E-town Business Major Sows Success in Hay Market
To break the ice on the first day of the semester, Dr. Cristina Ciocirlan, an associate professor in Elizabethtown College’s Business Department, asks students to talk about their best experience during the past year. Last fall, one student shocked the class when, rather than answer “I traveled” or “I bought a car,” he said, “My hay company expanded, internationally…”
That student was Matt Bassett, who at 19, already owned and managed a family business. And it wasn’t his first. The hay partnership is just one in a string of successful endeavors, starting when he was just 9. First it was produce, selling retail and wholesale to local restaurants; in high school it was landscaping, screen printing and embroidery; later the E-town junior invested in raising race horses.
“I grew up in a farming family,” Bassett said during an interview last month. “I noticed that there wasn’t enough hay. My brother and I decided to start brokering.” That was 2008, and now the company sells hay “from here to California” and beyond.
Now 20, Bassett and younger brother Noah grow and broker hay for livestock under the name M&N Farms, formerly M&N Hay Sales. The brothers lease 185 acres of land near Columbus, N.J., where Bassett and his brother attended Northern Burlington County Regional High School, and 50 acres in another county.
While in high school Bassett would complete his homework over lunch then work after school until about 10 or 11 at night. Now at E-town, he heads home — and around the country – to sell his wares over holiday breaks, during the summer and on weekends. Between classes he fields business calls. The partnership’s net worth is estimated near $500,000. In hay, that’s about 36,000 small bales and 10,000 3-foot by 8-foot bales, each weighing 800 pounds.
Young people are afraid to open a business, to take the risk. You just have to not be afraid of hard work.
Interestingly, Bassett started out as an engineering student at Elizabethtown but switched to business when he realized that running a company and going home every weekend wouldn’t work with the intensity of program. And besides, Bassett said, “business comes naturally.” He quickly added, though, that this doesn’t mean he hasn’t learned anything. “I got a lot of marketing ideas from speakers in the M&M Mars,” he said of the Executive Lecture Series that brings business leaders onto campus to offer real-world perspectives.
Dr. Sanjay Paul’s economic courses assisted Bassett as he was seeking out the national market he presently targets, he said, and Ciocirlan’s management and managerial communication classes helped him “learn how to better manage cash flow and employees.” Bassett noted that, in the classroom, he can immediately see how to apply what he learns to his own business.
“When I first met Matt Bassett … in fall 2012, I was very impressed with his entrepreneurial spirit,” said Ciocirlan. “Ever since then, almost every class, I asked Matt to share his business insight with other students, so they could see how the five managerial functions are executed in the real world.”
Ciocirlan said Bassett responds well to the challenge of being put on the spot, giving useful examples from his experience “in planning, organizing, staffing, leading and controlling for performance in his own business.”
M&N, which plants and sells six kinds of hay, including Tiffany Teff, a new high-profit African variety, which, said Bassett, can be grown organically (“It doesn’t pollute the water supply and it helps to maintain the soil,” he noted) branched out into soy beans, feed corn and straw this past January. The company also sells bedding, wood shavings, grass hay and rye and wheat straw.
Presently, Bassett and his brother farm crops year ’round, being sure to rotate constantly to allow for the soil to be maintained without chemicals.
“Farming is expensive to start up,” he said. “I had to restructure the company and buy equipment, but it’s profitable.” Profitable enough that M&N employs five part timers who harvest, plow, load and deliver the hay.
Bassett sees firsthand how profitable a small business can be and advises others who are considering the idea to go for it.
“Young people are afraid to open a business, to take the risk. You just have to not be afraid of hard work.”