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Early’s Farm & Garden Centre: Putting Customers First for Over 100 Years
Early’s Farm & Garden Centre (Early’s) is one of the oldest businesses in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. “My grandfather started the business in 1907,” says Spencer A. Early, president of Early’s, who was named after the company’s founder. And the business has come a long way, as one of Early’s earliest facilities included two large grain elevators and a seed-and-feed shop. The company has made one location switch since 1917, and added a second store in Saskatoon. “We’ve become very diversified,” says Spencer proudly.
The company has established a business serving multiple industries, having branched out from farming to gardening, pets and livestock and even golf course maintenance products. “Our biggest markets are gardening and animal supplies,” says Spencer. Early’s continues to run as a family business, which is what Spencer says really sets the business apart. “The world is dominated by big-box stores,” he says. “But lately there’s been a bit of a swing back to independent retailers who specialize and have knowledgeable staff.” Spencer relies on his 36 longtime employees who are committed to serving customers as well as the community.
Early’s published its first seed catalog in 1942. The catalog has expanded the company’s market into all of western Canada and parts of the United States. Now, with the Internet and Early`s online store and Facebook page, customers can be reached no matter the distance. “We can ship things anywhere at very short notice,” says Spencer. “We have a very good response time for shipping. Once you open yourself up for that, though, you get requests to ship to all kinds of strange places.”
While international sales are not unheard of, he says regulations often deter shipping to the U.S. “It’s kind of funny,” says Spencer. “We buy some of our grass seed from Eugene, Ore., but to ship that seed back to the U.S. where it came from, it’s a lot of paperwork.”
The company offers a huge range of gardening supplies, including hundreds of varieties of flowers, herbs and vegetable seeds to farmers and gardeners all over the province. The company is a one-stop shop for growers, offering inventory from garden tools to soil and fertilizers to literature on plants, soils and more.
Additionally, Spencer tries to support local manufacturing whenever he can. “Horizon Pet Foods started up here about five years ago,” he explains. The pet food manufacturer has grown to serve businesses all over North America, but Spencer says, “We started selling their product right from the get-go.”
For some time, Early’s manufactured its own dog food, but Spencer says the company stopped when it changed locations in 1983. “There are always things that surface and surprise you,” he says. “We see a lot of trends, especially with pets.” While Early’s no longer makes dog food from scratch, the company offers custom blends suited to pets’ specific dietary needs.
Strength in Diversity
Early’s has survived for so long because of its independence. “Because we’re not affiliated with a chain, we’re able to adapt to change very quickly,” says Spencer. He has run through trends, economic downturns and market shifts that have shaped the way Early’s operates.
Many of the company’s products are made by brands that have been around for 40 or 50 years. Throughout the last century, Early’s has built relationships with suppliers and seen those suppliers change lines and go through mergers and buyouts. “We are especially proud of our relationship with the Rolf C. Hagen Company who did business with my grandfather in 1955,” says Spencer. “Business was based on a handshake deal, and it is now a billion-dollar company.”
Custom products are a big seller for Early’s, as the company offers custom blends of turf, hay and pasture grass mixes. “We can do a custom mix for a city, golf course, contractor or farmer in a few hours,” says Spencer. “We supply a lot of farms and greenhouses.”
The rural province has a low population, and farming is big business. Early’s is one of the few locally owned and operated businesses with the capacity to serve a variety of needs. “A big customer base for us is the Hutterites,” explains Spencer. The Hutterites are a communal branch of Anabaptists with practices similar to those of Amish and Mennonite communities. “They’re big farmers and gardeners,” Spencer adds.
Spencer says the global economic crisis has largely spared his area. “There’s no economic downturn,” he explains. “We’ve been in a boom for the last 10 years.” Early’s is thriving, and while Spencer says he has no major plans for growth, the team continues to serve changing needs in the assorted markets it serves. One of Early’s fastest growing markets is the golf course business. “We’re supplying a lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for golf courses,” Spencer elaborates. “There’s a big shift toward organic products in many aspects of our business.”
The company has been awarded several honors for its quality and diversity in service. Early’s has been recognized by the city of Saskatoon (SABEX) and the province of Saskatchewan (Abex) in the Exceptional Customer Service and Business Hall of Fame Categories.
“This company is almost as old as Saskatchewan,” Spencer says. “We still use the mission statement created by my grandfather in 1948 with the main goal being customer satisfaction.” After a hundred years in business, Early’s Farm & Garden Centre is perfectly positioned for another century’s worth of good business.