After 10 month of negotiations and an array of regulatory hurdles, a Wise County company two weeks ago shipped off an order to China.
Protocol Technologies in Bridgeport, founded and operated by Decatur native Dr. Jimmy Horner, extended its international reach when it sent off a load of toxin binder used in animal feed and forage on July 10.
“I don’t think [the Chinese government is] used to importing much; I think they primarily export,” said Horner, president and CEO of the Bridgeport-based company. “We had to jump through a lot of hoops, dot every i, cross every t. But it was good.
“This was our first run, and we learned a lot through it. Hopefully it will all pay off.”
After partnering with Japan in 1994, the shipment to China means the company’s overall market is about one-third international.
“Domestically, we have a local area – within a 100-mile radius – where most of our feed goes,” Horner said. “But outside that we’re probably in about 20 states. Those are mostly our supplements, feed additives, animal health products (markets).”
But the company’s international reach began, as Horner’s daughter and marketing director, Abby Broussard, describes, with “a little country boy” who had a revelation.
“I was one of those real fortunate people that when I discovered my passion, it was like a neon sign,” Horner said. “A lot of kids, and a lot of adults, go through life trying different experiences not knowing what they’re supposed to do, not knowing what their passions are. I’m one of those to who the good Lord revealed in a powerful way.”
After graduating from Decatur High School in 1977, the math whiz and animal lover enrolled at Tarleton State University in Stephenville. He was a sophomore when the undeniable sign flashed before him in a feeds and feeding class.
“The first week of the class, the professor hands out a lab manual and says, ‘Y’all take a look at this, and we’ll start working on it next week and every lab through the semester, we’ll do one section,’” Horner recalled. “Once I left there and got in it, I couldn’t hardly get out of it. I just loved it.”
The next week, the professor asks the class to take out their lab book. Horner’s was completed.
“I’d done the whole thing the first week,” he recalled. “In that class, that’s where the light bulb went off – math, animals, nutrition – and I didn’t look back.”
After graduating from Tarleton, Horner earned his master’s degree from Oklahoma State University and graduated with his doctorate from Texas A&M University, where he met his business partner, Randy Harms.
At the conclusion of the doctoral program, Horner received two job offers – one to Oregon State University, another to the University of Georgia.
“Right before I committed, I got a phone call from Robert Cocanougher,” Horner said.
Cocanougher Feed Co. in Decatur hired the seasoned nutritionist to help develop and brand a line of their own products in January of 1986.
“They told me that if I helped them grow the company enough, I could hire some more people to help me,” Horner recalled. “By October, I had grown it enough to justify hiring on one other person to my sales team.”
So he hired Harms, a former standout student of his who had graduated from A&M and taken a job as a county agent in East Texas. Together, the two saw the small family operation grow from one feed manufacturing plant to three.
In 1990, Horner resigned from the company to establish his own consulting firm, Horner Nutritional Services.
Then in 1994, Horner and Harms joined forces again to launch what is now Protocol Technologies.
“We continued doing consulting, which we still do to this day and will probably continue to do for forever,” Horner said. “But we decided we wanted to start doing product research and development. We looked at products that could help our clientele, products that were needed out in the field by people we were working with, products that could be better than what was out there.
“From the very beginning, they were all natural,” he continued. “That’s how we got started, and Japan – whose people are very much into natural remedies, natural medicine, natural feeding – was kind of an outgrowth of that.”
Horner traveled to the country to present a seminar on the company’s lone product, a feed additive. After one session, a translator approached him to tell him someone in the audience was requesting a private meeting.
That “someone” was the president of Protocol Japan, the company that would later become the exclusive distributor of Horner’s product.
“We started with one product, and now we have at least 15,” Horner said.
As inventory increased, so did the need to streamline the operation.
“As we were growing our clientele and after all of the logistical headaches that come with other people manufacturing products for us, we decided we needed to build our own plant and wrap our arms around it,” Horner said. “Plus, the Japanese have rigid expectations; they are strict on quality. We needed some control of what we were doing, more consistency.”
To address that, Protocal opened its facilities on Lake Road in Bridgeport in October 2001.
Four months later, a group of 28 of their international colleagues visited the Wise County plant and basically gave “their blessing.”
Harms, the company’s vice president and general manager, now oversees all of the production and purchasing – a job that was once farmed out to five different plants with five different purchasers and crews.
“It’s quality control from front to back,” he said. “Dealing with the Japanese just made us better, and the high level of expectations that they had rolls right over to our show feeds and our complete feed line. Now it’s just the way we make feed.”
High-quality products paired with unparalled service helps the small company “compete against the big boys.”
“We think we can do it better, and we know we can be more flexible in getting the customer what they need,” Horner said. “Also the service and quality aspect – it’s hard for a big company, regardless of what they have in place, to be as consistent and service customers the way we can.
“And we’re very, very big on relationships with our customers,” he continued. “I treat your cattle as if it were my cattle, and Randy is the same way. That’s just the way we are. We have very much a passion for what we do.”