Setting the standards to follow since 1887. It's a tagline that suits United Seeds, Inc. well. Since its beginning as Nebraska Seed Company in the late 19th century, the company has established its reputation based on the very highest standards of performance - from its products and its people.
"We are committed to supplying only the best seed," said Dick Berry, chief executive officer of United Seeds. He and John Jones, president of the company, have owned the company since 1986 and continue to prove the value of that commitment. Prior to that, Berry's father, Arthur, had been part of the company since 1944. He and partners William and James Fitzgerald purchased the turf and field seed operations of Nebraska Seed in 1957, with Jones joining the partnership in 1981.
While they changed the name of the company to United Seeds, Inc., they retained the focus on research, breeding and genetics that had fueled the dreams of Henry Nicolsen. As the previous owner, he purchased Nebraska Seed in the 1920s, with the goal of making it a leading international seed company by pioneering new hybrid corn seed, as well as popcorn, alfalfas and a wide range of turf and field grass seeds. At that time, the company also controlled Henry Field Nurseries.
The business was originally housed at 12th and Jones streets, in 1944 it moved to its present location at 75th and Burlington, in the heart of Ralston, where it remains today. The company currently serves a customer base of about 1,000 businesses and municipalities that rely on United Seeds for the performance of its products and the knowledge and attention of its people.
"When customers come to United Seeds, they know exactly what they're getting," said John Jones. "We are the only ones who label our bags with the blue tags that signify certified seed. Even our mixes and blends use certified seed."
This means that high standards for seed purity and germination have been met. These qualities are critical to United Seeds' customers, which include: sod growers; independent seeding contractors; nurseries; municipalities, departments of transportation and roads; golf course contractors and superintendents; cemeteries; grounds maintenance; athletic fields, parks and playgrounds; subdivision developments; home lawn professionals; and producers who grow pasture or forage grasses for livestock.
"These are professional people who can tell the difference. So, we select our seed based on research and technology. We have relationships with national field trial sites at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln's Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead, Neb. and Iowa State University," said Berry. "We use their documented trial performance to determine under what conditions the seed performs best."
Communicating the benefits to customers is also important. In fact, education is a big part of the process of developing and maintaining relationships with its customers.
"Yearly meetings with clients provides us the opportunity to bring in industry experts to talk about topics that are important to them. It may focus on new releases, genetics and breeding, maintenance, seed quality, rates and planting issues," he said. "Our people are also very knowledgeable about ongoing advancements and educating customers is a big part of what they do."
But it's not only the quality and performance of the seed that matters. Like any business, United Seeds provides a level of service that is responsive to its customers' needs.
"When a customer calls, we are ready for him or her. That can mean having a particular mix or blend on hand to fit any specific need. Or it might mean helping address weather-related problems or other support issues," said Jones.
To ensure optimal service levels, United Seeds not only maintains its headquarters and a warehouse in Omaha, it also has a warehouse and personnel in Des Moines, Iowa. Its supplier network includes several grower/suppliers, with products ranging from certified turf grass seed to native grasses, pasture grasses and wildflower seeds.
The immediacy of the Web allows United Seeds to link customers with the latest information about the latest releases, field trial performance and other issues.
"If it's high in the trials, we go to the supplier and make sure they'll make it available to us," Jones said. "There are people who follow these new releases as closely as we do. It's nice to say, 'yes, we've got it,' when they see something new and call us."
The issues of quality and availability have been a point of pride since the company's earliest days.
"Like most industries, advancements in technology and equipment have brought about a lot of changes," Berry said. "When my father owned the company, it was one of the largest harvesters and sellers of Kentucky bluegrass. Harvest began in southern Missouri and proceeded north, until the roads ended in Canada," he said.
Today, the majority of grass seed production is in the Pacific Northwest, where United Seeds purchases most of its varieties. In addition, the company's product offerings now includes a variety of turf grass, native grass, pasture grass and wildflower seeds.
"To cultivate new business, we just have to be out there all the time," said Jones. "Our customers are becoming more specialized and we have to make sure we're able to anticipate the changes they face, so we can have what they need, when they need it."
This also helps United Seed to successfully address competition from other sources as related businesses add grass seed to their product lines.
"They can't do what we do," he said. "We stay ahead of our own industry and that helps keep them ahead of their own competition."
But it's not just their own industry that interests Berry and Jones. "We make investments that help to ensure our own local economy is strong. We've been a member of the Chamber for a long time and have become part of the GO! program to support continuing efforts in attracting new business to the area," said Berry.
About the Golden Spike Award?
The Golden Spike Award is given to honor businesses that have contributed significantly to the economic vitality of the Greater Omaha community.
The Golden Spike Awards breakfast, sponsored by Northwest Bank, will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 7:30 a.m. at Holiday Inn Omaha Convention Center, 3321 S. 72nd St. The event is FREE to Chamber members.
The 2008 Golden Spike Award winners are:
Armored Knights Inc.
The Maids International
Simmonds Restaurant Management, Inc.
United Seeds Inc.
Watkins Concrete Block Company, Inc.
Attendees will also hear Chamber President and CEO David G. Brown report on the Chamber's successes so far in 2008 and the efforts underway to keep Greater Omaha's momentum moving forward. There will be time for questions and networking.