'My steel prices have gone up 33 percent and my sales are down 50 percent'
By TIM HEARDEN
RED BLUFF, Calif. -- Grant Gibbs asked if he could help a customer who was checking out his manufactured steel wheels for dragging livestock arenas.
"I'm just looking," the customer said.
That's been the story of the past couple of years for Gibbs, the owner of Acampo, Calif.-based Gibbs Manufacturing. Many ranchers would like to have his Roto Harrow soil-conditioning accessory, but they're not spending money on extras right now.
"I got a number of people come by and say, 'I want one of those but I can't afford it,'" Gibbs said Jan. 24 during the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale's trade show, where he was operating a booth. "Everyone's just trying to use what they've got and wait for the economy to turn around."
Gibbs said he does about half the sales he did a couple of years ago. He once employed five workers in his shop, and now he's down to just one employee as he does much of the shop work himself.
"Basically we just don't have buying power," he said. "My steel prices have gone up 33 percent and my sales are down 50 percent."
Gibbs is not alone. Many businesses at the trade show that support the livestock industry reported that tight margins in the cattle and dairy sectors have slowed their sales considerably.
Andrea Wright of Red Bluff has been selling pine and fir shavings for animal bedding since 2001, and comes to the bull sale each year.
"The last couple of years have been a little tougher," said Christina McClintock, a salesperson in Wright's booth.
Economists expect record-high global beef prices in 2013, but producers have complained for the past several years that escalating feed and fuel costs have cut their margins. The same input costs have frustrated dairy producers -- particularly in California, where many farmers complain the set prices for certain classes of milk are too low for them to break even.
Hickman Saddlery, of Post Falls, Idaho, maintains its clientele by ramping up direct sales at numerous trade shows like the one in Red Bluff.
"As many shows as we're doing, it's paying off," saddle maker Clay Easley said. "If we just sat in one spot, it'd be rough."
Stew Lowry is sales manager for the Corning, Calif.-based Spangler Construction, which is the Northern California distributor of Choice Barns. He said ranchers don't invest in barns the way they used to because many have lost equity in their properties.
However, Lowry maintains hope that things will improve.
"The election's over, and we have the same president but things are supposed to get better," he said. "We've seen a little bit of activity in the past couple of years. I think people are just adapting to the economy and learning to survive."