Colter DeVries is the founder of Colt James Ranches in Roberts, Montana. He raises Wagyu cattle and has discovered a niche market with a focus on holistic management practices balanced with stainability. His experience in commercial/agricultural banking coupled with a degree in finance has served as a solid foundation to start a ranch and value-added business. Colter began on the family ranch, but soon chose his own path. “I needed something that would segment and differentiate away from convention and commodity which is a race to the bottom for low-cost leaders,” said Colter. “I had tried another breed, and researched extensively the traits, characteristics, and marketability of other breeds, all of which eventually led me to Wagyu. Wagyu has the legitimate traits and characteristics certain segments of the beef market are looking for, a niche that commands significant premiums of the finished product.”
Finding a Place in a Niche Market
Colt James Ranches beef is made from crossing Angus with Wagyu. Initially Colter wanted to sell frozen steaks with what he calls a ‘’butcher box/blue apron/Omaha Steak’’ style business model. He said the risk of such an investment was too great. Instead he came up with the idea for the beef snack Montana Chopsticks. Colter said he aims to align the business with a mix of wine drinkers who enjoy meat and cheese boards and a craft-beer complement. Colter is working towards launching the world’s only line of pure Wagyu charcuteries and delicatessens. The pursuit of succeeding in a niche market has come with challenges and lessons learned. Colter says the biggest hurdle is managing costs.
‘’It seems that there is always something else that is “needed” that wasn’t planned for. Changing direction is costly too. Starting out doing the unknown, everything is foreign, so unforeseen needs always arise and direction has changed several times. I don’t even update or look at the business plan anymore (though I need to next winter) because where I am today vs where I had planned has changed so many times. It’s
for the better though, I just have to keep rolling with the punches and see where it takes me. I’ve taken many hits, so I guess my strategy now is endurance given those punches keep coming.”
Government Regulation In agriculture consumer confidence is often a top priority for a producer. For Colter this couldn’t be more true. “The federal regulations and control of food production needs to be updated to
reflect the age of Amazon. Current regulations are set up to benefit mega-facilities and large corporations who have economies of scale. Anyone with access to a locally or state inspected food processor should be able to reach a nationwide market, yet the amount of red-tape an independent producer and entrepreneur must sift through to sell across state lines is extremely prohibitive to efficient and effective markets. It’s killing free enterprise and advancements in the food sector all the while cryptocurrencies and tech are booming.” While some producers are looking forward to the opening of the Chinese market Colter says it’s not a viable option for him. He does see some benefit to Country of Origin Labeling, but says the freedom to operate without government dictation is first and foremost.“In a free market where COOL is not mandatory, if demand drives the premiums and profits upwards from voluntarily doing COOL, and if that activity outweighs the costs, more will elect in. I empathize with both sides of the argument. I think having it voluntary benefits the small independent processor because they have the flexibility and personalized presence to implement it much more easily than than the big corporate beef boys do.”
Being a successful entrepreneur can involve some missteps and mistakes along the way. His definition of success is the freedom and ability to do what excites him.“Treat the ranch as a business. No commercial enterprise has an owner or laborer that works for free, so make sure you’re getting paid well in whatever it is that you’re doing. Don’t over think, over plan, second guess or armchair quarterback your hunch or
premonition. Start small, but the start is the hardest part. I’m not saying what I am doing is right; I’m still learning as I go and having to make lots of changes, but I don’t mind learning-by-doing. I would have never known how wrong I was until I actually tried it, and each day I’m a little closer to being right.” For more about Colt James Ranches visit https://www.coltjamesranches.com.