Meet Karl Kisner | OSU HCS Alumnus Class of 1990
Karl Kisner is currently the Vice President of Marketing & Supplier Relations for Veseris in Austin, Texas. In Karl's own words: "Veseris is the largest distributor of pest control products in North America for the Structural Pest Control Market, but we also sell products into Turf & Ornamental, Public Health, Animal Health and Vegetation Management – all markets that have pests".
He received his Bachelor of Science (1990) in Turfgrass Science. As an undergrad, Karl completed two internships one at Barefoot Grass and one with Mobay (now known as Envu) to gain hands-on experience in the industry. He let us know these internships “allowed me to create many connections so that upon graduation I had a job already lined up to be a Turf Specialist for Van Waters & Rogers (now known as Veseris) in Southern California”. Over the years, he found himself in a variety of roles carving out a business niche that built upon his educational foundation of turfgrass science.
Luckily, Karl had the time to elaborate on what working in the marketing and business side of the industry is like + some advice for students considering studying turf:
When did you initially become interested in turf?
Karl: I was in ARMY ROTC and on campus (in '86) early one morning when I ran into a classmates’ friend who told us he was majoring in Turf. I was a business major at the time – and went home – and found out I had a relative what was a Professor Emeritus in Agronomy at OSU and was involved previously in the turf program (Dr. Don Herr). I called him a few days later and had a 3-hour phone call where he told me about all the career possibilities – I became very enamored at that point – as I could learn a specialty and still be on the business side.
How did your time at Ohio State help prepare you for your career?
Karl: I knew I did not want to be the Superintendent or landscaper, I wanted to be on the business side. What I liked about the program back then was the ability to do the turf program as part of the agribusiness program (you could choose to take Ag business classes or classes through the College of Business). I chose the business classes all through the college of business.
The Turf classes in the Department of Agronomy at the time [editor's note: over the years our department's name has evolved - today we are the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science aka HCS], gave me a solid foundation of the turf market and products. The blend of both the agronomic and business classes gave me a solid foundation to enter a career path in business – while having specific knowledge about the market itself.
Could you tell us a bit about your career journey that brought you to your current role?
Karl: I had a job lined up upon graduation to be a Turf Specialist for Van Waters & Rogers (now known as Veseris) in Southern California. I was an outside salesperson calling on golf courses, landscaping and lawn care companies and nurseries – the education at Ohio State allowed me to understand the challenges my customers were facing and the solution to offer.
After 2 years, I moved to Findlay Ohio to work for Terra and establish them as a Turf Distributor in Ohio, The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic – built that up to a $10M department before leaving in 1998 to jump to the pesticide manufacturing side when I joined AgrEvo as a Turf Product Manager. Then the chemical industry consolidation started to occur; my experience in turf and knowledge of the chemistries and active ingredients – allowed me to move over to the pest control market as a Termite Product Manager as we formed the new Aventis in 1999. In 2000, I launched Termidor to the pest control market and it became the first $100M liquid product in the pest market for BASF. At BASF I was the Director of Marketing for their Pest Control group and jumped back into turf leading the BASF Marketing team in 2006-2007. The key here was having the insect pest background making it easy to move into an adjacent industry like Pest Control.
In very late 2007, I rejoined what is now known as Veseris as the Director of Marketing. Over time as my responsibilities and focus has grown, I settled into my current role as Vice President of Marketing & Supplier Relations.
What’s a normal day look like for you?
Karl: There is no such thing as a normal day and its why I love my job – and I love being in distribution. I oversee our entire marketing efforts – from our advertising and communications, our positioning and direction, to our digital marketing and ecommerce platform and ensuring that we provide the right tools to help our sales team be successful with our customers (like our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform).
Over time the role changes as technology changes – in the beginning – it was about a lot of print (ads and handouts) to now a strong focus on our digital tools – online training (Agronomic and Entomology), Customer Self-serve tools to providing them the ability to shop online.
I'm also responsible for engaging and working with all our supplier partners to find opportunities to sell and support their products (while negotiating to ensure we can earn the margin appropriate with our value offering). Spending a lot of time doing marketplace data and internal sales data is critical. I also sit on the Senior Leadership team for the company to help create and develop our short and long-term strategies and the project work associated with those plans.
What have been a few highlights of your time so far in the industry?
- Karl: Specific to Turf – as I mentioned to start – it was creating the Turf distribution business from scratch in 1998 for Terra and having it become a $10M plus department by the time I left.
- In pest, launching Termidor is what I am best known for – introducing a brand-new active ingredient into a market, creating a new distribution model and a strong advertising campaign with direct-to-consumer advertising around the country – leading to it becoming a $100M+ product.
- Since then, in distribution with Veseris – it’s the continued innovation of marketing ideas and plans to support our sales organization and truly differentiate ourselves in the market. We are not interested in just selling a pesticide to a pest control company or lawn care operator, we also want to provide them the right education and training and service them in the manner they expect – always focused on being their Preferred Choice.
What advice would you give students considering studying turf and ultimately pursuing a career in the turf industry?
Karl: The best advice I can give – is keep your eyes wide open. In turf there's lots of different career opportunities – I wanted to be on the business side, and it’s been the best decision for me because I truly investigated all the different opportunities. I encourage any student to do that and then complete internships and make contacts – those contacts can create sources of more information but also career positions. Additionally, know a background in turf will not limit you to just turf – I started in turf and still dabble in it today, but the foundation of turf exposed me to adjoining markets.
Today, we have a wide variety of academic paths for you to choose from to help you pursue a career in the turf industry…