Wednesday, September 13, 2000
Steamboat Springs With sales climbing, Yampa Valley Beef has found itself at a crossroads and its membership now needs to decide where the company that sells a value-added local product goes from here.
From January 1999 to May 2000, the experimental company that aimed to create a market for locally grown beef in the Yampa Valley, had sold 36,500 pounds of ground beef. That's around 90 cows' worth of meat.
The majority of that beef, 21,000 pounds, was bought by the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. to supply its restaurants last winter and this summer.
Officials from both ski corp. and Yampa Valley Beef expect to make the same deal this winter, though nothing is signed yet.
The remainder of the ground beef was distributed among local restaurants, grocery stores and for the summer rodeos.
Also, in the nearly two years since Yampa Valley Beef's first sales, the company has sold prime cuts from 26 steers in frozen holiday-gift packages.
That sort of demand for the products, especially the ground beef, is much more than anyone expected, Routt County Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said.
"We never really thought we'd get that big so fast," he said.
With the growth in sales, the 22 members of the company, who are largely volunteers, have some decisions to make about how much larger Yampa Valley Beef should get and what direction it should go.
"It's an issue that a lot of companies face," said Geoff Blakeslee president of Yampa Valley Beef.
He explained that he and the other members need to start thinking about hiring a staff, solving distribution problems, and, possibly, finding ways to improve sales even more.
Some distribution and sales issues could be resolved with a recently forged business deal that Yampa Valley Beef made with the Steamboat Meat and Seafood Co.
Steamboat Meat and Seafood bought a few steers last month to butcher and then sell prime cuts of fresh Yampa Valley Beef steaks for the first time ever. The retail meat company also is going to handle some distribution and storage for Yampa Valley Beef.
"Hopefully some problems with the business will be resolved with that," Blakeslee said.
Before that deal was made, Yampa Valley Beef member Mary Kay Monger was responsible for orders and deliveries.
"It's been a challenge," she said "It all just took off fast."
It became particularly difficult after business picked up and she had to deliver larger quantities of the product.
"We don't even have a refrigerated truck," she said.
Though more help and better organization is needed, Monger knows it could be more difficult financially for the company if it dedicates itself to expanding.
"It costs money to do that," she said. That money would pay someone to take care of orders for the company, and pay for delivery and storage.
But it's a matter of economy of scale for Yampa Valley Beef. The company has grown big enough that it's stretching the limits of its volunteer workers. But has it grown large enough to support a staff? That's the question the principles need to answer.
If Yampa Valley Beef does take the next step in terms of business growth, it could find itself competing against larger corporations that deal in volumes that drive costs lower, Monger said.
Blakeslee said the board of directors of Yampa Valley Beef will talk about the future at a meeting Sept. 7 and then share its ideas and discuss the issues at the member meeting on Sept. 13.
"I'm going to keep a real open mind," he said. "Whatever the members want to do is fine with me."