Cooperatives are unique, according to Rosebud Farmers Union Cooperative General Manager Clayton Whitney.
“Unlike other businesses, when you work for a cooperative, you’re actually working for your customers,” he said. “Your patrons are the ones who own the company.”
Serving Farmers Union Cooperative patrons for 25 years now, Whitney doesn’t wait until the annual meeting to make sure he and his team are meeting patrons’ agronomy, fuel and home heating needs.
“I make a point to jump in my pickup and do farm visits to talk with members at least once a month,” he said. “I value the one-on-one conversations and personal relationships I have with our patrons.”
Growing up in Gregory, South Dakota, Whitney said these same patrons are the reason he returned to the community after taking a brief, three-year leave to work in Rapid City after high school.
“I missed my friends, my family and I like the small-town life here,” he said. “We are a very close-knit community.”
Whitney began his career with the co-op driving the tire service truck. Twelve years later he began managing the automotive side of the shop. In 2017, he was asked to serve as general manager.
With a people-first work ethic, Whitney said he is grateful for his years of experience, working in several areas of the cooperative prior to serving as general manager.
“We’re the kind of operation where, if you’re going to be the general manager, you’d better be able to step in and do anyone’s job,” he said.
Whitney enjoys working with the Rosebud Cooperative employee team because, it’s like working with a family, he said.
“We all pitch in together and do what it takes to serve our customers,” he said.
And if that means putting in long hours and working six days a week, or making a home-heating deliver in the middle of the night – that is what he and his team will do.
“I’m not going to ask employees to work harder than I’m willing to work,” he said.
Keeping products and services competitively priced is another focus of Whitney’s. He keeps a constant eye on the market and the co-op does a lot of contracting to try to get products at the least expensive price for its patrons.
In 2019, the cooperative paid out $123,000 in dividends.
“This is another advantage of doing business with a cooperative,” Whitney said.
The cooperative’s efforts are appreciated. A few years ago, when a different local cooperative sold to a large, national cooperative, many patrons left and began doing business with Rosebud Farmers Union Cooperative. Sales of diesel fuel went up $300,000.
“They like doing business with a small, local cooperative who actually recognizes them as individuals instead of a number,” Whitney said.