All champions come from different states, barns, exhibitors, species, breeds, and producers. So what is the one thing that they all have in common? Sullivan Supply. From the time I was eight years old and started to show cattle, hogs, sheep, and goats competitively, the word Sullivan was part of my vocabulary just as Coke, Jell-O, and Band-Aid. Our state Sullivan distributors would show up to every jackpot, county, and state show with their trailer in tow, packed full of all the various livestock products and equipment I needed. To me, Loren and Maureen Broad were Sullivans. It was not until my family began to show at the national level that I realized the enormity of Sullivan Supply.
In the mid 80’s, no one would have predicted that the then manager of Little Mondeaux Limousin’s show cattle in Genoa, Nevada would one day create an empire that changed the livestock show industry forever. During that time, John Sullivan was talked into purchasing a farm by his brother Joe for a good price. What cost him the selling price of his car for a down payment, was nothing more than a rough farm that good farmers did not want. John continued to make payments on his farm while working at Mondeaux. In 1989, wanting to be closer to home, John moved back to Dunlap, Iowa with two things in mind. He aspired to build a purebred show cattle operation or open a show supply company. As he did not have the land to support a cattle operation or the funds to start a show supply company, John’s start to success was founded on the small investment he had made on that farm he acquired while in Nevada. From the time of purchase, his farm had accumulated enough worth to allow him to borrow against it for the ten percent required to set his show supply company into existence.
Sullivan Supply took root in John’s mother’s garage. To haul his supplies to jackpot shows, he purchased a trailer. For a number of years, John borrowed his brother Joe’s twenty-two year old pickup truck to haul his trailer. During these outings, John would sleep on a foam pad in the back of the truck and shower at the various fairgrounds. Six months after Sullivan Supply had been established, business had picked up to where he had to move the company to an old grocery store in Dunlap. This new location had many large windows and was unheated for three to four years. During the winters, the windows would ice over to where you could not see outside and you could see your breath in the cold. In fact, Sullivan’s aerosol cans had to be stored in cardboard boxes to keep them from freezing. As the building was not equipped with an office, John went across the street to the local appliance store and got the biggest boxes they had, refrigerator boxes. He then cut the boxes in half to form tables. John covered a small corner of Sullivan Supply’s building with a blue tarp, installed heaters, and used his refrigerator box tables to form a makeshift office. Sullivan Supply was officially on its way.
As a company that was established during the 80’s farm crunch where there were no agricultural loans available, Sullivan Supply’s success was a result of the work ethics passed on to John by his parents Leo and Norma Sullivan. Family has always been a priority to John and his company. Sullivan Supply prides itself in the fact that it manufactures many of its own products. All of the company’s sewn items, such as their Arctic Ice Packs, are made by John’s mother, Norma (Norma’s Stitch and Sew), with the help of his aunts, Rosie and Sally. His uncle, Fritz, and his extended family have made Sullivan Supply’s rope halters for over eighteen years. There is passion put into every product distributed by the company. Their advanced blow dryers are made by local retired farmers, in addition to their scotch combs being locally produced. John’s key employees have been with Sullivan Supply for over fifteen years. So when exhibitors and producers use Sullivan products, they are using more than just a manufactured good; they are using a product that was derived from a passion and love for the livestock industry.
With John’s show supply company experiencing success, he was then able to achieve his first ambition of building a purebred show cattle operation. In the mid 90’s, he started a Limousin cattle operation. In 2002, John added a “splash of color” to his operation and switched to Shorthorns due to his love for the breed. He finds them to be sound, eye appealing cattle that are very competitive. John feels there is a great core of shorthorn families in the industry. The Sullivan family continues to achieve success within the shorthorn and other breeds.
In addition to Sullivan Supply’s base in Dunlap, Iowa, the company has expanded to include Sullivan Supply South in Hillsboro, Texas (of which his wife Dede and his brother Danny Sullivan are partners) and a California West store that is part of Sullivan Supply. Sullivan Supply ships products to all fifty states, including Alaska and Hawaii. What started out as a vision in John’s mother’s garage has transformed into a livestock industry leader for show supplies that has dealers in eight countries.
The entire family loves what they do. John’s wife Dede has always been a huge supporter of his company and remains to work by his side to this day. Much of its success can be attributed to her as she wears many hats. Their daughters, Sage and Sarah, hope to continue the legacy into the next generation.
John Sullivan’s motto of “progressive, aggressive, and family oriented,” has made Sullivan Supply the company it is today. ▪
(Information as of 2011)