Dairy Godfather

Posted on Feb 1, 2010 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Tom Wall, Dairy Interactive

The irony of Tom Wall’s business isn’t lost on him. Before he started research for his business Dairy Interactive, the Brown County native had never milked a cow.

Today, however, his license plate reads “MOR M1LK” and his one-year-old incubator company in Denmark markets an animated interactive software program to teach milking routines to dairy farmers and their staff. Wall came up with the idea in much the same way many businesses are launched: he identified a need.

After graduating from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota with a marketing degree and Spanish minor, Wall asked himself, “Now what?”

A close friend and former business partner had some dairy background, and they realized that traditionally, many farmers hire non-English speaking workers. That can lead to a communication barrier, especially in conveying milking procedures.

“It’s got to be consistent – the challenge was so great,” Wall said. “What’s the biggest challenge? Managing their teams. There was no one else doing it.”

Dairy Interactive grew organically from Wall’s nine-year-old business, Language Links, in which he conducts employee management consulting and worker training, specializing in the dairy industry.

Interestingly, Wall’s initial lack of dairy expertise turned out to be one of his biggest assets.

“At first, I thought this was a big liability,” he admits. “But I was approaching it just like the worker was.”

Now Wall conducts trials of his “minimal text, maximum visual” program, created in conjunction with Fresh Paint Digital in Green Bay, to agriculture trade shows and dairies in the Midwest. Two corporate sponsors – Ecolab of the Twin Cities and Chem-Star of Spring Green, Wis. – are helping support Wall’s venture as part of a multi-year deal.

But selling the program hasn’t exactly been a walk in a pasture, Wall admits. “We found a little stumbling block.”

Dairy Interactive initially marketed the product as a download available on its website. But Wall found that his audience wasn’t comfortable with that method. “Spending close to $2,000 on a credit card online is not something they’re used to,” he says.

Now Wall offers the product through a more traditional sales method, offering manual registration and delivering the product on a CD. “It’s something they can tangibly hold,” he says, adding that sales have jumped after implementing that change.

Wall is targeting farms with up to 1,500 head of cattle. He hopes dairy farmers will see the benefits in what he calls “shortening the rookie window” by getting workers in front of the software to streamline and standardize the milking process.

“I was skeptical of training with Dairy Interactive at first,” admits Brian Staudinger of Blue Royal Dairy in Manitowoc and Reedsville. “But … getting the point across about consistent udder prep is a lot easier when our milkers can visualize our routine.”