Wheat harvest was well underway across the northern Panhandle as the warm southern winds threatened the return of another Texas summer in early June 2015. Gripped by nearly four years of drought with rainfall well below the area’s average, the High Plains’ resilient residents finally were catching glimpses of the light at the end of the tunnel with a strong El Niño effect forecasted for the summer and fall ahead. Rain was falling and spirits were high, but for Walter E. Lasley of Stratford, Texas, an important decision was weighing heavily on his mind.
After more than 46 years of managing his family’s cattle feeding enterprise in Sherman County, Texas, Walter was ready to slow down, but there was no one in his family eager to take over the helm of Walter Lasley & Sons, Inc. But for Walter, the decision to simply walk away was not so simple. The operation was not merely a business but his family’s story.
The Lasley family ventured south from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, shortly after the turn of the 20th century. They arrived in Sherman County in the northern Texas Panhandle just 10 miles south of the Oklahoma border and put down roots. Beginning in 1912, the elder Lasley saw the opportunity to begin amassing his family’s sizable land holding throughout the county. And in 1953, his son, Walter Lasley, Jr., joined a handful of other cattle industry pioneers who began feeding roughly 150 head of cattle in the Texas Panhandle,a region now known around the world as a hub for the nation’s cattle-feeding industry.
Fast-forward to 2015, Walter Lasley & Sons, Inc. is a well-respected cattle-feeding enterprise housing up to 20,000 head at a single time with more than 9,600 acres of some of the most productive farm and ranch land in the High Plains. But the cattle feeders’ life is not for everyone, and not just anyone looking for their own piece of Texas could afford such a sprawling agricultural operation.
With 13 partners in the family business and no one lining up to take over the operation, Walter, as the head of the family, made the difficult decision that it was time to sell. But he knew a traditional approach of putting out some signs and waiting wasn’t the right choice for this situation.
The recent rains were a welcome blessing, and astute landowners and investors across Texas were beginning to again see opportunity. Walter knew the time was right. But with the fall cattle run quickly approaching and decisions already being made for the wheat-planting season that was getting closer by the day, he would have to act quickly.
Any cattle feeder, or successful investor for that matter, can attest that the biggest rewards often come when you are willing to assume a bit of risk. While the cattle and commodity cycles made a quick sale ideal, no one was interested in rushing to unload everything the family had built over its 100-year history in Texas at whatever fire-sale price one person might be willing to pay. What they needed was an approach that would showcase the property at its best and get as many potential buyers as possible competing with one another.
While he considered his options, one solution seemed to fit his situation perfectly. Walter reached out to a few of his long-time friends and colleagues who had recently launched Legacy Land Auctions, an Amarillo-based company focused exclusively on professional marketing and auction of premium farm and ranch real estate. While he’d heard about successful land auctions in other parts of the country, this was a fairly new concept to Walter and his family in the Texas Panhandle.
But Walter gathered the family, and after hearing from the Legacy team about their proposal for a 45-day marketing window to auction day, and a 30-day, contingency-free closing period, the thirteen members of the Lasley family agreed—Walter Lasley and Sons, Inc. would sell in an Absolute, Multi-Parcel Public Auction on August 13, 2015.
Before the ink on the auction contract was dry, a marketing budget was approved and the Legacy team was hard at work for the Lasleys, finalizing a plan to split the property into 12 unique tracts that would be offered in a multi-parcel auction. The property divisions were designed to provide a little bit of something for everyone. Farmland, ranchland, and the feedyard itself would all be offered individually, but any bidder would be able to bid on one tract, bid on a few, or bid on them all.
A professional, dynamic marketing plan was immediately put into action that featured far-reaching advertising and outreach in a wide variety of print, television, radio, internet, and direct mail channels. No one approach or single audience would be enough for this one-of-a-kind property.
From local farmers, ranchers, and cattle feeders, to sportsmen, and international investors and farmland trusts, the Lasley auction was showcased in a portfolio of high-impact, professional materials. Over an intensely concentrated 45-day period, this marketing effort generated more than half a million individual print impressions targeted largely across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, California, Missouri, and Nebraska in addition to regional radio and nationally televised commercials on RFD-TV and RuralTV that were broadcast into more than 41 million homes nationwide.
This exciting opportunity was also pitched directly to regional brokers and agents who were provided full materials to share with interested clients in their own networks. And for them, the promise of 20 percent of the auctioneer’s commission on any successful contract for which they registered a bidder more than 24 hours in advance was a hefty incentive.
Because this complex property would be offered on auction day with no contingencies or option periods, it was imperative for potential bidders to have all of the information about this operation well in advance. Exhaustive water well inspections, soil and core samples, records searches, title searches, contract-drafting, sophisticated mapping, and more by the team at Legacy Land Auctions yielded a 100-page due diligence catalog that was distributed to interested parties.
As auction day approached, the anticipation mounted. But interest had been high, and the multi-faceted marketing campaign had done its job. Calls and emails from around Texas and across the country were flowing into the Legacy office, and the team working on this auction had dedicated roughly 3,000 man-hours to this expansive project.
On auction day, the Legacy Land Auctions staff registered 40 potential bidders from five states. Outside brokers registered and represented 17 individuals. The bidding was open for nearly three hours, and during that time, 16 unique entities posted a high bid at some point, and there was bidding on each tract individually as well as 11 different tract combinations. When the gavel dropped, a single bidder prevailed, signing a sales contract on all 12 tracts.
As a flurry of activity and contract signing commenced at the back of the ballroom, the Lasley family, many of whom were on hand throughout the auction, turned the page to a new chapter in their family’s story. While a decision of this magnitude is never easy, Walter and his family carefully assessed the results and rested at ease with their decision.
On September 18, 2015, just 81 days after he and his family made the decision to put their family operation up for auction, Walter E. Lasley signed the final closing documents.
Talking with Walter today, it is clear he has no regrets and is immensely thankful for how the process unfolded and his fortunate timing. Faced with high, ongoing carrying costs in an indefinite listing or the prospect of taking the first offer that came down the road, Walter led his family in another direction when the time came to sell. The Lasley family took the risk, and for them, the reward was more than worth it.
According to Walter E. Lasley, “We couldn’t have put our family’s property in better hands. From the start of the process through closing day, the entire team at Legacy respected the history in our operation and did all they could to ensure the most successful outcome possible. There are lots of folks who can sell land, but for us, the team at Legacy stands out not only because of how they treat people, but how deeply they appreciated the land that has been so important to three generations of our family.”