Turning a hobby into a business

On Christmas Eve 1976, Portuguese immigrant Armenio Bento’s Sydney furniture warehouse was stocked full, when fire tore through the building destroying everything. The business was underinsured, so he spent a year back-filling orders. It was a major setback and the catalyst for Bento to shift his focus. He decided to turn his backyard hobby game farm into a viable business.

“Game Farm is a business built on the back of adversity,” explains Scott Evans, current Game Farm CEO and Bento’s son-in-law.

After the fire, Bento met a poultry grower who agreed to lease him some sheds at Duffy’s Forest. The next year he bought another 50 acres at Glenorie, including growing sheds for quail, pheasant and guinea fowl as well as a small processing plant. In 1986 he purchased a property at Galston, where Game Farm’s abattoir remains today.

State-of-the-art plant

Evans attributes NAB customer Game Farm’s success to Bento’s vision and focus.

“[Bento] is a visionary, always thinking about the future when he’s building things,” Evans says. “When the business was turning over less than a million dollars, he borrowed a million dollars and built a state-of-the-art processing plant. To this day, it's the only fully automated game bird processing plant in the southern hemisphere, of this nature and this capacity.”

Bento had a heart as well as a head for business. While making a game delivery to Tony Bilson’s restaurant Kinselas late one night in 1983, he met kitchen hand and fellow immigrant Tetsuya Wakuda. The two struck up a friendship and, soon after, Tetsuya opened Ultimo’s and Game Farm became a major supplier.

When cash flow at Ultimo’s was tight, Bento advised Tetsuya to pay his landlord and other suppliers first. To this day, Tetsuya, who continues to endorse Game Farm, says that if it weren’t for Bento and his support, he wouldn’t be the success he is.

A new CEO, a new era

When Evans married Linda Bento in 1994, his father-in-law approached him to help manage the business. Evans’ background in banking and international food trading gave him a valuable perspective. In his first year, with the support of his team, he tripled annual turnover, and supply contracts freed up his time to work on the business.

“I had youth on my side,” Evans explains. “I was hungry, driven, had no fear, and had a great foundation to build from what had been created by Armenio, Olivia and their children Mark and Linda, I was determined and I just gave it my absolute best.”

He worked on professionalising processes and systems and improving people management. He also leveraged his international contacts to develop Game Farm’s export market, securing Japanese and Singaporean accreditation listings. In 1995, a large contract quail farmer in Fiddletown was secured for supply, on a property Game Farm now owns.

The state-of-the art processing plant provided great capacity for expansion and Evans approached a large Australian supermarket, securing a distribution arrangement that brought even more growth.

Forming a global alliance

Sharing global agribusiness wisdom is perhaps Game Farm’s greatest innovation.

For an industry known for its intense rivalry, game farming has in the past decade come together to benchmark global best practice for everyone’s benefit – and Evans has led the philosophical shift. He’s spent the past 10 years meeting and benchmarking quail producers in key production centres around the world, including the USA, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

“None of us had ever explored each other’s markets before,” he says. “It took a little while, and not everybody came on board at first, but I was able to build a relationship with key stakeholders across these different countries. We built a matrix so we could share our results across criteria and share our findings to mutual benefit.”

It involved putting valuable skin in the game for all – and the benefits have paid off. The alliance revealed what Game Farm was good at – and what others were doing a lot better.

“We could work with each other and leverage off that… [we] learned from each other and developed rapport.”

In 2002 Evans also joined a family business forum group in Sydney, Australia, which meets once a month.

“You can walk in with what you thought was a great idea and walk out with either complete endorsement or a completely different idea, but feeling so much better for it.”

In fact, the networking group has been instrumental in the professional development of Evans, and he credits some of Game Farm’s success to the guidance and mentoring of this group.

To be able to have the shared business knowledge of some of Australia's most iconic brands all in one room is a privilege, Evans says. “While they may be my generation, their fathers and their grandfathers had built some amazing businesses that we could all learn so much from.”

Innovations

By 2002, the Game Farm brand was supplying 75 per cent of all quail in Australia, so for diversification the firm purchased its first competitor.

Next, the team secured long-term supply agreements with Australia’s best producers of turkey, partridge, guinea fowl, pheasant and other game. Today, Game Farm products are promoted through up to 10 different brands, and supply fine dining restaurants, supermarkets, specialty butchers, leading 5 and 6 star hotels, shipping lines and airlines across Australian and international markets.

In early 2018 the company purchased an 80-acre farm in Mandalong, NSW.

“When you talk about innovation,” Evans says, “Mandalong will be a really exciting place. We’re building a new state-of-the-art hatchery, breeding operation and growing facility.”

He estimates the new breeding operation will improve quail hatchability from 70-80 per cent to 85-90 per cent.

Game Farm’s key strength is, and has been, being open to change. Evans brought his own stamp to the business and now is open to more change with the third generation – stepson Daniel and daughter Ashleigh.

“The really exciting thing for me is sitting down with Daniel and Ashleigh and, I guess, being challenged. You’ve got to stop and listen as they represent the next generation of our customers and the way they think and how they make buying decisions is completely different to past times. If we don’t adapt to the new way of thinking and embrace technology we may not have a business in 5 to 10 years.

“Innovation starts with testing ideas. Bento’s favourite quote was ‘What man can think, man can achieve. There is no end’. I certainly agree with that.”

Important information

The information contained in this article is correct as of August 2019 and is intended to be of a general nature only. It has been prepared without taking into account any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this information, NAB recommends that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances. NAB recommends that you seek independent legal, financial, and taxation advice before acting on any information in this article.

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