From Cattle Buyer to Auction Owner
Eddie Garcia says he has been entrusted by the ranchers to sell their cattle. He takes that trust seriously.
By Maggie Malson
Photos by Ed Speed and Shawn McCoy
Everything about the weathered wooden catwalk, the cattle bawling, trailers being unloaded, the smell of the manure and hay, and the cry of the auctioneer asking for bids feels like home for the owner of Gulf Coast Livestock Auction in Alice. Eddie Garcia has fond memories of being a 7-year-old boy visiting the local auction barns with his father, Esteban Garcia lll. These were defining moments for him.
“Growing up, one of the most significant things that shaped my love for the sale barn was being on the catwalk,” says the sixth generation cattleman, who along with his father purchased the auction barn in May 2015. “Every person we came up to, my father would always turn around and introduce me as his son, Eddie Garcia.”
Many of the things Garcia does now, including meeting and visiting with people as they analyze the cattle for sale, stem from his early experiences.
“It’s surreal to see it come full circle,” he adds. “At 38 years old, I’m living my dream.”
Garcia has been a cattleman all his life. His family had land grants dating back to 1827 and were in the registered Brahman business. His great-grandfather crossed the first bulls from Mexico into the U.S. and helped build the cattle landscape through crossbreeding until the early 1990s. At that time, the registered cattle market went into a downturn, so Garcia’s father started visiting sale barns and buying and selling cattle.
Garcia says he has been groomed his whole life, through all his experiences with cattle, to be in the position he is today.
“My father, who is my mentor and coach, always gave me lots of responsibility at a young age,” he says.
He’s done just about everything at the auction barn, except auctioneer. At 15, Garcia began working the alley at the sale barn in Alice to learn more about cattle. He made his first sale as a cattle buyer 2 years later. His dad was too far from the sale barn and could not make it in time to purchase the cattle, but encouraged his son to do what he had been taught.
“I was shaking in my boots,” Garcia laughs. “Dad said, ‘You know what you’re doing so go ahead.’ I bought my first load of packer cows when I was 17 years old.”
With 21 years of buying experience, Garcia says that being a buyer of cattle created the backdrop for him becoming a sale barn owner. He also hauled cattle, traveling to many different auction markets. Each position was a piece in the puzzle propelling him forward. A chance meeting with the previous owner of Gulf Coast Livestock Market, David Shelton, was the final push.
“After I’d known David for awhile, he came up to me one day and asked if I’d ever be interested in purchasing the sale barn,” Garcia says. “I said it would be a dream come true. I was the manager at RY Livestock in Rio at the time and he kept telling me to just keep practicing.”
It was more than a year later when Shelton approached Garcia again, asking if he was ready. Garcia thought maybe he had forgotten but realizes now it had been another opportunity to gain experience.
“We sat down in the cafe and talked about the details,” Garcia adds. “We shook on it. It was an old- school type of transaction.”
The young cattleman took a month to put together the deal, and once he signed the papers, he was living his life’s dream. He owns the barn in partnership with his dad, but the elder Garcia has taken a step back from the businesses they own together.
Having his dad be a cattle buyer at the auction brings Garcia a sense of pride.
“I start the majority of the cattle here, and to see my dad sitting there buying are some of the moments that I will forever remember,” he says. “My dad had three major cow deals that got us to the point we are today,” Garcia says with admiration. “He would get the deals and I would help manage them. So to get this deal myself took me from being Esteban Garcia’s son to being Eddie Garcia.”
Putting his brand on it
Garcia jumped right in with his own management style based on direct experiences he’d had including starting the bids on the cattle, greeting everyone he meets on the catwalk with a handshake — sometimes more than once — being present to receive the cattle, and making calls to producers after the sale to thank them. These are just a few of the ways he focuses on customer service.
As a nod to the early days of the auction market and other owners he’d watched, he incorporated starting the bids himself.
“I believe the producers wants the owner in all aspects of the business,” he explains. “In the ring is the most sacred part of the auction. You can have marble floors and golden roofs. You can have everything in the world, but if the cattle don’t perform in the ring, you are setting yourself up to go out of business.
“I have been entrusted by the producers to sell their cattle,” he adds. “I’m going to come in here and do my job as a promoter and as a referee. My job is to promote their cattle and to referee that line and make sure nobody is taken advantage of. I can’t guarantee the market, but I can guarantee the effort.”
Authentic personal service is what makes Gulf Coast different and Garcia’s business philosophy is one handshake at a time.
“I want to say ‘Thank you’ and ‘I appreciate it’ more than any other words,” he says. “We acknowledge mistakes on the spot, taking responsibility. Our employees have good working relationships with each other. They have a vested interest in the well-being of others, and that’s something I can hang my hat on.”
In addition, Garcia has the auction barn phone forwarded to his cell phone from Thursday through Monday.
“I come at it from the standpoint that if someone’s going to take an interest in my business, then I’m going to be available to them,” he says.
Garcia points out that he’s in a business where old school business fundamentals are the most important, but often times the least practiced.
“If you’re on the catwalk, I’m going to walk up to you and shake your hand, say hi to you, and acknowledge your presence. I’m very adamant about giving back to the producers. They are the engine that keeps us going.”
Being one of the younger sale barn owners, Garcia embraces technology and couples it with his handshake philosophy. He has a Facebook page and a blog where he posts photos of cattle before each sale, and also adds commentary after each sale. Everything he does aligns with his mentality of being there to serve the producer — his trusted partners.
“Producers look at market reports and at the bottom, all it might say is cheaper, higher, steady or firm,” Garcia says. “That’s all it says. That can be confusing. Instead of expecting a producer to research various market aspects, I gather the information, along with my opinions, and provide it to them in a form they can easily read through while drinking their morning coffee — just as if we were sitting in the cafe having a conversation.”
In addition to the social media and blog posts, Garcia does a local radio show twice a week to give the market report. He knows there is value in reaching out to producers and providing more education.
Once a year, producers are invited to the auction barn and live cattle are put through the ring. Garcia uses this opportunity to show producers how the auction works. In addition, he travels to Farm Service Agency meetings giving presentations on marketing cattle in South Texas.
“I share the perspective from the heart of a sale barn,” he says. “I show them pictures of calves and give them personal experiences. I show them kill sheets, which a lot of producers never see. It’s eye-opening for them.”
Quality matters in this industry because it’s tied to the end user’s experience. Having a good relationship with his buyers, he keeps tuned to what kind of cattle they are looking for and why.
“We are here to connect the sellers to the buyers, and the best way to do that is with quality livestock,” he explains. “The producer puts a lot of pressure on us to sell their cattle. We need to put some of that pressure back on the producer to create a calf that we can sell.”
One way Garcia explains it to his customers is he tells them to look at a packer cow like a package of hamburger meat.
“When you, or your wife, go to the store to buy meat, you don’t buy 60/40. You don’t buy 70/30,” he says. “You’re looking for an 80/20 or a 90/10 product to consume at home. Look at the price of your 60/40 product and look at the price of your 90/10 product. And that’s a way to look at your cows. They bring in these cows that are too fat and discounted at the packer, and then bring in a leaner cow that is a better product meat-wise because it’s not all fat and they get a better premium for the leaner cow while also keeping their herds efficient.”
Garcia worked with his auction software company to create a new report, which enables a producer to see what percentage of his cattle were bought by which buyers.
He explains there may be 5 different order buyers at a sale.
“Two buyers are here to buy the very best cattle, top quality, choice cattle; then your third tier buyer is here for the in-betweens; fourth, who buys at the bottom; then the fifth buys the very, very bottom,” he says.
Before the new report was created, buyers would get their check and see the average and who was buying, but they were all lumped together. Garcia illustrates the concept with real life examples for the producers.
“You sold 100 calves, so let’s see what percentage the top buyers are buying,” he explains. “Wow, top Choice buyers bought 80 percent of your cattle. You are doing it right. What are you doing? What bulls are you using? Can I come out to your place and can you teach me? Let me see your cows, your bulls. When people are selling 80 percent Choice, I want to learn what they are doing. I will never pretend I know more than anyone else; it’s a continual learning curve. Once you forget that, you’re out of business.”
In contrast, some producers may only have 25 percent of top choice buyers choosing their cattle. In those cases, Garcia recommends producers evaluate their herd genetics and see what changes need to be made. He also offers free herd assessments.
Even though creating the new report gives all auction barns that use the software access to the report, Garcia said it was for the good of the whole industry.
“If someone selling at a different auction uses it and their herd gets better, then the industry gets better because there are better quality cattle for better meat consumption and better efficiency,” he says.
Another industry service Garcia is proud to have been a part of is reestablishing the dipping vat located on the auction barn’s property. It had been out of service since the 1970s. He knew the importance of dipping cattle for ticks before they headed to buyers in the north. With agency funding tight, Gulf Coast Livestock Auction put their money where their mouth is and paid to refurbish the vat.
“I’m proud to say that every Tuesday all cattle going north are dipped and have a certificate stating they are free of any ticks,” Garcia says.
The majority of the cattle coming through GCLA are Brahman-based cattle.
“We are crossbreeding Brahman-influenced cattle with Angus, Charolais and Hereford bulls, which creates a calf that has the capacity to put on a lot of weight, built with a motor that is geared for performance in the feedlot,” Garcia says. “Buyers are really coming to look for these types of cattle.”
His favorite part of what he does is building relationships with producers, meeting new people, talking about their cattle, visiting their ranches, and getting to know their families, as well as the camaraderie with family, employees, and people he works with every day.
The passion Garcia has for the cattle industry is evident, and he feels humbled to be in the position he is today.
“At the end of the day, I have to remember I’m working for something bigger than myself,” he says. “If I can leave the industry a little better than I found it, then I will have success.” ❚
“Cattle Buyer to Auction Owner” is excerpted from the July 2017 issue of The Cattleman magazine.