Articles & Updates
Consumers National Bank Customer Success Story: Elk Ridge Game Farms
An Interview with Mike and Autumn Wilson
How do 20 pheasant eggs hatched in a Styrofoam incubator transform into a 5-star rated game farm in Bucyrus, Ohio? Patience, persistence, passion, and a partnership with Consumers National Bank fueled Mike and Autumn Wilson's success (and a lot of hard work).
The Consumers National Bank team had the opportunity to catch up with the Wilsons to learn more about their path to building Elk Ridge Game Farms. We’d like to share their story below.
Consumers National Bank: What prompted you to start a game farm?
Mike Wilson: When I was younger, I watched my uncle hatch pheasant eggs and wanted to try. We had success hatching about 2 dozen eggs, and the next year, we invested in a few hundred baby chicks and a flight pen. People quickly expressed interest in purchasing the birds for training dogs. We realized that we could bring in extra income, and news about a small game farm in Pennsylvania going out of business prompted us to buy his equipment and his customer list. As the Great Trail Pheasant Farm business grew, I was fortunate to find a mentor, Lionel “Chip” Trebilcock, who helped me understand the financials and ways to become profitable.
Autumn Wilson: That was 17 years ago. Mike was working full-time while I managed our home and the farm. Seven years later, we did the math and determined that our income from the farm could support us. We focused on building Great Trail Pheasant Farm in Lisbon, OH, then purchased Elk Ridge Game Farm, the bigger of the two farms, about 5 seasons ago. We hired a manager, Nathaniel McHugh, to handle Great Trail. He and our daughter married and now run that farm together. Nothing better than being able to rely on family!
Consumers National Bank: How are the farms doing today?
Mike Wilson: The volume of business is amazing. We're raising just under 100,000 ringnecks. We're doing about 90,000 mature birds, and about 15,000 chukar partridge. In addition, we're hatching about 150,000 day-old chicks out of our hatchery in Lisbon there.
Autumn Wilson: All from 20 eggs😊!
Consumers National Bank: Why did you decide to partner with Consumers National Bank?
Mike Wilson: We went through tough times in the early 2000s. We came through bankruptcy and began rebuilding the business. About 6 years ago, someone said to me, “Hey, you may want to look at Consumers. They're doing some pretty awesome stuff." But we wondered if a bank would help a business that had a bankruptcy in their past? We weren’t sure, but we reached out, had a meeting, and showed the folks from Consumers Bank what we were doing. They spent the time with us to hear our goals, looked at our business plan, and believed in us enough that allowed us to proceed forward.
Autumn Wilson: Sarah Grubb (our lender at Consumers) has been a phenomenal partner for us. I knew about Sarah through the 4-H organization when we were both growing up in the area. She understands the industry and how to support us with available programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), as well as other ag-focused solutions to help make running our growing business easier. Sarah always makes us feel that we’re her top priority, even if that means text messages or weekend calls after hours.
Consumers National Bank: Every business has to navigate through tough times. You mentioned the PPP program helped during the pandemic. What other challenges have you conquered?
Mike Wilson: One situation that almost resulted in us having to shut things down was the high feed prices back in 2008. Our feed dealer, Paul Wallace over at Wallace Farms, believed in us, and when we got behind on feed bills, he worked with me and extended grace to help us through. We also had a supporter in Rusty Breyley who owned a neighboring pheasant farm, Windy Ridge. I'd call him when we started out and had trouble with incubation or questions about building pens. He was always willing to invest his time in explaining things to me.
Autumn Wilson: Yeah, over the years we’ve been fortunate to have had several key people believe in us and are a big reason why we’re still around today. We always turn around and take care of those who help us, and we made sure to pay that debt to Wallace Farms. We’re very thankful for Paul and Rusty.
Consumers National Bank: Where are Elk Ridge Game Farms and Great Trail Pheasant Farm headed next?
Mike Wilson: We'd like to continue expanding, building pens to give the birds more space, and adding staff to manage the farms. Orders for next year are filled, which is a great problem to have. If we can hire more people, we could grow at twice the rate, but it’s hard work and not everyone is cut out for this type of business. We’ve benefitted from the growing popularity of local (U.S.-based) hunting trips since people still can’t easily travel to Canada or other countries, which has led to a lot of our bird sales. During the pandemic, we stayed open as an outdoor activity and was fortunate that we didn’t have to shut down like a lot of other “indoor” businesses did due to Covid.
Autumn Wilson: Another factor contributing to our growth is the retirement of older generations running game farms. We’re drawing new customers. Although the pandemic was terrible, more people now realize that you don't have to go someplace, such as a restaurant or the movies, to have a good time. There are a lot of great outdoor activities that you can participate in, with bird hunting being one of them that relies on us (and our birds).
Consumers Bank: What else would you like people to know about your story?
Mike Wilson: Where there's a will, there's a way. If you are diligently trying your hardest to make something happen, people will be there willing to help you. I think of Lionel, Rusty, Paul, and Sarah from Consumers Bank - all of them believed in us and our vision and we just knew that we’d be a success. Luckily they believed in us too and it’s become a reality now.
Autumn Wilson: We knew the direction we wanted to go, and we can now leave a legacy behind for our family. It's up to them if they choose to accept it. If not, we made a good run of it, and we've been pretty successful because of it.
If you need a partner in your success story, contact the Consumers National Bank team or visit one of our local branch offices. We’re here to help.
More information about Elk Ridge Game Farms
If you’d like to learn more about Mike and Autumn - and their farm, we encourage you to check out their Facebook pages (Elk Ridge Game Farms and Great Trail Pheasant Farm and Hatchery). You can also check out some of the great photos of their business (and all their birds) below!