At the time, Ray wanted to attract deer to his hunting property, so he began planting oat, wheat and rye green fields. One day in the 1980s, Ray stopped at a local feed store to buy some grain seed to plant in his food plots. While there, the store’s owner threw a bag of clover seed on the back of the truck and encouraged Ray to plant it for his deer. That season, Ray came up with the idea of planting a buffet of food plots, using a variety of grains and the clover seed he’d been given. When hunting season arrived, Ray was amazed to see how often deer would walk through the oats, wheat and rye he had planted to get to the clover plots. This happened on several hunts. Other hunters reported similar observations. This drove him to find out what the clover seed was all about. The trail led him to Dr. Wiley Johnson, a professor and seed geneticist at Auburn University. Ever the businessman, Ray challenged Dr. Johnson to come up with the best clover product possible specifically for deer. Ray and Dr. Johnson set up the goals to develop a clover blend that had seedling vigor, high nutritional content, drought resistance, winter hardiness and most importantly, was attractive to deer. It took Dr. Johnson the better part of seven years to create the clover variety that became the backbone of Imperial Whitetail Clover. During the time Dr. Johnson was engineering the original Imperial Whitetail Clover, Ray was one of the first to encourage hunters and landowners of the benefits of food plots as a nutritional supplement for whitetails. In 1988, with the first Imperial Whitetail Clover blend in his arsenal, Ray launched the Whitetail Institute of North America. Since then, many new seed varieties have been developed by Dr. Johnson and his successor, Dr. Wayne Hanna, and these new varieties have helped to continue to improve Imperial Whitetail Clover and other Whitetail Institute food plot products.

Quality is No. 1 Anyone who has ever dealt with the Whitetail Institute knows that there is no such thing as second best with the company. I began using its products 17 years ago when my family developed a whitetail research facility here on our farm. Dedicated to the study of deer behavior and whitetail nutrition, we set out to determine why deer do what they do and why they prefer certain forages, natural and human-engineered. It has been a fascinating journey; one that has allowed me to see firsthand the quality (or lack thereof) of certain products. From the get-go, our research deer showed a distinct preference for the various Whitetail Institute products we planted in our 35-acre enclosure. When I asked Steve Scott to comment on their company’s emphasis on the superior quality of their products, he said, “The quality of our products is what made us successful initially and is why we are the number-one food plot company today. We learned a long time ago that repeat business is the key to success because it costs a lot more to sell a person the first time than the second, third or fourth time. When my dad began Whitetail Institute, his top priority was to develop the best clover blend possible. This philosophy remains in place today with all our products. “That said, let me share a quick story about my dad as it relates to the quality of our products. Not long after the introduction of Imperial Whitetail Clover, my brother, Wilson, and I thought it might be a great business decision to come up with a less expensive clover blend to compete with the first cheaper ‘copycat’ products that appeared on the market. Well, we ran our idea by our father, and he shot it down almost as fast as the words came out of our mouths. “He said, ‘If we are still here 20 years from now, it will be because of the quality of our products, not the money we make. I’m not about to sacrifice quality, so no we will not market a cheaper seed line. Our goal will always be to offer the highest quality products to our customers.’ “In retrospect, what our dad said that day was one of the best business lessons I’ve ever learned and the cornerstone for the success we’ve enjoyed for all these years.”

Identifying the Need Attention to detail and the quality of their products has been the lynchpin to Whitetail Institute’s success. From its inception, Whitetail employees listened to their customers and closely analyzed the market before introducing a new product to its line. When I asked Steve Scott how important new products are for them he said. “New products are very important, but only if there is a need or we have a hole to fill in our product line. It usually takes five years on average for us to go from thinking about a product to bringing it to market. For every successful product we’ve had there have been dozens that never saw the light of day,” he said. After Whitetail Institute determines the need for a new product, research begins. Staffers look at all aspects of what will be required for success — everything from educating customers on something totally new to whether the product will provide the proper nutrition and whether deer will be attracted to it and much more. After all aspects are looked at closely, the process of selecting and/or genetically developing the seed begins. A critical aspect of Whitetail Institute’s offerings is that most of its seed products are blends rather than a single seed variety. Single seed varieties typically have negative features, like an inability to be drought resistant or winter hardy. Seed blends, on the other hand, can be formulated to minimize such negatives. In addition, blends can be developed to have higher nutrition levels and last longer.

Meeting the Test A critical step in Whitetail Institute’s thought to bought process is the unique way it tests prospective products. Steve Scott explained the process. “We test every seed offering vigorously in different parts of the country to make sure it will grow and thrive in each region. We do this through what we call satellite research facilities, which are some of our customers,” he said. “Our testers are folks who plant food plots in what we call the ‘Real World.’ They conduct a fair test, work within our confidential guidelines and provide a prompt and thorough response to how the product performs. Basically, we provide them with a variety of seeds to test and they give us their opinion of which works best for them. When we know which seed or blend of seeds works best, the marketing process begins.” An important point of emphasis is that Whitetail Institute continually strives to improve the blends it offers. By way of example, since Imperial Whitetail Clover’s introduction in 1988, numerous improvements have been made through the years to this popular clover blend to make it more successful. Further improvement in the company's seed blends took place just recently with the addition of Rain Bond to its seeds. This cuttingedge coating product can hold 200 times its weight in moisture, which helps to improve seedling survival when drought conditions exist.

The Art of Selling When a Whitetail Institute product is developed, it’s time to bring it to market. One of the first steps in the process is ensuring as much as possible that production will be able to keep up with demand when the orders roll in. While production is gearing up, Whitetail’s staff is busy with product naming, bag design and developing advertising strategy. Since its inception, Whitetail Institute has aggressively marketed its products through vertical magazines and television (those that are primarily whitetail in nature). As Steve Scott said, “We focus on the most serious end users who have a passion for whitetails.” However, the biggest way the company reaches the whitetail public is through its magazine, Whitetail News, which was launched in 1991 and is published three times a year. Each issue is full of informative hunting, land management and food plot articles, with heavy emphasis on how Whitetail Institute products can deliver the greatest return to the deer and landowner. Whitetail News ranks as the most-read magazine of its kind in the United States, and it is free to Whitetail Institute customers. For more than two decades, Ray Scott’s prophetic words to his sons — that quality would be what makes them successful — have rung loud and true. Because of its product’s quality and customer service, Whitetail Institute has become a true American success story. Simply put, few do the thought-to-bought process better than Whitetail Institute does.