Alternating between the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds, Peter Brunelle had managed many businesses, everything from selling high-end luxury goods to design-savvy office furniture to department store display cases showcasing Michael Kors and Tom Ford. And, of course, he is also an animal feed and fertilizer guy.
Those last two industries might seem the literal opposite of luxury and fashion retail, but Brunelle’s three-year tenure at Pestell Minerals & Ingredients in New Hamburg, Ont., is more personally on-brand than you might expect. “Looking back to my childhood in the country, I was raised by my granddad, who had an organic fertilizer company,” he says. “So it’s almost full circle for me.”
Founded in 1972, Pestell imports and distributes hard-to-source materials from all over the world—monoammonium phosphate from the Netherlands, for example, and copper sulphate from Chile and Russia. At any given time, Pestell stocks more than a hundred containers of largely unpronounceable ingredients, selling them to feed mills to be mixed in batches for farmers. “It’s a lot like baking,” explains Brunelle. “We supply the ingredients and they mix up their own recipe depending on which animals they’re feeding.”
When Brunelle was brought in a few years ago, Pestell’s growth had stagnated. Swelling populations and high-protein diets have created a boom in the agriculture business, but Brunelle saw many smaller operations working almost too well together, rather than competing to grow markets.
“I saw a ton of entrenched relationships in the marketplace, farmers who’d been friends and colleagues for 30 years, and saw an opportunity for consolidation,” he says. Rather than compete against them to grow sales organically, “I felt acquisition was the fastest way to expand.”
Here, aging demographics work in Brunelle’s favour. “There are a lot of smaller businesses in this space led by people looking toward retirement and eyeing an exit,” he says. With three acquisition deals inked already and more in the works, Pestell’s 65-staff operation has grown by 70% (the company does not disclose revenue publicly). “In this case, one plus one equals more than two,” he insists.