Oct 24, 2011Siegers celebrates a century selling seeds
Siegers Seed Co. will turn 100 in 2012.
Rick Siegers represents the fourth generation of his family to run the company, which specializes in fresh-market vegetable varieties for commercial growers. Some of Siegers’ customers have been around just as long, being run by their fourth generation. Rick knows that kind of longevity is quite an achievement, but he also knows the company can’t survive on its past reputation alone. Siegers has to stay flexible, he said, and must continue to focus on the bottom line: Keeping customers profitable.
“The industry keeps changing,” he said. “You can’t just keep doing what you’re doing.”
Since the company built a new headquarters in Holland, Mich., in 2000, business has more than doubled. Rick credited good employees for the growth. About 30 people work for Siegers year round; up to 42 in the busy season (which runs from December to April these days), he said.
Despite the growth, Siegers Seed is still a family operation. Rick, 62, is the president. His daughter, Candace Hawkins, is vice president of finance. His son, Jeff, is in sales.
It was Rick’s great-grandfather, a Dutch immigrant named Nanne Sluis, who founded the company in Chicago in 1912, according to Siegers’ website.
The original name of the company was Sluis Seeds, which changed to N. Sluis & Son Seeds when Rick’s grandfather, Jacob Sluis, came of age. Jacob eventually took over the company, and his daughter, Charlotte (Rick’s mother), started working for him. Charlotte married Donald Siegers, Rick’s father, who started working for Sluis after serving in World War 2, Rick said.
In 1957, Jacob Sluis decided he was ready to retire. The company was split, and Rick’s uncle kept half of it in Chicago. Rick’s father took the other half of the company to Imlay City, Mich. Nearly a decade later, Donald bought the other half of the original company from his brother-in-law, closed down the Chicago facility and moved everything to Imlay City. The company’s name was Siegers Seed Co. at that point, Rick said.
In 1973, Rick’s father died of a heart attack at the age of 49. Rick, in his early 20s and fresh out of college, decided to take a shot at running the family business. He was the logical choice. He had three siblings, but one was a doctor, another still in college and the third in high school.
Rick knew almost nothing about the vegetable seed business when he took over. He had studied banking, economics and psychology in college. He was young enough to dive in and give it a try anyway – and the rest is history, he said.
When Rick started, Siegers’ customers were concentrated in the Great Lakes region. Once he got his feet wet, he decided to expand. He hired a salesman. That worked out, so he hired another one. Now, the company has a dozen salesmen who cover the eastern half of the continent, from Ontario down to Florida and west as far as Nebraska (there are satellite offices in Canada and Florida, according to the website).
“We’ve been well blessed,” Rick said.
The company moved to Zeeland, Mich., in 1989, and to the current facility in Holland about a decade later. Rick decided to move to western Michigan because of his kids. He preferred the educational system on that side of the state, he said.
Looking back over the last four decades in the vegetable seed industry, Rick said growers are more sophisticated than they used to be. New technologies developed by breeder-producers have changed practices – for seed sellers as well as farmers.
“We have to be more technologically informed,” he said. “We have to deliver that information to our customers in the form of seed.”