GCI EXCLUSIVE: A Rose by another name

GCI EXCLUSIVE: A Rose by another name

The legendary Bill Rose and daughter Crystal Rose Fricker are leading their family back into the seed distribution business after a five-year break. GCI's Pat Jones sits down with the Roses to find out why and what it means for superintendents.

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December 19, 2011

EDITOR'S NOTE: Be sure to check out the January issue of GCI for Pat Jones' complete Q&A with  Pure Seed's Bil Rose and Crystal Rose Fricker.

The turfgrass seed business is a strange and mysterious thing to outsiders. It would seem to be simple: you grow it, you price it based on supply and demand and you sell it. Instead, it’s a complex chain involving corn and wheat prices, market trends in overseeding and renovation, genetic engineering, plant patents and, of course, weather.
That’s why after 25 years of observing the endlessly volatile seed business, I have concluded that the only predictable thing about it is that Bill Rose will always be right at the heart of it.

Rose, now 81, started from humble beginnings as a farmer when he founded Roselawn Seed 53 years ago. (His previous career had been interesting: he was an officer and pilot for the Air Force Strategic Air Command in the 1950s. You know, back when we seriously thought the Russians might nuke us and we might have to nuke them back, Bill was sitting in the cockpit of a big plane carrying those bombs. I kid you not.)

In 1970, Rose started Turf-Seed, Inc., and later its sister company Pure-Seed Testing, to provide reliable, high-quality seed to golf courses and other professional customers. He drove the formation of the Penncross Bentgrass Association with other growers to bring the Penn State varieties developed by Dr. Joe Duich and other researchers to the market under the now famous Tee-2-Green brand name.

Golf boomed…and so did Rose’s companies and the use of their bentgrasses and other varieties around the world. For several decades, Penncross was synonymous with cool-season putting greens and was often the wall-to-wall turf choice as courses sprung up everywhere.

The bentgrass market matured, more varieties from more companies emerged and the golf boom slowed to a crawl. Yet, the Turf-Seed name and products still commanded enough of the market to attract the attention of the ginormous Scotts Company. In 2005, Rose and his family sold Turf-Seed, Inc., and its varieties to Scotts. Rose focused his energies on Tee-2-Green and the forage business of Rose Agri-Seed, but it looked like the sunset of his long and illustrious career was nearing.

But, as ESPN’s Lee Corso is fond of saying: Not so fast, my friend.

Rumors began swirling in mid-2011 that Scotts was ready to get out of the professional seed business and that Rose and his family were interested in reacquiring many of the Turf Seed varieties.

GCI recently learned that those rumors were true. The family has now launched a new company, simply called Pure Seed, to re-enter the seed sales market. In mid-December, I lined up an exclusive with my old friend Bill – the Lion in Winter of the seed business – and his very savvy daughter Crystal Rose Fricker, an accomplished breeder in her own right who will actually lead the new company as president.

What made you decide to re-acquire these varieties?
Bill: That’s a pretty easy question…because the market needs it. They need us. Lots of our (former) distributors have wondered where they’d get the seed in the future given the changes in the market so we felt a responsibility to get back into the business of supplying them and their customers.

Crystal: It’s also a matter of wanting to take care of our original varieties in the professional turf market and continue to supply them. We wanted to reconnect to our old friends in the industry and take care of these varieties. It’s hard to develop them and nurture them and not be able to sell and steward them in the market.

Explain how you’ll operate differently with the formation of the new company, Pure Seed.
Crystal: We’re a really integrated company now. We have the research company, Pure-Seed Testing to develop new varieties, the marketing, seed coating and packaging business, Pure Seed and Roselawn Seed to grow production. The new company gives us an avenue to get into the marketplace. This makes us a unique company because we can develop varieties, produce good quality seed, handle seed coating, blending and packaging – all aspects of the turfgrass industry – to bring our products to market the way it should be done.

We’re now able to be a fully integrated, one-stop shop for the professional business.  It’s through a lot of dad’s vision that we’re here today.

Bill, what did you miss most about selling into the golf/turf market the past six or seven years?
Bill: What I really missed were the field days we always held in North Carolina and Oregon. We got to see and visit with customers from around the U.S. and overseas and I always loved that. Everyone had a chance to see the seed, the varieties… the total picture.

How will Pure Seed be structured and explain to me for the umpteenth time how Tee-2-Green fits into the equation
Crystal: The Pure Seed board includes me as president, Bill as vice president and then Ed Rose (Bill’s son who runs Roselawn) and Cara Rose Tuggle (Bill’s other daughter). Obviously, we’ll work closely with Pure-Seed Testing, Roselawn and Tee-2-Green to take advantage of being as integrated as we can be.

Bill: The distinction is that Tee-2-Green markets the bentgrass varieties. Pure Seed is a distributor for Tee-2-Green and production done by the Penncross Bentgrass Association.

Has it been hard to re-establish local distribution and your supply chain after a six-year absence from the market?
Crystal: We’ve been lucky on that. We got a really nice welcome back from a lot of our old friends! Russ Hayworth is our sales manager and he had continued selling forage grasses (during our absence from the professional market) and worked for Turf-Seed before, so he has the contacts. Lew Sharp, who also works for Tee-2-Green, is also in the field talking to distributors and customers. Plus, I’ve been on the phone and dad’s been on the phone. I also went to China recently to figure out their needs over there.

Bill: I’m really looking forward to the golf course show (GIS) this year. That’ll be our chance to get face to face again. That’s what I love most.

What’s the best way for customers to get in touch until all of those deals are finalized?
Bill: Our new website will be up soon. In the meantime call us (503-651-2130) and ask for Russ Hayworth or Lucas Solis, our strategy manager.