Don Barton’s family has been farming walnuts in the San Joaquin Valley for four generations. In 1912, his great grandfather, P.F. Barton, rode a boxcar west from Illinois and settled in Oakdale, California to grow prunes and walnuts on what became the Barton Ranch. Almost 100 years later, the walnuts are still growing in Oakdale, and his descendants have grown the family business to include processing, packaging, and shipping walnuts all around the world.
Don had left the ranch and moved to the East Coast after getting his MBA in Agribusiness, leaving his brothers, Brent and Gary, to manage the business. In 2002, Brent was approached by a neighbor who wanted the Bartons to take over his walnut shelling and packaging operation. Until then, the family had been involved only in the growing and harvesting of walnuts, but not processing. It was a logical step, but also a big one. Still, Don agreed when Brent suggested he come back to California and run the new arm of the family business, GoldRiver Orchards.
Securing Loans and Planning for the Future
While most of the funding for the new venture came from internal sources, the company did need to seek funding to purchase some new equipment. To write the plan the bank required for the loan, Don bought his first copy of Business Plan Pro. “It provided an excellent template to allow us to think critically about the business–not just in terms of the financial forecast, but also in terms of our intended markets, our competitive set, and how we would build a brand.” The business plan Don created using Business Plan Pro was presented to the bank and secured the loan in excess of $1 million. And business has been even better than he had planned. “I’m happy to report that our initial assumptions were conservative, but we never underestimate the value of planning.”
Don recently upgraded to Business Plan Pro Version 11. “We plan to build a new processing plant in time for the 2013 crop. As we begin the planning for the land purchase and build-out of the new facility, I thought it would be important to update our business plan with an eye on the new facility and its implications–both financially and in terms of sales volume–to our existing business.”
He quotes Dwight Eisenhower, when he says, ” ‘Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.’ We at GoldRiver Orchards could not agree more.”
There were a couple of challenges that came with writing the original plan for GoldRiver Orchards. One was figuring out how to incorporate “a long-established business culture on the ranch into the brand-new–and just evolving–business culture of GoldRiver Orchards. A second challenge was to cast our vision over the upcoming five-year period and try to envision where GoldRiver would be by the end of that five years. Many of the goals set in that plan have not only been achieved, but exceeded. Other goals have been set aside owing to the changing marketplace.”
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
In the years Don was away from Barton Ranch, he worked in marketing at several large companies, including Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. and The H.J. Heinz Corporation. He finds many benefits to working for himself. “You’re learning from your own mistakes and seeing a direct correlation to the cost of those mistakes. You set your own work schedule and work hours. You are able to establish the tone and culture of your organization, and pass those values along to your employees.”
Those values run unusually deep at GoldRiver Orchards, when you consider that it is located right next door to the ranch that has been home to much of Don’s family. Recently Don’s son Josh joined his uncles, Gary and Brent, on the management team at Barton Ranch, making him the fifth generation involved in running that side of the business. Among the mementos of family that can still be found on the ranch is the small house that Don’s father was raised in. “It has housed at least three different families of Bartons throughout its history and is a living testament to the family’s roots on this land and our heritage as farmers.” One of the largest walnut trees in the country can also be found on the ranch. It’s the sole survivor of the original walnut crop P.F. Barton planted. “It’s healthy, thriving, and still productive after all of these years. And, as you might imagine, it gets a lot of tender loving care and personal attention from our family members.”
In his final comments, you get the sense that the spirit of P.F. Barton is alive and well at GoldRiver Orchards, and in Don Barton. Talking about the rewards of entrepreneurship, he says, “Best of all, you have the unique opportunity of being a pioneer–of building something that you hope and expect your grandchildren and great grandchildren will someday be a part of.”