Fanestil Meats has a lot to celebrate in the new year.
Not only did Emporia’s oldest manufacturing plant open its newly expanded meat processing facility on its W. US Highway 50 campus, but the company also surpassed its 80th year in operation.
“It’s a sense of euphoria,” said owner Dan Smoots. “I’m very, very excited about being able to be in this new facility.”
According to Smoots, the 40,000-square-foot processing facility will allow Fanestil to grow exponentially as it enters into the next phase of its growth. He currently employs around 100 people. He would like to see that number grow to 150 so Fanestil can expand into a full second shift operation. Eventually, he’d like to see the number reach 200.
“We’re not near that yet,” Smoots said. “It’s a growing opportunity, and we want to grow quality. We want to grow with products that provide margin. We want to grow with products that we can do efficiently, and we want to grow with products that we can do volume.”
But, the expansion has already had a positive impact on the company’s production capabilities.
“I jokingly remind [my wife] about 18 years ago, we were working on a Saturday at the old plant,” Smoots said. “It was her and myself and another employee and we were first experimenting with the hot dogs for the fair business, and we did 70 cases in 9 hours that day.”
Today, Fanestil Meats operates two machines capable of packaging 60 cases of product per hour — around 1,080 cases per day.
“Now we’re knocking out 120 cases an hour, whereas it took us all day to do 70 cases when we first started,” Smoots said with a laugh. “So automating and continuing to automate is going to be the big push for us to bring in more customers. And we’re excited about that.”
The expansion and relocation of the processing plant is part of Phase Two for Fanestil. Phase Three and Four are now on the drawing board. Phase Three, he said, will be a duplication of the new production facility, essentially doubling its size. Phase Four includes the addition of a freezer pallet storage facility, a service that Smoots feels is sorely needed.
“Three years ago we had a customer come to us and asked us if we could do turkey legs,” he said, adding that the customer needed 2,000 pallets of product. A pallet can consist of anywhere between 60 - 100 cases of product. “I said, ‘Well, I would need a large freezer to store those in.’ And he said, ‘Well, maybe someday if you get to that point, we’ll talk again.’”
Smoots said the continued expansion and growth would allow Fanestil to build more during the off-season markets and store products in order to have it ready for seasonal sales.
In order to reach that goal, Smoots needs to continue to build with more automation, more equipment and ramping up production.
“When we built this building, we built it because the Fanestil Meats plant on South 99 was at its max,” Smoots said. “We were just — there was no room to do anything and we needed the additional space to really be able to make the next move. We have the potential now to grow four to five times the size of what we were at the old plant as far as production capacity.”
That means more business opportunities for business.
That, he said, would be “quite the accomplishment.” And in order to be successful, Smoots needs to bring in more customers from all over the country, while still investing dollars in the city of Emporia.
“We reinvest in this community,” Smoots said. “When people buy products at Fanestil Meats, those dollars are staying here. Corporate headquarters is here. We don’t have shareholders. We have people that we reinvest in this community.”
Fanestil Meats already does a lot of business supplying products for fair markets around the United States and Canada. Smoots spends a lot of time traveling to see current and potential customers all around the country. Many of those are excited about Fanestil’s expansion.
“I have a list of 18 that want to come in and see us now that we have our plant up and operating,” he said.
“That’s the next big step, and that’s the interesting thing about being in business like this,” he said. “We’re two steps away from great success and just one step away from complete failure. When you go to bed at night, you think about that and you’re wondering whether or not you’re going to have business the next day to take care of it all and meet all the demands. That’s a lot of stress on people.”
Smoots said his history in the meat processing industry prepared him for his career as a small business owner. He began working for what was then the Iowa Beef Processors in 1972, while studying education at Emporia State University. At the time, he was also helping out with human resources needs at Fanestil Meats on a part-time basis. By then, Fanestil had already been operating for 30 years.
“It’s very difficult to compete with the national chains,” Smoots said. “I was born and raised on a dairy farm with four brothers, and I learned how to work from the time I was about six years old. All I’ve known all my life is work and working hard.”
Smoots attributes that upbringing to his success as a business owner. It doesn’t hurt that Fanestil is located where “we have the best meat in the world.”
“You’ve got the best meat, you’ve got the best workforce and we’re located right in the middle of the country,” he said. “When you put all those combinations together, it makes for a perfect scenario.”
It’s exactly what Smoots and his wife, Jan Smoots, envisioned when they purchased Fanestil Meats in 1996, the plant was located on South Highway 99, on the banks of the Cottonwood River. Almost immediately, the Smootses worked to get the processing plant out of the flood plain, where over the last several decades heavy rains would flood the plant or even just the roadway to stop production.
Dan Smoots wrote his first Federal Emergency Management Agency letter in Dec. 1998. He was finally approved in 2021.
“This time around we were able to get it done,” he said. “It’s pretty rewarding.”
So, after years of production shutdowns, Fanestil finally began construction on its new $14 million processing plant in Oct. 2021. It’s located adjacent to the Fanestil Meats Fresh Local Market at 4700 W. US Hwy. 50, which opened in 2015.
“The first thing I wanted to do was be able to move out of the floodplain and I wanted to open a retail store,” Smoots said. “I could see the value in that together with our business. I could see that it could be a very, very good opportunity.”
Smoots said he’s lucky to have had the opportunity to continue to build on Fanestil’s success, and it looks forward to a strong future with the help of Jan and sons Nate and Joe.
“When I first came to town, I had $300 in my pocket and I’ve managed to build a great business,” he said. “We have a great opportunity and a great future in front of us. We’re hoping that it continues for another 80 years.”
I buy my meats from Fanestil's. They have the best way of packaging hamburger.
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