The D. R. Schaal Agency was established in Belmond, Iowa, in 1946, by David R. Schaal. The Schaal family owned and operated a grain elevator and cattle feedlot in the Woodward, Iowa area starting in 1902. D.R. Schaal worked in the family grain business during the 1930’s and 40’s, while also serving as an accountant for the Des Moines Grain Exchange. Mr. Schaal did additional accounting work for A.V. Tischer in Ft. Dodge and was thus introduced to the grain inspection business.
The agency began after World War II when an obsolete sugar beet plant was converted to a soybean crushing facility by General Mills, Inc. to process the newly popular yellow soybean. The USDA selected David Schaal to operate a grain grading facility in this area of north central Iowa. The small, land-locked agency eventually expanded to cover three counties in south central Minnesota.
After D.R.’s retirement in 1985, the Agency continued under the direction of Lewis and Nancy Schaal. The next generation of Schaal’s had started working for the Agency after completion of studies at the University of Iowa in 1977. Lewis and Nancy returned to the family business where they found the ideal environment to raise a family and continue as the fourth generation in the grain business. To this day, Lewis says what keeps him excited is using skills he learned in business school to operate an Official Agency. With Lew’s sense for business and Nancy’s talent for business analytics, the Agency has grown both in service area and gross sales. In 2008, Schaal was selected for the designated areas of New York and New Jersey and recently was selected to provide AMA services in Georgia.
Early in their careers, these things called “computers” were starting to enter the business world. Lewis saw their benefit, and worked with a local programmer to automate data collection and distribution throughout the inspection process. The automation made the business more productive by streamlining their processes while providing customers with real-time inspection results, loading history and certificates in whatever electronic form they desired.
The Schaal’s strive to attract employees that are open-minded, willing to embrace change, and have a positive approach to every challenge and opportunity. When faced with a new requirement, the Schaal Agency staff quickly brainstorms the best way to implement a new regimen. Providing employees with an opportunity to advance is also paramount to fostering their interest in working for the company. If employees see that a business is constantly looking to expand, they are more likely to join and help in the company’s growth.
Even more than a business opportunity, Schaal’s expansion to the East coast was made to give their employees opportunities to grow with the Agency. The Agency knew little about container inspections before taking on the new territory, but they knew they had a sound business plan and were certain they had the skilled employees to provide services necessary for success. A young employee of the agency, Luke Frohling, moved to New Jersey. After overcoming some initial culture shock, it was quickly determined that much of what they thought important was not applicable, and changes were made. It was assumed exporters would want them to use the USDA/FGIS certificate program because of its recognition. When such a preference was not indicated, they switched to the germane automated software of the company. Luke Frohling has become something of an export ambassador, fielding calls and hosting visitors from Indonesia to Africa inquiring about exporting grains to their homelands. There is an advantage in that Hoboken, New Jersey, is where many young people out of college want to live and start their careers. With Hoboken’s close proximity to North Bergen, there is a large source of energetic and talented employees.
The Schaal Agency also found the container business required much more organization of paperwork and data management than inland rail shipments. They knew they had the software people to tame this problem. After extensive revision of the software they were able to reduce their clerical work by two thirds and virtually eliminate container identification mistakes by incorporating a check digit formula into their data entry screens. Assembling the booking results, certification and transmitting the information to GIPSA Inspection Data Warehouse is done from start to finish with a few clicks of a mouse. It’s a matter of constantly learning how to do things more efficiently at the D. R. Schaal Agency.
Operations at the Port of Newark and Port of Savannah are much different than the Belmond, Iowa area, but all of the managers have roots in Iowa. A young, ambitious gentleman from the Belmond area, Nate Radke, came to the Schaal Agency looking for a job after college. After working in Belmond, he volunteered to lead the business venture in Savannah, Ga. Now he finds himself meeting ship captains from all over the world as a Schaal and USDA representative.
From his undergraduate days at Villanova, Lew has always enjoyed the Northeast, and wants everyone to know that folks in New Jersey are not all like the Sopranos. The designation for the entire state of New York also meant inspecting containers in Buffalo. Lewis found out firsthand about lake effect snow and how productive upstate New York farm land can be when planted to soybeans. Most of all Lew and Nancy are humbled by the commitment of their employees and the broadened reach of the D. R. Schaal Agency. Lew commented, “It is clear many key decisions can no longer made in Belmond, Iowa but rather in North Bergen or Savannah. The locus of knowledge is shifting to the next generation.”