Scott Beylik was just a toddler when his dad and his grandfather built their hydroponic tomato farm in Fillmore, CA. Although farming was practically in Scott’s DNA, he wasn’t always keen to join the family business. When he graduated from college, Scott headed overseas to Hungary. But after spending two years in bustling Budapest working a 9-5 job, Scott returned home to the farm. He was ready to dig in – literally – to the 24/7 work of running the family business. In 1990, Scott’s grandfather retired after a 20-year career. Fifteen years later, Scott’s dad followed suit. Now it was Scott turn to run, manage and grow this three-generation legacy business.
Scott, what’s it like continuing a tradition that’s been in your family for three generations?
In some ways, it comes naturally to me since I grew up learning all the day-to-day aspects of running a farm. That’s high-pressure enough, especially when you add in uncertainties like unpredictable weather, growing a variety of crops, dealing with labor issues and managing the dynamics of farm regulations.
This business has been in my family for nearly 50 years, so it’s not just about me running my own company. There’s a lot of pressure to keep things going and to not let people down. I mean, my foreman started working here when I was 15 years old! We joke that he knows where all the bodies are buried. My point is – a lot of people are relying on me to successfully maintain and grow this business.
Things must have changed a lot since your dad and grandfather founded the farm in 1971.
They started with two small greenhouses for tomatoes. Now we have 2.5 acres of greenhouses for growing tomatoes in coconut husk instead of soil, plus six acres for avocados and 16 outdoor acres for crops like Persian cucumbers, artichokes and eggplants. I have four or five employees who go to 18 Southern California farmers markets every week, plus up to ten employees picking, planting and taking care of the plants.
When my dad ran the business, we only sold through wholesale. Now we sell at retail price, either direct to consumers or to high-end restaurants. It was an economic decision to cut out the middleman. This business model lets us be the price-maker, not the price “taker.”
What else are you doing differently these days?
My dad’s expertise was working with his hands – he built the actual structure of this farm himself. All my life, I watched him work harder and harder as the farm grew.
I’m from a different generation, and my expertise is more about managing the business. I want to find simpler ways to do things, whether it’s through technology or by bringing in consultants or experts when we need them.
Here’s an example: My dad would never have hired someone else for welding – he’d do it himself. I don’t know how to weld, but I do know how to use things like technology and social media to help grow the business.
I’ve always wanted to make a time-lapse video to capture the entire life-cycle of a tomato, from seed to plant to harvest to cutting up that first red, juicy, delicious slice. Time-lapse is a labor-intensive process, so the blog is a compromise. We post weekly photos starting back when “Tommy” was just a seed, and we’ll keep posting until harvest time.
We started the blog as a fun way to share content with our customers. We’re getting new views, and a local elementary school is using Tommy the Tomato as a teaching tool for a 4th-grade class. It’s a nice unexpected response!
Your family has been in Fillmore for three generations. How important is it for you to be part of your local community?
It’s very important. I don’t know if it comes from my parents or my grandparents, but I’ve always been involved in the community, whether it’s the Rotary Club or different non-profits. Three years ago, I took a big step and ran for the school board. It’s a commitment, but I do it because I have the flexibility, and I want to give back.
One thing I’ve realized is some of the best members of the board are small business owners. We understand everything from facilities and budgeting to finance and personnel. Small business owners are a good fit for the kind of management team a school board or a city council needs.
Scott, what’s the most challenging thing about working for yourself?
It’s hard work, and I’m always on call. And I know if my phone rings between 5 and 6 a.m., there’s a problem. As a farmer, I’ve got to be able to fix problems on the spot – otherwise, I’m losing money fast. The other night, it was 2 a.m. and 29 degrees outside. The avocados were freezing, and I needed to get our wind machine on or risk losing the plants.
I don’t take a vacation very often, unless my wife books a cruise and forces it to happen. When she does, I’m stressed for the first three days. But I know I’ve got a good management team, and things will be okay.
My approach to business, and to life, is to buckle down and deal with whatever is happening. We lost a crop? Okay. There’s always next year. But you need to just keep going, to push the business forward. What else are you going to do?
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