Disrupting the Flow: Finding New Paths in an Old Industry

Episode 232

April 25, 2023

Some industries are new, some are old. How do you marry the idea of new and old? John Hays is on The Kula Ring this week discussing just that. John and Banjo are revolutionizing how they communicate with their clients in the AG industry. John is a true professional and a man who thinks outside the box. Enough explanation, get in here and hear it from the man himself.

Disrupting the Flow: Finding New Paths in an Old Industry Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White. 

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir? 

Carman Pirie: I am caffeinated. No it just occurs to me, you hear a lot these days, I find, now this may be one of these things that when you have a car, buy a new car or something, you see everybody driving around in the same car. I started seeing people talking about reducing caffeine intake, the other day. And now it seems like that’s the only thing I notice these days on social media. I certainly did not decrease, decreasing caffeine intake has not been on my agenda. Just as you asked me that I was downing my fortieth espresso for the day or something. 

Jeff White: And for those who haven’t been to Kula world headquarters here in Halifax Nova Scotia. We have a bit of an obsession with good quality caffeination and espresso. You have even taken that a level further in your home setup. So, you know.  

Carman Pirie: This is true but I am reminded of our accountant’s reaction, in our very early days of being an agency, when we weren’t making any money. But, we decided to spend everything  we could possibly gather up from our lines of credit at the time to get the nicest espresso machine available to us. 

Jeff White: Yeah it’s about the size of a Toyota Yaris.

Carman Pirie: But you know that was- we make much better business decisions now. Uh, we are much more mature and one of those decisions was bringing today’s guest on the show. I am really excited to, kind of, unpack this topic of, kind of, industry disruption writ large.

Jeff White: Yeah. Future readiness and kind of understanding what’s coming. Ya know, it’s not just going to happen to you but that you can actually be prepared for it. I think it’s just- its a level of sophistication you don’t often see.

Carman Pirie: Man, you’re going to try out a No Country For Old Men reference back there. And I am not supposed to acknowledge it. That’s really hard. 

Jeff White: I know. 

Carman Pirie: “looking for what’s coming.” Anyway.

Jeff White: “Ain’t nobody sees that.” So joining us today is John Hays, John is the Global Marketing Director at Banjo Liquid Handling products. Welcome to The Kula Ring John.  

John Hays: Hey guys, thanks for having me. 

Carman Pirie: It’s awesome to have you on the show, John. Why don’t you start by giving our listeners a bit of an introduction to you and Banjo Liquid Handling Products. What are you all up to? 

John Hays: All right. Yeah, as you mentioned I run the marketing team here at Banjo. I’ve been at the company for about eight years, coming up. Prior to this role here, which is really focused on the agricultural world, I’ve been in industrial marketing positions throughout my career. I was in the computer industry. I’ve been in technology products through a good portion of my career in the fire industry doing things like thermal imagers for firefighters, so some cool stuff there. Certainly seen my fair share of different products and technologies come about in different industries, so it’s been fun. 

And being on the ag side is good because it keeps with the theme of kind of helping create a better world. I mean, we’re feeding the world. And in the fire business, in the public safety business you’re helping keep people safe, so I kind of like that element of it. Trying to contribute back something. So, I’ve always been part of organizations that have kind of had a little bit of a larger purpose. And Banjo is part of a larger business that has kind of that theme, as well. We have businesses like Hurst, which make safety equipment for extracting people out of vehicles and things of that nature. So, Banjo itself, we’ve been doing this for over 60 years, making basically plumbing products for agricultural implements like sprayers, like agricultural sprayers, various tanks and things. There’s industrial applications for it but our primary market is within the agricultural spraying business, which is a business. 

There’s these very expensive pieces of equipment that farmers buy, or applicators buy and then use to apply chemicals and fertilizer and things like that. 

Jeff White: Yeah. It’s almost like Banjo Liquid Handling Products buries the lead a little bit in terms of the exact type of product and market that you serve. 

Carman Pirie: I think that’s a fair comment. I guess I’m curious, John, you’ve seen the industrial category from a number of different vantage points, and I think sometimes industrial marketers, manufacturers overall, kind of get labeled as being kind of behind the times marketers, or maybe if not a century behind, at least a decade or two. Have you seen any kind of change in that over the years? Are you feeling manufacturers kind of catching up at all? 

John Hays: You know, it’s an interesting observation, and I’ve felt that, as well. It’s almost like you’re second tier in terms of since you’re not sort of B2C, you’re behind the scenes working on products that go into other products a lot of times, but yeah, it depends on the business. Obviously, you know, I worked in the computer industry, and I was at a major company that had an $8 billion division that sold into businesses, right? So, in a sense it was business to business, but it was this very high tech, if you will, product line. So, I guess it depends on the business. It depends on the company. It depends on what you do. I’ve been fortunate to be in some places where there’s been some pretty cool tech and some pretty cool products, but yeah, I take that point. It’s not quite as glamorous as a Microsoft product manager, or Google, or whatever. 

Carman Pirie: Well, to be clear, I grew up in rural western New Brunswick, Canada, the heart of potato belt in Canada, I think, and if agricultural spraying technology may not be sexy to some other people, but it’s right up my street. You’re speaking my language now. 

Well, John, I want to kind of dig into how you think about going to market with Banjo, because your category shares a lot of similarities with a wide number of other areas of manufacturing where there is an environmental component to what you do, or even the industry you serve in this instance, that is going to drive some change over time. I think of the industry that I often reference, flexible packaging, certainly sees that in terms of plastic reduction initiatives globally. Agriculturally, of course, fertilizer products and things of that nature that are being applied in industrial agriculture, that’s undergoing some change. One might say we could even look down the future, into the future, and say there may be a time when we don’t apply those products at all, at least not in the current way. 

I’m curious. Let’s dig into this. How do you think about positioning Banjo today knowing that the future is quite dramatically uncertain in that regard? 

John Hays: Yeah. I mean, it’s a great question and it gets to the heart of a lot of things. If you break it down to the business problem, we have to feed a growing world population. We have less arable land to do it on. And you’ve got these big implements that are critical to that activity, right? So, small ball kind of activities with respect to organics or things of that nature, vertical farming, those are great, and me personally, I’d love to see those things scale and do better in their own right, but the truth is we’ve got this business problem to feed the world, and that is crucial. Now, not all of the corn and soybeans, let’s say, go to feeding people, per se. Most of it actually is used in biofuels and feed. But it’s all ostensibly related to that particular business problem. 

And so, you gotta be able to do it at scale, and that’s what these big ag OEM manufacturers are trying to solve for, is how do we take a growing population with less land and solve for that equation? That’s a tough one. So, the solution really is getting more productivity out of that same farmland or that decreasing farmland, right? And that… The driver behind that is a term called precision agriculture. If you’re in the ag space, you’re close to the ag space, or even if you want to go onto the CES that took place in January, Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, you can hear about precision technology for agriculture. John Deere was one of the keynote speakers. But in any case, point being there’s a lot of technology that’s going into the idea of solving for this problem. How do we use technology to optimize the number of crops that we get per acre? That’s really what it comes down to. 

Jeff White: I have to think, too, like you said, your product goes into someone else’s product and then gets used to create another product that is then sold potentially to consumers, or I suppose to another business at that point who then sells that food to consumers. But how are you kind of going at that in terms of presenting your solutions to the John Deere’s of the world and thinking about how your spraying technology, and your pump technology, and other things like that are actually getting used? Are you preparing things for John Deere to be able to talk about that? Or are they kind of coming to you as the expert in that side of things and simply deferring to the quality and kind of product that Banjo produces?

John Hays: Well, you bring up a good point. I think there is another level that we could get to with respect to what you just mentioned. But for the most part, it is just what you said. We are a quality supplier. We are a full-line supplier of the products that they need. And we offer a lot of technical support and capabilities that those organizations need from an engineering support standpoint. Just the breadth of product line, so they can draw upon thousands of products commercially available, and custom products potentially, that they can use to sort of put LEGOs together in their plumbing solutions. So, a lot of it’s mechanical. A lot of it, though, is becoming more technological. We do a lot of electronic products that have sophisticated control systems that interface again with sort of this precision ag component of what’s going on. 

So, Banjo’s business, and there’s a story behind Banjo we could get into too, the name, but Banjo’s business is really evolving from the sort of 20th century injection molded plastic part business to more of a solution-driven, technology-enabled business as we serve these customers. 

Carman Pirie: So, Jeff, at the heart of your question, are you kind of saying or asking as a component manufacturer how much can Banjo drive the agenda of agricultural transformation versus having to be responsive to it? 

Jeff White: I think that’s certainly part of it and as usual, you’re able to kind of take the rambling that I have spouted and turn it into something a little more coherent. But yeah, I think that really is the heart of my question. 

John Hays: Yeah. And I think you’re absolutely right. You’re making me think about something that we probably haven’t thought enough about as a business, to change that conversation, to lead. I think we’ve done it in some cases, but as a… You know, it is an opportunity for organizations like Banjo as sort of you might call it tier one agricultural suppliers or something to help drive and inform strategies or approaches to these large multibillion dollar OEM  companies that are themselves acquiring companies to try to figure out these problems and guide that discourse. Most of the time, they’re content with sort of driving their own narratives and their own thoughts about how to do it, but there’s an opportunity for companies like us, particularly when we come in with real solutions, to help frame those conversations. And that’s the way to do it, I think.

Carman Pirie: And I think it can probably seem a little daunting to say, “Oh, we’re  going to try to lead this conversation or show some thought leadership in this area.” But I think probably, if I were giving advice to somebody in your position thinking about how… You would obsess about that one component of the overall system of feeding the planet and feeding the fields that feed the planet, really. You would obsess about that one component more than anybody else. So, if anybody’s going to find the capacity to innovate in it, it’s those people that are the most obsessed with it, I think. 

John Hays: Yep. I agree. 

Carman Pirie: Of course, the easiest part is saying it. The harder part is doing it, I suppose. It’s an interesting… In the agricultural… in this kind of grand debate about fertilizer, like you say, organics, et cetera, of course one of the things is we shouldn’t be spraying our fields at all, some might say, and one of the solutions to that seems to be more genetically engineered food that’s not as susceptible to the things that we have to spray for. Which, in and of itself, would carry its own challenges and issues from an environmental perspective as we’ve seen with even Monsanto and others. 

It must be an incredibly complicated space to try to stay on top of. 

John Hays: It is. There’s a lot to look at. And you do have to have your vision cast sort of wide view as opposed to narrow, although sometimes we have to go very narrow. Yeah. You might have some bioengineered seeds that all of a sudden don’t need fertilizer and that changes the landscape in a disruptive standpoint. Or you might have drones that have lasers on them that zap weeds before they get to any point of maturity, which would be really interesting, right? Both of which would potentially limit the amount of spraying that would happen. I think… You know, there’s this whole question of, and I think I find it fascinating as I think through my career, and you can apply it really to a lot of different industries, and that’s kind of the concept of incrementalism versus sort of disruptive technologies, right? I mean, you can think of the horse and buggy, or the railroad being completely disrupted by cars or planes, and then you can think about other technologies which have been much more incremental, and I kind of think of innovation… When there is a disruptor, that changes the game, right? It can very much… I mean, the horse and buggy was obsolete almost immediately, right? It was basically obsolete. 

But if you think about innovation and when does that pace slow down, it kind of slows down when the product is good enough, right? Being in the PC business, one of the things I always thought about was when you are changing colors of products and you’re discounting wholly, I mean, that’s when you know your product’s probably good enough for the average user. And I think the iPhone feels like it’s there, or certain phones feel like… I mean, do we know the difference between the 12, 13, and 14? I’m not sure I could articulate the feature value differences between certain of the new models of phones. 

I think that whole concept to me is fascinating in terms of thinking about innovation and the acceleration or deceleration of it. For me, it really comes down to when is good enough, and the idea of what’s incremental and what’s disruptive as we think about the ag business is certainly something that comes into play. And I’ll give you one example of incrementalism. Well, everything in the precision ag world heretofore has been pretty incremental. We’ve had automated steering, variable rate application, yield monitoring. These things have been sort of adopted at a reasonably slowish pace if you might say. But they’ve all now been refined, and they’re incorporated… I mean, farmers, people who are applying chemical or working tractors don’t really steer the vehicle. They’re done… With the new machines, they’re just done by GPS. 

And the idea of maybe targeted spraying of weeds instead of just carpet bombing them with a bunch of spray nozzles is probably the sort of incremental kind of thing that’ll happen over the next five years, right? As opposed to… So, that’ll help with some of the environmental challenges of all of this chemical being sprayed, and running off into waterways or what have you, so there’s work that’s being done that I think will be good. And then ultimately either that becomes so good that it’s minimalized or there’s again an opportunity for something disruptive to occur on that, which could be a gamechanger. Who knows? 

Carman Pirie: You know, as you talked about that, you really paint a picture of modern agricultural business that is quite a bit different than what I think a lot of people think of when they think of farming, especially folks that aren’t particularly close to farming and maybe don’t see it for the business that it is. That’s been a huge change, I think, really in the last 20 to 30 years in farming, to see that corporatization of it, if you will. The fact that small farmers, it’s not really a viable business. You have to be operating at a certain scale and that changes the entire business of agriculture. Have you guys seen a similar shift on the sales side? 

I’m curious about selling into this space that probably used to have a lot more… I don’t know. It probably felt a little bit more down to earth 15 years ago than it feels today. I don’t know. What’s happening in that environment? What are you seeing? 

John Hays: Yeah. It is. And it’s a trend that’s been going on for a while. The era of the small family farm or the hobby farmer… I mean, that’s not really a business that predominates in terms of volume, anyway. The output that you see is coming from large agribusiness type farms, for sure, and that’s just a market factor, a market reality. Now, there are obviously plenty of numbers of local farms, people that just do it for a little bit of side hustle or whatever, but yeah, it is a big business and even the farmers who I would say are sort of in that… it’s maybe a family farm, and we know quite a few here at Banjo because we work with them on a lot of different things, just to test products or whatever. They’re still at the small end of the scale but they have to be very adept at finance, at inventory control, supply chain management. There’s a lot of factors that you have to be a general business manager, or you have to outsource that, and it creates kind of like any type of company which is kind of a tweener company, the family farm has that to grapple with whereas the scale of a bigger business can sort of optimize that. The family farm has to kind of have maybe somebody in the organization who can kind of do a lot of that. And it’s a challenge for a business like that. 

And it’s part of the reason I think that it’s just helped accelerate this move to bigger, larger scale enterprises. 

Jeff White: I think it’s really interesting. I have two friends that I can think of off the top of my head who both own family farms here in Nova Scotia. And there’s no question that the level that they’re at, and the kind of production that they’re doing, is not at all what we’re talking about here. Are you communicating directly to those people who are slightly larger than that? And kind of giving them the specifications and marketing directly to those groups? Or are you primarily going through the OEMs and kind of giving them what they need in order to sell the add-ons for the farming equipment that way? 

John Hays: It’s a very interesting question and I answer it this way. Most of our marketing, most of what I would call marketing, goes to that end user, however you want to define it. And we can come back and talk about the definition of it. Not as much through the OEMs. That’s more of a sales push channel type thing, right? So, that’s a high involvement touch point, and we don’t do quite as much because we have a very small community of people that we really need to work with. We tend to pull in through our branding, and we do some things that pull in interest and that kind of thing directly to the farm community, and we use social media, social media influencers, direct marketing techniques, and stuff of that nature. 

So, we do a lot of what you might call traditional branding and trade show activities where we reach a larger group of people to sort of continue to keep that brand strong, and the presence with the OEMs, let’s say, is partly because of the things I mentioned at the beginning of the session, but are also because of that sort of firewall that we’ve built with a lot of our end users. 

Carman Pirie: That’s really interesting to me and that is not what I thought that answer was going to be. So, I guess I’m curious at how much… How hard of an ROI lens is placed on that end user marketing? 

John Hays: Yeah. This is a great question because as somebody who managed $150,000 advertising budget, most of it was print in the fire business. Very, very easy to compute, right? You’ve got firefighters and firehouses and putting advertisements in print magazines tended to be a pretty effective way to reach them. It’s a different business and most of the product that actually goes to an end user farmer is an aftermarket sale, right? Because they’re buying equipment and then they’re replacing it for whatever reason. Maybe it’s worn out or what have you. And in some cases, they’re creating their own systems and they’re buying product that… You know, plumbing products to build their own systems. But in a lot of cases, they’re replacing products that they already have, so it’s an interesting dynamic. 

And so, you know, the techniques that we use are a little bit more non-traditional, and I use the idea of social media influencers. That seems to bear a lot of weight. There’s sort of experts in the business that have communities of their own that they’re showcasing what they do, and sort of embedding into those accounts, and really getting viral there is a much better ROI,  haven’t calculated it but I’m convinced of it, than putting a half-page ad on a specific product in the back of some local farm or regional farm journal. So, we could go through the various possibilities of media and direct marketing or any type of marketing, but I’m convinced that those more modern approaches to reaching this audience is probably more effective. 

It is interesting, though, as you think about agriculture, that it’s an older market, typically it’s a little bit more conservative, or maybe a lot depending on your perspective. Folks aren’t necessarily into the latest technology. But there are pockets of these influencers, and they wield quite a bit of influence within the community, and it seems like that is a really effective way to get the word out. 

Jeff White: That makes a lot of sense to me. I’m thinking of my friend Sue, who runs what is effectively a goat and vegetable farm here in Kingston, Nova Scotia, and a lot of her decisions and trials and tribulations are solved by the farming community that she is a part of. There are people who have been at it a long time. They’re the ones who are telling her what she needs to do to solve these things, especially as new and younger people may be coming into that industry. They’re definitely going to be looking to the community to support them and help them out. It’s a complicated, difficult business, and in all honesty my hat’s off to anybody who tries, because it seems incredibly-

Carman Pirie: Well, and even in big business agriculture, Jeff, or we’ve seen it in HVAC and other industrial categories, social media influencers, it’s a little easier to stand out. Good luck being a TikTok beauty influencer. There’s quite a few of those already. But in some of these more industrial categories-

Jeff White: Very niche. 

Carman Pirie: Well, reasonably niche. There’s not as many people competing for that attention. There’s still a lot of attention out there and the opportunity for brands to leverage that and partner with those influencers is considerable. 

Jeff White: Yeah. I love that. So, John, as we kind of come to the end of the show here, what’s… I mean, obviously you’re thinking of the disruptions that are coming. You’re planning for that. You’re thinking about it, the idea of laser-guided drones just is mind blowing and super cool. I can’t wait to see that when that comes. But what’s next for you and for Banjo? 

John Hays: Yeah. That’s a great question. I think what I would tell you is it’s about providing better and more complete solutions to our customers. And it does start with those big OEM customers in particular because they start everything, right? The equipment that they buy has to have products that enable the solutions that they’re trying to go after, whether it’s drones that shoot lasers, or whether it’s just very sophisticated variable rate spraying systems. So, a lot of it is making sure that we have the developed solutions that can provide them the capability to do what they need to do. And then the second thing I would say is as an organization, the parent company, IDEX Corporation, of Banjo, we’re all looking at the agricultural business and saying, “What’s next for the company? What else do we want to do beyond say plumbing parts for agricultural? Are there other interesting technologies as we think about this idea of precision agriculture? What are the things that fit well within the construct and the organization of the business that would solve new problems for…” Again, for these OEMs or potentially for the end users themselves. But the OEMs are certainly driving so much of this activity that it would make sense to think of solution sets that we could provide that would solve problems that go to this global challenge of feeding the world. That’s what’s next is technologies and solutions that address that. 

Carman Pirie: John, I’ve really enjoyed chatting about this today. It’s been a great topic and you’ve been a wonderful guest. Thank you for joining us. 

John Hays: Oh, it was my pleasure, guys, and I enjoyed it immensely. 

Jeff White: Thanks so much. 

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring, with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-Apartners.com/thekularing.

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Headshot of John Hays


John Hays

Global Marketing Director, Banjo Liquid Handling Products

John Hays is the Global Marketing Director at Banjo, a manufacturer of agricultural liquid handling products, where as part of the company’s senior leadership team he oversees global marketing, strategy, and M&A efforts. He was instrumental in the acquisition of KZValve in 2022, and the development of innovative electric valve and pump products. Prior to joining Banjo, Hays worked in marketing and corporate strategy roles in the firefighting and personal computer industries among others. He holds a bachelor of science degree from the University of Southern Indiana and an MBA from Indiana University.

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

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Kula Partners is an agency that specializes in maximizing revenue potential for B2B manufacturers.

Our clients sell within complex, technical environments and we help them take a more targeted, account-focused approach to drive revenue growth within niche markets.


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