Rural dairy supply company goes global

March 6, 2018 GMT

MAYSVILLE, Missouri — While many businesses are drying up in small towns, Hamby Dairy Supply is doing the opposite.

The owner, Paul Hamby, said it takes having a niche product and the ability to bring money in from outside the community to be successful.

“We sell more in Canada than we do in Missouri,” Hamby said. “But 95, maybe even 98 percent of our sales are outside of Missouri. So we’re bringing in money from all over the world, and I’m able to employ five full-time employees and four part-time employees. We have a viable business because we’re able to extend beyond the local horse-and-buggy market.”

Hamby’s father, the late Bob Hamby, started the business in 1991 out of necessity. He had operated a dairy farm in Plattsburg, Missouri, which quit milking in 1979. After several attempts at farming, he became an independent serviceman for area farms.

Paul Hamby intended to work a couple of weeks for his dad, but that was 26 years ago.

In the beginning, the Hambys would service farm equipment the way mechanics change the oil in the car. Then they started selling equipment and supplies.

“But as the national trend continues of less farms milking more cows, at some point we didn’t have enough farms to make the business profitable,” Hamby said. “You might spend six hours driving to do 15 minutes of work. It just was not working out well.”

The closest dairy farm near Hamby is Shatto Milk Company in Osborn, Missouri. Around St. Joseph, especially in the Cosby, Missouri, area, there are more.

“To put things in perspective, when we started there was over 100 dairy farms and we would spend three days in Cosby delivering supplies and parts,” he said. “Today, there’s only half a dozen left there. But the size of farms has gotten bigger but less farms.”

So Hamby Dairy Supply got into mail order. It started on eBay in 1999, which was the inspiration to branch out and create their own website.

Along with fewer dairy farms, there are fewer companies providing parts and supplies. As the internet started coming along and farmers gained access to it, online mail order worked for the rural company.

“For about nine years we grew like gangbusters,” Hamby said.

There have been obstacles.

“The total number of farms is down by a third since we started,” he said.

There are 40,000 licensed dairy farms in the United States compared to 3.5 million in 1955.

“But it’s a long-term trend,” Hamby said.

Today, Hamby ships to about 30 countries and exports virtually every day. Part of his success lies in supplying the demand of niche markets.

About a third of the business is in dairy goats, and local sales are mostly to hobby farmers. The uptick, he said, it due to people wanting healthier food.

About 20 percent of the business is nonfarm.

Hamby has incorporated a rich history of dairy farming and trains into his business. He is working on child-friendly replica of the Rock Island Railroad depot on the property. Inside the supply company’s lobby is a train set overhead for guests to view alongside an extensive collection of milking machines.

There were thousands of attempts to create the perfect milking machine, but the Babson Brothers were the first to do it in the early 1920s. Their company was called Surge. The patent ran out and every company seemed to jump on recreating the successful machine. Several examples of the old-school milking machines hang on the walls.