By Melanie Epp
Quality, commitment and communication keys to building successful egg business.
By Melanie Epp
Alberta egg farmer Paul Wurz has been working with his longest standing client for nearly 50 years, which is as long as he’s been a producer. In a highly competitive market where a business’ bottom line is often its top priority, keeping a client that long says a lot about Wurz.
It isn’t price that sets him apart. It’s attentive service, good communication and quality, fresh eggs.
The first time Wurz entered the Morinville Hutterite Colony poultry barn he was just a boy and barely tall enough to reach the nest box. He was six years old and there to help his father pick eggs. What he didn’t know at the time was that everything he would learn from his father from that day forward would shape his entire future.
In 1970, at just 15 years old, Wurz bought his first flock of 2,000 birds. He also picked up his first client. At that time the colony marketed and graded all of its own eggs, and Wurz’s father was the poultry barn’s manager. From the day he brought him his first flock, though, Wurz was responsible for finding his own clients.
Since his father knew he’d one day be taking over the business, he started bringing Wurz to see customers early on. The idea was to teach him strong communication skills. Once Wurz got the feel for it, he began to meet with clients on his own.
In the beginning, Wurz admits it wasn’t easy. He had to establish trust with new customers who knew nothing about him, his business or his eggs. Watching his father, though, he learned that the best way to differentiate from the competition was to provide incomparable service and consistently high-quality product. From there, word of mouth helped the business to grow. Today, he’s been working with his longest standing client for 48 years.
“I think that’s when you know you have a good product,” he says with a chuckle. “In this business, you know, it’s good product, good service and good communication with your customers. That’s a must.”
When you’re in the business of serving breakfast, a fresh egg can make all the difference.
The fresher they are, the higher the yolks sit and the firmer they sit on the grill. Wurz believes this is one of the reasons he’s so popular with breakfast joints.
“I give them a good, fresh product that’s never older than two days,” he says. “And sometimes they get them before they’re even 24-hours old.”
Small but mighty
Since that first flock in 1971, Wurz’s operation has grown to 20,000 birds. He provides CFIA-certified eggs to 30 grocery stores and 70 to 80 restaurants in and around Edmonton.
Wurz is the farm’s egg manager. The birds are housed in a conventional housing system designed by Zukumi. It was installed in 2004.
“It’s a good system that works well with the birds,” Wurz says. “They lay well; they are content in it.”
While the system works well and business is good, Wurz admits that keeping up with the ‘big guys’ is a constant challenge. There’s always someone there ready to offer a more competitive price.
Food service providers offer eggs for cheaper, but deliver a less consistent product. Wurz’s customers know him, and they know his eggs. For them, he says, quality is what wins the day.
“We are a small company, but we sure do supply a good product,” he says. “One you can get that through to them, then you’re good to go.”
Although he loves working with his customers, Wurz admits that he prefers to be in the barn. It’s important, he says, to be consistent and to constantly watch and check on the birds.
“Go into the barn and just watch your birds,” he recommends. “It gives you information on how that flock’s doing for you and what’s their comfortable level. Keeping them as comfortable as can be yields good results. Because a happy healthy chicken will lay you an egg a day, roughly.”
To keep birds comfortable, he says, you need to provide them a good diet and fresh, clean water and air. Wurz says the Start Clean, Stay Clean program has helped him to better achieve his production goals.
“That’s absolutely one of the best programs that ever came out,” he says. “You prove on record that you’re actually doing what you say you’re doing to produce a healthy, safe egg for the public.”
Admittedly, it was a challenge to follow the program at first, but now, he said, it’s routine. And he’s seen improvement as a result. “I overcame that really quick,” he says. “I learned that this is going to be good for everybody, not just for us, but the public can also be assured that they are getting a safe, healthy egg to eat.”
The program also gives Wurz more time with the birds in the barn, which he admits is his favourite part of the job.
“I just love seeing them being happy and just singing along when I walk there. I think we are doing a good job here. The chickens look good, and when I see that I kind of have confidence that we are doing the right thing here.
“What I liked most about being an egg farmer is having the opportunity to produce a safe, healthy egg for the public,” he concludes. “Because I think giving the public a safe, healthy egg through our supply management system program is about the best thing you can do.”