Traditional Marketing Meets the Internet
Summer 2020 by Cyd Hoefle Photos by RITW
Video Auctioning Company Comes to the Rescue
When the pandemic hit, a local livestock video auctioning company stepped up to help area ranchers, ensuring them that despite the COVID-19 restraints, their annual production sale could still take place. Across the region, ranchers who had never utilized on-line auctioning turned to the internet to make sure their cattle sold.
Video auctioning has been around for decades, not to replace the traditional physical sale, but to enhance it. At video sales, there is still an auctioneer, the crowd still fills the barn and the cattle are still paraded through the sale ring. But the use of online bidding assures the seller that his stock will now be seen by thousands rather than hundreds, and the buyers know that if they can’t make it to sale day, they still see the inventory and have the same opportunity to make bids.
Frontier Productions, owned by Scott and Sam Fraser, a father-and-son team from Big Timber, already has a reputation of being one of the best. Scott began in the video auctioning industry more than 30 years ago, when he and brother, Rob Fraser, along with a small group of businessmen and ranchers, decided to take cattle auctions to the internet.
They filmed cattle using an 8mm camera and mailed the VHS tapes to all interested customers. They would then use the videos to sell the cattle on the internet. This innovative idea made their company, Frontier Stockyards, the first internet livestock marketing firm in the world.
Much has changed over the years. Today, digital cameras and advanced technology have allowed companies to deliver their services to clients in real time. Livestock can be viewed weeks before sale day using online catalogs to help buyers decide in advance which animals to purchase.
Scott was raised on a registered cattle ranch near Greycliff. He went on to be a cattle buyer, marketing both feeder cattle and purebred, while simultaneously expanding the video auctioning business. His son, Sam, was just entering elementary school when the group began the business.
Sam grew up on the same ranch as his father, the fifth generation of the Fraser family to call it home. Along with his interest in cattle, he developed an early interest in science.
“I was one of those kids that was always thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up,” Sam said. “I’ve had an interest in science and computers for as long as I remember.”
Sam’s engineering interest might be part of his DNA, given that his maternal grandfather was an engineer with NASA and was part of the team that helped Apollo 13 return safely home.
As a child, Sam tagged along to the ranches as his dad filmed cattle and he attended many of the sales with him. It was only natural that he would begin helping.
While he was studying mechanical engineering at Montana State University, he began seeing ways that he could improve the technology part of the video auctioning. He graduated and began his full-time career in construction, while at the same time becoming more involved with the video business. His engineering and computer education, paired with his livestock background, became invaluable to the company. In 2016 Scott and Sam founded Frontier Productions to concentrate solely on production sales and moved away from feeder cattle.
“Sam’s known as a computer in muck boots,” Scott said with a laugh. “But seriously, rarely do you find a guy that has both a computer and cattle background. You usually get one or the other, rarely both.”
While many businesses have struggled to find innovative ways to remain economically viable during the pandemic, Frontier Productions not only maintained their sales, but increased them.
Early in the crisis, the team realized many ranchers would be hit hard without having their scheduled production sale. Missing out on one of the most important days of the year could have been a financial catastrophe for many ranchers.
Jumping on social media and contacting their customers by email, Sam and Scott quickly explained their marketing plan to ranchers whose sales were already scheduled, educating them about their business and offering a “pandemic” discount for their services.
“We just wanted to help these guys out,” Sam said. “We don’t want to see anyone go under, especially when it’s by no fault of their own.” Dozens of ranchers jumped on board, giving the team only a few days to put together what normally takes weeks.
“Montana ranchers are a proactive bunch,” he continued, “They don’t sit around waiting for something to happen, they make it happen. This is a new way of selling for a lot of these guys, but they realized they had to do something different this year.”
For the Fischer Red Angus Ranch in Harlowton, Frontier Productions was a lifesaver.
“The coronavirus took us all by surprise,” Esther Fischer said. “Our sale was scheduled for March 28. When we found out about the social distancing, we didn’t know what we were going to do.”
Having never used the internet to sell their cattle, the Fischers leaned on Scott and Sam to help them carry out the video auctioning. The team took care of the entire process in 10 days.
“We were in a pickle,” Esther continued. “Those guys came in and did an excellent job. They took care of everything. We wouldn’t have sold everything if we hadn’t used the internet. I think it’s something we’ll use from now on.”
Scott’s role is to visit every ranch possible to film each head of cattle. Sam takes over from there with editing, downloading, online catalog design, email blasts and social media. On sale day, both men are at the sale taking bids online.
Both worked tirelessly through the spring sale season to accommodate not only their new clients, but the production sales that they already had scheduled. Criss-crossing the region, they filmed cattle, downloaded photos and set up their extensive equipment on sale days.
“Our work ethic is just like ranchers,” Sam said. “We work until we’re done. Dad knows that I need to have good footage and he makes sure before I even start editing that he’s done a good job filming. And ranchers know that when they call us, we’ll answer. On sale day, we’re right there, taking calls, and making sure things are running smoothly.”
“We’re very professional in what we do,” Scott added. “We do whatever we can to make it successful, but we also like to have fun. It’s a big day for ranchers and a time to socialize, too. We’re all working hard to get through this time, and I think we’ll come out better because of it.”