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Ep. 011: How Challenges, Failures and Family Made a Hay Business with Mike Standlee

Co-host Katy Starr talks with Standlee’s founder and original innovator, Mike Standlee.

Episode Notes

On this episode, co-host Katy Starr talks with Standlee’s founder and original innovator, Mike Standlee.  


Mike opens up about what his contributions to farming were as a 5 year old, an injury that became a blessing, two major challenges he had to overcome with the evolution of his family’s business and what it takes to grow a successful business from little to nothing.


Mike shares failures he had to learn from to grow and great advice for those pushing to pursue their ambitions and dreams.


Have any topics you want to hear more about? Let us know at



Katy Starr (00:01):

Hi, I'm Katy.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:03):

And I'm Dr. Cubitt. We're going Beyond the Barn. Come join us on this journey as we bust equine and livestock nutrition myths and interview some of the most intriguing experts in the country.


Katy Starr (00:15):

We'll go behind the scenes of how premium Western quality forage is grown and brought to your favorite farm and ranch retail store. We're so glad you're here. We have a very special guest today on this episode of the Beyond the Barn podcast, and I am so excited to have you guys all meet and get to know our Standlee Premium Western Forage founder, and original innovator, Mike Standlee. Thanks for joining us today, Mike.


Mike Standlee (00:51):

Thank you, Katy. I look forward to it.


Katy Starr (00:53):

This is going to be a really fun conversation. We're really excited to dig in a little bit and get to know the man, the myth and the legend of Standlee. So, first of all, why don't you just tell us a little bit about growing up and farming with your dad and grandpa.


Mike Standlee (01:13):

Just growing up with my dad and grandpa around stuff, you know, they really didn't directly farm. You know, they came from Missouri back in the late forties and just started doing a little bit of a custom work, which was swathing hay and a few things. And then, you know, my dad was the oldest of seven siblings. And so they grew up real, real poor. I remember they had no running water. You know, the outhouses was out back. So, we kinda grew up where we had a real tight family, but there wasn't a whole lot, I mean, it was just we were just really brought up poor, but a great family. It was always about the family. You know, I remember Dad, starting out with some trucks and started to haul hay and then you know, with the side loaders out in the hayfield and where everything was manually done back in those days, and then Grandpa would run around swath hay for, by the acre.


Mike Standlee (02:24):

I remember. And then Dad eventually started getting, getting into the custom farming, started doing some hay, and he got a real big job up in Kilgore, Idaho. And so I grew up spending all of our summers, me and my brother and my sisters and my youngest brother, we practically lived in Kilgore, Idaho while we were growing up. I remember he'd done all the hay. He’d cut it, bale it, stack it with side loaders and then haul it to either Hamer, Idaho or Dillon, Montana. And I remember we'd have tents and bunk houses and me and my brother, I had a brother that was 11 months older than me. His name was Lynn. And so we grew up in tents through the summer, getting up with the hay crews, doing whatever it took to get the day's work done.


Katy Starr (03:19):

How old were you when you were doing that?


Mike Standlee (03:21):

Well, I started in hayfield, like when I was five years old, my brother was six years old and I remember we used to go out in the field and my mom would even help us, you know, we'd row like two rows. That's when the hay bales were two string and they was a lot lighter that being five and six years old, it was still one of us couldn't tip the bales over, but we'd rope two rows into one. And, and then the side loaders with the trucks with the side loaders would come through and pick the hay bales up and stack them by hand and then haul them into the stack yards. But I remember it took me and my brother both together to row the bales into one. And, you know, to be real honest, I look back at it and I kind of laugh because only good thing that, you know, being five years old, of course, but the only good thing that I remember was my mom packing really good lunches with hot soup.


Katy Starr (04:18):

That's good. She was like, she was a good farm mom and farm wife. She was out there helping you guys, but made sure you guys were fed to.


Mike Standlee (04:26):

She'd help us row the bales together and everything. She's one tough mother, for sure.


Katy Starr (04:31):

That's amazing. I love that. There's talk even these days about farm wives and you're more than just a farm wife. You really are a person that keeps everything going in the home. And then when it's needed, you get out there and, you know, you drive truck if you need to drive truck, you get in the swather or baler, whatever it takes to it's a family business, right?


Mike Standlee (04:53):

Yeah. Everybody just pitches in wherever you need to be and just to get the job done at the end of the day.


Katy Starr (05:00):

That's amazing. So did you always think that you'd grow up to be a farmer and then business owner, or as a kid, what did you dream of when you grew up?


Mike Standlee (05:11):

You know, whenever I was going to school and stuff, you know, I had an older brother who was real dominant and my dad was real, real dominant too. And, and it was like, you know, they'd get up at four o'clock in the morning and it was like, they was ready to go and get the work done as the middle child. So I just kind of followed them around to be honest about it.


Katy Starr(05:32):

And how it works at the middle kids


Mike Standlee (05:34):

Well, it does, you know, cause you kind of get pushed in your corner all the time and stuff. So I just kinda followed around and hung out and done whatever they expect me to do to survive. You know?


Katy Starr(05:47):

So did you always figure that you'd end up being a farmer as your career when you got older?


Mike Standlee (05:53):

You know, I really didn't know for sure where I was going to fit in in life, growing up through high school I wasn't the best, you know, I was popular and everything, but as real good athletes, but I wasn't the very best student because I got bored real easy. So, I really didn't know where life was going to take me at the time. But then, you know, after you experienced things and, and you know, out of high school, I went on and done some concrete work and got experienced a little bit there. So, you know, I didn't know where life was going to take me


Katy Starr (06:35):

Well. And that's always how it works too. I feel like you kind of got to test the waters a little bit. Sometimes you don't always know maybe what you want to do, but you test things out to find out what you don't want to do. And then maybe you get a better feel for what path you kind of end up getting led down. So you ended up starting what was originally Standlee Hay Company in 1981. It's had a few name changes since we, you know, most commonly go by Standlee Premium Western Forage now, but with our offerings of products beyond just forage products, it's Standlee Premium Products, but what influenced your decision to start your own farm when you did? Because you, you and Whendy have the best story. You really didn't have much when you started.


Mike Standlee (07:24):

Yeah, it kind of started out, you know, me and my brother, which is 11 months older than me, we started selling a little bit of hay back East to the racetracks thoroughbred industry and started seeing both of us started seeing some opportunity there. But the problem was, we'd be buying the hay from farmers and the hay wouldn't be consistent. So we we'd have to listen to all the complaints. And so, you know, it made us figure out quickly what we needed to do to just stop the complaints and to be able to grow and maintain a good business practice. So me and my brother actually moved to a Bruno, Idaho together and partnered on a 2000 acre farm two years before, I think it was 1979 and I was just married, just had one kid. And so we picked up our families and moved to Bruneau Idaho, which is out in the middle of nowhere.


Mike Standlee(08:21):

And we started farming hay. And, you know, from there, you know, we started baling hay, shipping it back East, everything was going pretty good, but me and my brother couldn't get along. Cause we was, you know, young and that's just the way it works sometimes. And so we broke up that partnership and I walked out of there and I told Len that he could just basically have the deal there, you know, the farm and business there in Bruneau, Idaho. And I told him that I just wanted to have my work pickup and an old beat up swather and $900, which that's what we was getting monthly at that time, $900 for our salary to live on. So I took $900 and told my brother if he loses money don't come and ask me to pay my half and if he makes money, just don't tell me about it.


Mike Standlee (09:13):

 So back to Hazelton, me and my wife and my one son came and that's where we started Standlee Western, well, it's changed its name, but still Standlee Hay Company. But anyway, then I went to the bank and borrowed $9,000 for 1969 red Peterbilt truck and started just hauling hay for hire. And then my back went out. And so I hired my first driver, which is the best thing that ever happened. I didn't realize at the time that it happened to be the best thing that ever happened, because it motivated me to, to get smarter and, and line work in front of the truck to keep everybody going. So then I got in my 69 Ford pickup and I went to Nevada and I actually lived in my pickup because I couldn't afford a hotel room.


Mike Standlee (10:14):

So I lived in it for, I think it was five or six days. I know where every ranch is in the state of Nevada. I mean, you wouldn't believe where there's ranches out in the middle of nowhere that you would never know it driving by, but I practically know wherever ranch is and tried to sell hay and came back, not selling one bale of hay and little bit discouraged, but I was determined. And, and so I just wrote out, you know, I was back where we didn't have computers, of course. So I just wrote out on a calendar to call all the people that I met at least once a week until they either bought a truckload of hay from me or told me to basically go to hell. So that, that was my goal. And so I started calling and then eventually after about, oh, I don't know, it was probably seven to ten days. One of the most famous ranches down there called the Maggie Creek Ranch, the manager there ordered 2,000 ton of hay from me.


Katy Starr (11:12):

It pays to be persistent.


Mike Standlee (11:15):

Yes, it does back in that day, 2,000 ton was a lot of hay. So we started delivering that. And then you know, the Maggie Creek Ranch started getting the word out that, that my word was good and I do what I say I'm going to do, and then from there we had two trucks to three trucks to five trucks running in there seven days a week.


Katy Starr(11:35):

That's awesome. And some, some people may not realize this before this interview, but Standlee is in fact, a family-owned company, and it's still very much family oriented in terms of our values but then also in terms of, you know, how many Standlee family members have been involved and are a part of this company over the years, but even within our values and how it involves our Standlee employees, how have some of the Standlee employees impacted your life?


Mike Standlee (12:08):

There's been several employees that, you know, been special to our family. It's like, you know, a lot of them actually became family to us, you know, and I looked back in the beginning days where, you know, I started out with, you know, like my first truck driver was, was Richard Kiel and just a blue-collar, hardworking guy. And then before long it was his sons working for me. And then one that really sticks out close to my hearts, Paul Crumrine. And, you know, he just, our families, I've always been a big believer of hardcore blue-collar workers, you know, cause that's what built America. And that's, that's basically what we had to do at Standlee to get it off and running. And Paul was a big part of that, always with a smile out there with me day and night, whatever it took to get things done. You know, then we progress forward and Chris Ito come into the export adventure and helped us out there a lot, getting established and branded into the export. And then of course, you know, Bob Buckley, which you know, we lost him here recently, but he was a big part of my life. You know, me and him traveled all over building the retail business and in the farm and ranch retail stores. And, you know, I just got a lot of memories with him out there too.


Katy Starr (13:34):

And that's, and that's so amazing to hear of these people that really started out as employees and became family. I feel like that's what working for a company should feel like when you're going to work every day, because you know that the people that you're working for really care for you and care for you beyond just coming in and giving you your paycheck, but caring about what's going on in their family's lives and all of that. And so all of those people you mentioned there, they're such great people. And I know that they really impacted this company in big ways, huge stepping stones for where the Standlee company is today. And so that's great. And your family, so more of, I guess we would call it, your immediate family has played a huge role in Standlee Premium Western Forage as well. Why was it important to you that your wife and kids were involved from the very beginning and in everything that you did?


Mike Standlee (14:29):

Just, just the way I was brought up, you know, my dad always had us out in the hayfield working and, you know, he always believed if you teach your kids how to work hard and be survivor's, basically didn't matter what happened you'd still survive no matter how bad things got, and just having that work ethic, you know, just carried on to the next generation. I was going to make sure that as a parent, you know, I taught my kids how to work and survive and be independent. And you know, hopefully we, we achieved that. I can tell you one thing, they all moved out real quick.


Katy Starr (15:05):

But you know what, I think that means that you did your job well, though, you taught them how to, like you said, survive and be independent. Right. So I think that means that you and Whendy did really a wonderful job with your kids. So what is what is your favorite memory that you have with your kids growing up farming with you? Do you have a few memories that kind of stick out to you?


Mike Standlee (15:29):

Probably the memory of Dusty. He worked really hard. Just his responsibilities was stacking all the hay. So he'd be out all night trying to stay up with the balers and ne you know, Dusty always loved the hay business. I mean, I never, ever had to like force him to go to work. He wanted to be out there, you know, and, and whenever you have a kid like that, you know, it's special, especially when, when you go to the next generation and, and turn it down to that generation, it's really important that they love what they do and stuff. But my biggest memory probably is, you know, Dusty, you know, I didn't really realize how hard he has working cause all of us just, that's what we'd done, you know? And then he wrote a poem at school, you know, with the sun coming up early in the mornings in the hayfields. And he talked about, you know, it was the coolest poem, I don't have it with me, but just talked about fighting to stay awake as the sun's rising in the hayfield. And, and then you know, he just talked about you know, his dad being his hero and you know, that just means a lot to be able to work with your kid like that. And they believe in what you've taught them. And it's like, you don't have to force him to do anything, it's their life too.


Katy Starr (16:52):

That had to have been a really, really impactful moment for you just knowing that he had such a positive outlook on working and doing all of that. Cause I know, and it's kind of, it depends on the kid, but there are kids that grew up in the rural lifestyle that sometimes they live and breathe it so much that it's what they want to live and breathe the rest of their lives. And then there are some that it's just not really their calling, and they want to maybe get out and do something new, but to be able to have a child that kind of, it resonates so well with them as they grow up, and then to call you his hero to that had to be that had to be a pretty special moment.


Mike Standlee (17:34):

Yeah. Kind of, kind of emotional. Cause you know, whenever you grow up and work with your kids and stuff, you know, sometimes it's not the easiest thing to do with family and everything, especially through the transition of, of, you know, Dusty, you know, he went to college and then college wasn't for him. He wanted to come back and start working his way into management. And you know, you start that and then going from just running a stacker and a baler into managing people and getting people's respect, I mean, that's, that's a, you know, serious difference in your responsibilities. And you know, we had some learning curves, but you know, he was tough enough to survive. He's a tough dad, you know, some days. So he toughened through and learn what he needed to do. And he learned his own style of managing, which is a little bit different than mine, but it works and that's all that matters.


Katy Starr (18:31):

Right. And that's awesome. And I love that perspective that you have on that, that even though his management style is different than yours, that you acknowledge that and it works for him. And I think that's great as a family business because I mean, you probably know as good or as you know, better than anybody else, how sometimes how difficult it can be running family businesses, you know, often when it comes to especially production agriculture, whether it be farming ranching or whatnot, family businesses are so hard. And sometimes it's just hard with so many competing people just really wanting the best for the family business and everything. And so that's amazing. And for those that maybe aren't aware Dusty actually made a transition, what was that, Mike? Probably about like six, five or six years ago or so you retired and he moved into the CEO position. Isn't that right?


Mike Standlee (19:26):

Yeah. Six years ago.


Katy Starr(19:28):

Yeah. And so obviously all of those years of hard work and everything have paid off and to where we're at now and so lucky for our listeners, we're actually going to get an opportunity to chat with Dusty a little bit later down the road on a different episode too. So that'll be fun. But another kind of intriguing moment for me is, and this is me obviously just learning about the history of Standlee and you know, where you guys started from and where, if you, where you've come through all these years, but your youngest, Kaela was your inspiration when Standlee originally launched our small animal product line. And so tell us more about the need that you saw there and how she inspired that brand.


Mike Standlee (20:14):

Kaela, she was the one, she is like, shoot, I think like 10 years younger than our oldest daughter. So she kind of grew up in a different era, but she had a couple of, a brother and sister that kind of mentored her along and you know, how younger ones grow up a little faster than, than older ones do sometimes. Cause they got over people around them, but the Kayla was always animal lover. You know, she always had goat. She'd always bring, she found this goat. Actually, it was tied to Dusty's a stacker wagon. So here she brings this goat home and then before long she had geese and the geese would attack you when you'd come home. And it was real annoying, but she was just a little


Katy Starr (20:57):

Her own little security.


Mike Standlee (20:58):

Oh yeah, yeah. And then she had ducks and then she got into the horses and was doing rodeo and stuff like that and she always had a big personality and she always loved animals. So, you know, and then she got nicknamed Jo. So you know, me and Bob Buckley, we just kinda thought, well, you know, let's create the small animal brand and we'll call it Joe Joe's Best. And so that's kind of where that came from.


Katy Starr (21:23):

That's cute. That's a fun story. Tell me, and, and I know that you talked about this a little bit when you worked with your brother earlier on about doing some business on the East Coast and everything. And so I'm interested to know how did you even get involved with going beyond just local? Like you talked about when you kind of went out on your own and you know, were dealing in Nevada and everything, but the East Coast is a whole other ball game. What was the moment that you realized that there was a greater opportunity than basically your backyard?


Mike Standlee (21:59):

Well, you know, we was doing a lot of business with, you know, what, once my trucks was going real good in Nevada and things started clicking and we started making some profits why then we just kept growing, using all of our profits just to continue growing the business. So then we started doing some, buying the hay on the stump, which you just buy it from the farmer and then you go in and cut it and bale it and then stack it and then you pay him so much for that, but you own the hay and then you start just doing the marketing back East and stuff. And then, you know, I, I teamed up at very early on because you know, it's hard to grow a business with $900 and to be able to do everything you want to do. So you gotta be, you kind of got to pick and choose what you're best at and then utilize other people to get you where you need to go where they're good at.


Mike Standlee (22:50):

And I teamed up early on with Jim of Western Hay Company. And he basically, you know, was doing all the marketing back East and then we'd do all the supply of hay on this end. And we kind of grew together these two huge companies. And then we ended up getting into the retail business and kind of the, ahh moment of Standlee was the farm and ranch retail industry is whenever I seen opportunity that, you know, no one was taken care of a market there that was just open, you know, that Purina basically done 70 years ago, you know, in the grain-based products. And where forage is more important to the animal’s health than just grain anyway, why it just made sense to, you know, focus on farm and ranch retail. And, you know, that's when I met Bob and brought him in just to put all the focus on farm and ranch retail, and then, you know, our mission was, you know, it's pretty simple, really.


Mike Standlee (23:51):

You know, I was surprised someone didn't see it ahead of head of me. I seen it years earlier, but I didn't have the right person in place until I met Bob and plus, you know, to have enough finances to be able to, to survive it because it's not easy to build a brand and, you know, start being profitable, just starting out and stuff. So, you know, our mission was, you know, just to provide consistent high quality forage year round where the sherds supply and then make it so easy for the retail customers that, that they'd want to do business with Standlee. And then we became a one stop shop to provide, you know, like several different forage products with several SKUs that could be shipped on one truckload because all the retail stores, it was like these, hay companies would only have like one SKUs.


Mike Standlee (24:44):

So, the retail stores have to order 22 or 24 pallets of one SKU. And then it created a storage problem on their end. So all we done is just created several different products in one facility and then they could order up to, I don't know how many we got now, but up to 60 or 70 skews, different pallets, and they could mix and match on a truck to be shipped out. And then we also put a lot of focus, our mission was put a lot of focus on the forage products to be retail shelf ready, you know, to be displayed next to like the Purina brand or whatever, to where it could set on a retail store on a shelf and stuff and not mess up the store with a bunch of hay dust and leaves.


Katy Starr (25:31):

And that's where the Grab & Go® probably came into play.


Mike Standlee (25:36):



Katy Starr (25:37):

Yeah. That's something that we've recently got a patent on, which is awesome, but that was such a great opportunity that you saw in the market and the need in the market and look at where it's grown to be today. It's amazing, Mike.


Mike Standlee (25:50):

Yeah. It's, it's been exciting, 40 years and not one dull moment for, for nobody that's been part of it. Yeah.


Katy Starr (25:59):

So give me an example of maybe a challenge that you had to overcome as you were growing Standlee Hay Company. And what, what was that challenge and how did you overcome it?


Mike Standlee(26:13):

Probably the one that sticks out most probably steady supply of forage. You know, once you start supplying the retail industry, it's not like you can supply them seven months out of the year, or you're just not gonna be able to grow a sustaining business. So, you know, we had to make sure on this, on the Idaho end where we manufacture, we grow it, manufacture it, got to make sure that we got assured supply of, of top-quality forage for our customers. You know, we started running into some problems, you know, it's almost like our market was growing so fast. And, you know, I had farmers that I was buying the hay from, but we was getting squeezed tighter and tighter because, you know, the dairies was buying hay and we needed the hay and it become like they knew we needed the hay. So the prices just started getting higher and higher.


Mike Standlee(27:05):

And for us to, to be able to grow our market steady and everything continued growing, you know, we decided to start purchasing some farms and renting some farms and try to keep our product about 50% in-house farmed and 50% purchased outside just to protect our supply chain. And then probably the next biggest challenge was probably logistics because, you know, whenever you got products and all, all the states inside the United States, you know, it's not easy to pull hundreds and thousands of trucks out of Idaho, right? So we had to go lease our own fleet of rail cars and set up place in Lexington, Kentucky, Hagerstown, Maryland, Florida and I think Dusty and Scott’s got a few other locations now, but anyway, everything's on rail. We got 120 plus rail cars that ship all the Standlee forage from Idaho to all of our other locations, our warehouses.


Mike Standlee (28:05):

And then we distributed out to the retail customers from there and then probably the, the next more difficult, which I guess they're all difficult. I, I shouldn't say difficult. I should just say opportunities, I guess. But the other one was, which probably the financing is, is difficult. You know, it's hard to take $900 and grow a company into what Standlee is today and stay ahead of stay ahead of all the challenges of financing and stuff. But, you know, we've been able to do it and it's exciting and couldn't have done it with all the great people that's involved.


Katy Starr(28:43):

Well, and I think that what you mentioned earlier about, especially early on when you had hurt your back and you had to hire somebody out to drive truck for you and rely on somebody else was probably, you know, the greatest blessing. It's weird how sometimes things don't always seem like they're working out, but sometimes their blessings in disguise because it they're like teachable moments. And it almost seems like instead of you getting in there and driving truck, when you could hire somebody else to do that for you, it gave you the opportunity to go out and start talking to people and networking and getting your name out there and everything. And it almost sounds like that's something that you've done your whole life in business. And it's, you know, even if you don't have a lot of money starting out, if you're willing to see where things can take you, if you're willing to see down the road and look more long-term than always just short-term. I think that helps a lot. 


Mike Standlee (29:35):

I totally agree. And, and just like you said, you know, you start, you know, hiring people where their strong points are and, and, you know, it's amazing what you can do. It's not like one person strong at every little thing in a company. So, you know, once you get going, you start learning because, I mean, I had to learn from the beginning, just trial and error. And once you get good people coming on and you say, wow, they're smarter in that area than you. So it just, you know, it just helps you grow the business better and stuff. And then it also gives you opportunity to where you'll sometimes you can, you know, as an owner, you can get down in the weeds too much and not see all opportunities out and about. And once I started getting out of Idaho, why then that's when my mind just started opening up my vision and just started seeing things in a totally different aspect of life and opportunities and everything. It was, it was quite amazing experience.


Katy Starr (30:41):

You know, and I had a conversation, probably a couple of months ago with somebody saying the same exact thing. It's amazing the opportunities that kind of come to you when you go outside your little bubble. So I think there's something to be said for that. So that's awesome. When did you first look into exporting hay products and was it challenging getting into the export market at that time?


Mike Standlee (31:06):

Yeah, I mean, we done a little exporting through third parties and stuff, but you're never going to grow a brand and, you know, a model of business by using too much third parties, it's kind of like an avenue to get started, but, you know, in the, I think it was like 1990 is when I ordered my first big belt press from Mosley, out of Texas. I remember it very clear. I remember this I'd made the deal with the CEO of the company, a great guy and, and they brought it. So I ordered it in 1990, it might've been 91, you know, within a year there, but anyway, they was building it and they just getting ready to ship it out to our facility and, and get everything hooked up to start processing big bale hay, which would have been the, the first or the second, or there was only two big bale presses in the hay industry at the time.


Mike Standlee (32:06):

And, and both of them was put in within like six months. So I don't know if I was the first one in or the second, but I know I was one or the other that was into the market and is what it was, is just a garbage press. One of those big garbage presses. And I worked with Mosley and just remodified it to, to fit the forage industry. And then I ordered it and the plan was, you know, my brother stayed in Bruneau and he was actually doing little marketing international, a lot more than what I was at the time. And I was doing a lot more east. I had a lot more of the market going East and stuff. And so we decided that he would do all the marketing on the international part of things because of his contacts. And then, and then I would do the East coast with the dairy industry.


Mike Standlee(32:57):

And then I, so I had the press ordered and everything. I was going to order the press, but we'd do all international through him. We'd do all the, the east through my company. And then 1992, he, him and his wife got in a car wreck and both of them tragically passed away at the accident. So, so here I, you know, I had to press and everything, and then I lost my brother. So, you know, I had a hard time there for a little bit, but, you know, we, we kind of adjusted and, and figured it all out and everything worked out. Okay. But with a few adjustments, that's the one thing with business. I mean, you just never know what's going to happen along the way. So you just gotta be able to adjust with things quickly just to survive certain things that. Getting back to the international part after we got the bale press gone, why everything was going really good, was shipping a lot of hay back East to the dairy industry and everything.


Mike Standlee (33:55):

And then I wanted to, with, with Lynn not being here, it kinda put a little stall in our international part of it. So I was looking for a person to come in and help us for the international aspect. And I'm real cautious on, you know, just certain values and integrity and, and loyalty and stuff. You know, I just, I wanna make sure it's the right person. And then I met Chris Ito and then, you know, just a great guy and he come in and I just felt like I could trust him. And he would be loyal to the company and everything. And this is like many, many, many years later, he’s still with us, by the way. I know, I think that's so amazing. And I love that. And then he helped us develop because, you know, he come from actually Nissan and one of his best buddies was he's done a lot of export business anyway, in one of his best buddies actually went on to be the, I think it was the president of Nissan.


Mike Standlee (34:53):

So, yeah. So anyway, Chris come with us and we started, you know, just probably the carcass company to develop our markers markets international is anybody because he was just, you know, he just knew what he was doing. So he helped out a lot, but Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and then me and Chris worked the Middle East together because it is an up-and-coming market. Me and Chris traveled out there, and we as actually one of the first ones into the Middle East market sold a lot of hay in the dairy and the horse industry and middle east, like, you know, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Omen to Qatar. You sold some in Kuwait. So yeah, he was a big big part of growing the international part of it.


Katy Starr (35:44):

Great. It's amazing that we can have such steadfast employees like that too, that he was the one that kind of came in at a time where it was needed and he's still here and that's pretty amazing. Let's turn things around, just a touch who in your life has been your greatest inspiration and tell me a little bit more about them and why they've been inspiring to you.


Mike Standlee (36:10):

Mm, wow. Probably I got to say my dad first, even though me and my dad didn't get along whenever I was growing up in high school much, but I learned to understand and respect him a lot, just the way he taught me and my brothers and my sisters, how to work hard and, you know, always do the right thing in life. Even if it costs you money, you still got to do the right thing. And, and I just got all the respect in the world for my dad for that. And then probably second would probably be my brother Lynn, you know, cause you know, he is 11 months older than me, even though we fought like cats and dogs growing up, but he is a big, big influence in my life. Cause you know, whenever we moved to Bruneau, you know, like I told my wife, I said, you know, sometimes the toughest years in your life, you learn the most out of, you know, when things go good, you're really not learning that much, but when things are tough, you know, I just think you learn more.


Katy Starr (37:15):

Yeah. It keeps you on your toes. You have to learn to be scrappy.


Mike Standlee (37:18):

Exactly. And so, you know, just the experience that I had in Bruneau and, and around my brother and my dad, I think that that's kinda got me where I'm at today, to be honest with you,


Katy Starr (37:32):

Those are two great role models and they've, they both taught you a lot. I think it's been pretty ingrained in the Standlee values that still hold fast today. So that's, that's great to see kind of where that all stems from.


Mike Standlee (37:46):

Yeah. I remember kind of growing up, you know, I played football, basketball, my brother was on the team and you know, I mean, he'd go into a room and you know, just everybody he'd gravitate to him. You know, he had such a huge personality and, and I kind of learned from that, you know, cause I was kind of the quiet one, the middle child and, and you know, through the years and everything, I kind of figured out, you know, if I was going to be successful, I had to kind of come out of my box just a little bit. And you know, if you don't ask you, you just never received nothing. Right. So, you know, I just learned eventually I forced myself to come out of my shell and, and ask and maneuver through life and do deals and everything started working out after that, you know, but I remember my brother playing football, basketball, you know, if I missed a tackle or anything, why he, man, he'd be on my butt, like no other. So it just made me be better.


Katy Starr (38:46):

Right. That's what siblings are for. I feel like they definitely, sometimes it, it can seem like it's a little bit challenging, you know, you're always kind of competing with each other, but I think it comes out and makes you stronger.


Mike Standlee (38:59):

Exactly. You feel it at the time, but then after you kind of look back on it and stuff that was big parts of developing yourself through your life, you know,


Katy Starr (39:10):

Definitely. Mike, if you could go back in time and visit your 18-year-old self, what would you tell him?


Mike Standlee (39:17):

Well, you know, honestly, probably nothing because I've lived a great life, you know, that I've chose my own path. I've had great opportunities in front of me and I've watched a lot of people grow and you know, we've accomplished amazing things for 40 years and I love the people and absolutely love building companies, and how you build companies you build great people around them and your companies are gonna succeed. And you know, lastly, I just want everybody to know that I'm not done yet. I'm still enjoying business and enjoying life.


Katy Starr (40:00):

No, and I think that's wonderful. So just maybe a last few words, we'll kind of leave this as my last question for you, but what advice would you give anyone listening who has a dream of being an entrepreneur and starting their own business because you've kind of gone about it and a bit of an untraditional way, but you have done such amazing things. Do you have any advice that you'd like to share with our listeners?


Mike Standlee (40:30):

Probably whatever you do, you got to love, whatever industry you choose to get in. You gotta make dang sure you love it. And you gotta make sure you're so passionate about it you cannot sleep. And then from there you need to do a little bit of research because I had a few, few duds early on in my life that didn't work out very good. So I would recommend that you do a little research on what you think you love and have passion for and make sure that, you know, you looking at the opportunity in that industry and you're looking out like where's, it can be at in five years, ten years, you know, to make sure that it fits your inspirations and goals in life. If it fits at it doesn't matter if you wanna, you know, I mean, I've always looked at, everybody's got to choose their own inspiration and goals in life.


Mike Standlee (41:22):

It doesn't matter if you're gonna be at trench digger, make sure you're the best trench digger out there. And if you look at, look at whatever you do in life like that, you're going to do just fine. You can learn, but you know, I just want to leave it at tissue, you know, because so many things you can start out loving, but you can learn to hate it is if it doesn't fit your, your inspiration and goals in life. So think it over real clear before you take off and then go either work or get mentored from somebody that's really good at it. The best successful people go learn from them because they've already made the mistakes that the beginners have. And it'll just save you a lot of time and headache, not to stumble like sometimes I've had to, or, or other entrepreneurs had to learn the hard way. Right? Never be so stubborn. You cannot learn.


Katy Starr (42:21):

That's great advice.


Mike Standlee (42:22):

Yeah. I still learn even to this day, you know, a lot of people think I'm stubborn, but I am not. I listen all the time. And I learned from people and, and I think that's, that's the key to success because you don't know everything right.


Katy Starr (42:36):

When I think there's nothing wrong with being stubborn, as long as you know, you're not stubborn with everything, like you said, being open to listening to others and knowing there's people with, you know, strengths that you don't have. I think that's just such a great formula. I think that clearly has worked so well for you over the years and all of the companies that you've built and been involved in. And so I can't thank you enough because I wouldn't be sitting here in this chair interviewing you today and supporting my family if it wasn't for you, you know, starting Standlee Hay Company.


Mike Standlee (43:12):

Yeah. And it's people like you that just make our jobs a lot easier to, you know, one other, the thing I do want to add to that though, is, you know, just, don't worry about failure. We all have that in our life. Right. And it's a balancing act of just, everybody's going to have a few failures, but you know, we're going to have several successes along with it. And the biggest key to success is just get started. You know, you got to start, if you don't start you're, you're never going to know where it takes you.


Katy Starr (43:47):

Absolutely. And honestly, Mike, I don't know a single person that has been successful in their life that has not had failures. Cause I really don't think you can be successful without failures. I think that comes hand in hand because you learn from failures.


Mike Standlee (44:01):

Exactly. Failures are going to be there in all of our lives, you know, it just, you just gotta make sure there's more successes and failures. That's all.


Katy Starr (44:10):

Just don’t do it again. Right?


Mike Standlee (44:13):

Exactly. Yeah. That's a good way to look at it. Just, just don't repeat the same failure again and again, and you'll be just fine.


Katy Starr (44:21):

Mike, this has been an amazing conversation. I feel like I've gotten to know you a lot better and I feel like our listeners have really had the chance to get to know you a lot better. All of our Standlee family, all of the people that buy our products that feed it to their animals. I can't thank you enough for being on today and giving us a little bit more insight into who you are and where this all came from.


Mike Standlee (44:48):

Well, I appreciate that Katy and it's people like you that come and do a professional job of having a casual conversation that allows us to express our feelings in more of a personal way. And so it's people like you that help build companies. So I do appreciate that.


Katy Starr (45:10):

Thank you, Mike. I appreciate that very much. Right before we go, I just want to tell our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this episode and getting to know Mike a little bit better, please share Beyond the Barn, the podcast with your friends and family, reach out to us at If you have any feedback or if you have any topic, ideas, things you want to learn about involving other species or with horses, or just getting to know the people behind the brand and who comes and works every day, their work ethic is there. They're there to create quality products for all of your animals that you can trust. So reach out to us. We'd love to hear from you and until next time we will catch you later. 


Mike Standlee (45:44):

Thank you, Katy. 


Katy Starr (45:45):

Thanks Mike. Thanks for listening to the Beyond the Barn podcast by Standlee Forage. We'd love for you to share our podcast with your favorite people and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform. Until next time, keep your cinch tight and don't forget to turn off the water off.


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