March 2006
Featured Articles

Manager of the Year

Stephen Lann says: “It’s the crew”

by Fran Sharp
 
 
  Stephen Lann, second from right, of Marion County Cooperative was named the 2005 E.P Garrett Manager of the Year at AFC’s 69 annual membership meeting. There to share the joyous occasion were his son, Brad; his wife, Della, and his daughter, Brandy.
Stephen Lann of Marion County Cooperative took the stage to accept the 2005 E.P Garrett Manager of the Year award with his wife and two children, but said later the stage was full of his "crew."

A NASCAR fan to the nth degree, Lann said he has something in common with the drivers and owners of Alabama’s second favorite sport. "The secret of winning is a great crew and I have one of the best," he said, naming store employees Kenny Vickery, Shawnah Mitchell, Hansel Taylor, Tootsie Taylor, Johnny Shotts, Aaron Ledbetter, Shawn Holloway, and Adam Vick.

"This is more of a store award than an individual award," he insisted. "Without them (employees) and our local board, it wouldn’t have been possible. Anything we ask, they do their part."

His crew includes other managers, naming Ricky Aldridge at Jasper, Ken Loveless in Haleyville, and Karen Linker of Russellville as his pit guys. "We all work together on buying stuff and sharing inventory. It helps the smaller stores to do that and it’s good to share ideas and problems, too." Lann said he gets excellent support from the AFC, as well.

Lann said his second surprise (after the award) came when he realized his wife Della had kept the secret from him. "I didn’t know she could do that," he said. "Now I know why she wouldn’t let me leave the meeting to go to the bathroom."

Lann, 36, began his career with the Marion County Cooperative while he was still at Hamilton High School, hiring on as Garden Center Manager in April of 1987, under the school’s Trade and Industry program. After graduation, he continued with the store and in July of ’95 was promoted to Assistant Manager.

Lann’s move to Manager came in 1998 with his first year seeing $67,757 in patronage savings.

"You know, I almost didn’t take that job. I was scared of so much responsibility because I knew the buck always stops at your backside, but Chris Gary kept after me and once he talked me into it, he stayed for three months watching my back even though he was ready to go off and build chicken houses. I learned everything from him. He already had it going in the right direction and all I had to do was keep going."

And keep going, he did. Since 1998, Marion County Cooperative has returned $521,373 in patronage to the members, including $93,830 in fiscal year 2005.

The store’s sales to patrons for 2005 were $2,497,000 and inventory turns were 7.92.

Accounts receivable were 87% current in 2005, a fact Lann attributes to having really good customers who pay their bills and a combination of payment options. "I hate chasing bad money. I don’t like collections at all, so we use a combination of in-house credit and the farm plan. That works best for us."

As to the success of his store, Lann said they’ve not made many changes since the ‘90s. "We’ve added an extra warehouse, a 5-bay tire and lube center, extra showroom space, New products include Carhartt clothing and a full-type wagon sprayer that we rent out. We started selling those Zero-Turn Hustler mowers and they’re moving well. We sold 16 the first year we sold them.

Lann grew up in Hamilton, the son of hog farmers. He shared work on the place with his brother. "We didn’t farm, just grew a little corn for the hogs," he said. It’s hard work, one reason why he and his brother decided not to go the way of farming.  "I don’t mind the work, but there’s not a lot of profit."

"We had to do it when we were little, we didn’t have no choice. Daddy had an old two-row John Deere corn picker and another one, but he got mad at us and sold those corn pickers. After that he liked to laugh and say he still had two corn pickers.

"Farming is hard work and I don’t see how folks make a living at it. It impresses me that so many of them can, but when I look at the costs versus profit, I don’t see how they do it. They have my respect; without them we wouldn’t have a job."

Is he a good boss at Marion County Cooperative? "You would have to ask my people about that," he said. "I try to get along with everyone and I try not to burn bridges because you usually have to go back across them before it’s over. I believe in being a working manager, and I hope that‘s what they think I am."

When he’s not at the store, Stephen and Della Lann like to work in their ½-acre garden, growing vegetables for freezing and canning. Della is a regional manager for Pizza Hut, taking care of seven stores, so time is limited for both the Lanns. They have two grown children, Brad, 21, who works at Buccaneer Mobile Homes in Hamilton and Brandy, 20,  works in Mobile at TGI Friday’s. The Lanns live just west of Hamilton, about five miles from the store. "Folks know they can call on Sundays and we’ll go in for ‘em."

Fran Sharp is a freelance writer from Alabaster.