Sold! Blackwell Livestock Auction becomes Southern Plains Livestock Auction

by Jordan Green

After traveling across the country to buy and sell cattle for two decades, Lance Cochran was ready for a change.

“I got tired of driving around and selling other people's cattle,” he said. “I was ready to set my feet down.”

Cochran set his feet down about a year and a half ago, when when Gary Potter hired him as an auctioneer at the Blackwell Livestock Auction.

Every Monday, Cochran dons a black cowboy hat covered with a thin layer of dust. He stands on an elevated podium, watching as cattle pour into a tan-colored metal pen. Tails wag and hands fly as another herd of cattle is auctioned off.

For a year and a half, this has been his life. The only thing that has changed since that summer is the name.

On January 1, 2019, Cochran and his wife, Tracy, became the owners of Southern Plains Livestock Auction, the successor to the Blackwell Livestock Auction. Even though they're the new owners, they don't plan to change much.

“We're not going to change a lot,” said Lance, a rancher from Grant County. “We just changed the name for legalities.”

“We're pretty excited,” said Tracy. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to own this business. We got really lucky because we were able to keep all of our staff. They're experienced, and they're a huge benefit.”

The auction-house, located at 606 North 29th Street, opened in 1964 under manager Harry Stucky, who operated it for 20 years. It serves as a place for buyers and sellers of cattle to trade their bovine wares.

Since it was first opened, the auction-house has changed hands a few times. From 2006 to 2018, it was owned by Potter, a veteran auctioneer with decades of experience.

Last summer, Potter told Cochran he was ready to retire.

“Last summer, Gary approached me and said, 'I want you to have this business,'” said Cochran. “I was blown away. I felt shocked, and I was honored to have the opportunity to continue this business.”

And continue it has. February 4 marked the end of the first month of operations under Cochran's helm.

To celebrate, it was business as usual: an auction.

That day, Joe Tripp was there to sell a few head of cattle.

“The cattle sold very well today,” he said. “Not just well, but very well.

“It has everything to do with reputation.”

Tripp, like many others, has been doing business at the auction-house since Potter owned it. He's there now that Cochran owns it, too.

Through the years, there's been one thing that's kept him coming back: honesty.

“The Potters have had an insanely good reputation,” said Cochran. “They are as honest as you can get. I just want to build on that legacy. They taught me to say what you mean and to mean what you say. Always give the truth, and the exact truth. If there are only 100 cattle in a sale, I'm going to tell people there are only 100. It takes a lifetime to gain a customer and only a day to lose one.”

Keeping customers is critical for an auction-house, which faces the ebb-and-flow of the volatile cattle market on a day-to-day basis. And with constantly fluctuating prices, it's important for producers to keep up on the market. That's something Cochran says he'll do.

“We have a lot of independent and corporate buyers,” he said. “As the industry changes, we will make changes to accommodate individuals in the market. We want to help keep customers ahead of the market and keep up with the trends.”

In the future, one of those changes may be the incorporation of online bidding, which allows producers to bid on cattle from virtually anywhere. Incorporation of online bidding will help keep Southern Plains ahead of the competition, Cochran said.

When it comes to running the business, youth helps, he said. But it's not the most important thing.

“Basically, it's a lot of foot work,” he said. “Being young helps. But honesty and integrity are more important. We're just going to build upon the legacy that the Potters have established. It's difficult for people to accept change, and that's why we're not going to change much.”

And when you have customers like Randy Krause, why would you?

“This sale is a good deal for both sides,” said Krause, a 13-year customer. “Lance is a young, energetic, honest guy. Honesty means everything to me – it determines whether I'll do business here or not.

“Lance will be able to keep it.”