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Achieving a five percent market share in the hotly contested seed corn business is quite an achievement, as anyone who is familiar with the seed business knows. Especially for a smaller, family-owned business which is competing with multi-national companies which have seemingly unlimited research teams and financial resources.

But, that is exactly the position that Burrus Hybrids, Arenzville, IL, finds itself in as we head into the 2006 cropping season ... and they are having fun in the process.

"Our saying around here is 'if it's worth doing ... it's worth over-doing,'" says company president Tom Burrus. "Before launching into a new program, we carefully consider all options, and when we give it the go ahead ... we pull out all stops to make it a success and make it fun for our staff, our dealers and, especially our customers."

Burrus Hybrids is what has be-come rather unique in the agribusiness world - family owned and operated. Tom runs the company's marketing activities (and is hands-on by heading up one of its two sales regions). His brother, Todd Burrus, runs its research and production. Tom's son in law, Tim Greene, joined the company full time 15 years ago and runs its other sales region. Todd's son, Kevin, will be joining the company upon his graduation from the University of Illinois, Champaign this spring.

"Tom and I are third generation owners," Todd explains. "The fourth generation is now in place ... and we hope the fifth will take an interest when it is their turn."

The family ownership &$151; and the resources prior generations have provided &$151; has a direct impact on how the business operates. "It gives us the opportunity to look at our business from a longer term view, not quarter-by-quarter," Tom explains.

An example is the emphasis and investments they have made to produce the highest possible quality seed. "We are proud that over 80 percent of our production is on family-owned land with the remainder being produced under our supervision within 11 miles of our plant," Todd says. "The hybrids we select to produce and sell have been bred and chosen for our market area and for the benefit of our customers."

"Unlike other seed companies," Todd continues, "our quality control practices kick in before the seed gets in the bag. It starts with proper field isolation to prevent cross-pollination all the way through to scanning each and every seed for cracks or impurities before they get in the bag." He adds, "Any company can buy the equipment ... it is operating it properly that is the difference. We have very experienced staff who care and want Burrus to be the best."

"To be successful," Tom says, "we have to do things differently than our competitors. We believe in the fundamentals which include hiring and retaining good people, offering the best products, providing reliable information, offering a fair price, and, most importantly, being easy to do business with."

"We have decided to stay in our tight market area because, even though we have a substantial share, we still have excellent growth opportunities," Tom says. "In a mature market there is only one way to grow your business ... take it away from your competitor ... and then keep it by offering world class products and service."

Burrus Seed produces and markets seed corn only in a very tightly defined market area.

"The result," Todd says, "is you have a steadier market with more repeat customers. Plus you can sell value ... rather than just price ... giving our margins a boost that can be re-invested to continue to grow the business."

Greene says, "One of the keys to our success is our focus on the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. Trust, honesty, and integrity are the centerpiece of our offering."

That philosophy has served the company well. Proof is the many multi-generational dealers that are selling Burrus Hybrids. Several dealers have been representing the company for 50 years; the average dealer tenure with the company is nearly 20 years.

"Nearly 80 percent of our distribution is through farmer-dealers," Tom reports. "Other seed companies are concentrating more of their activities to have crop input retailers selling their products, and we have some, in areas we haven't been able to find the right farmer-dealer."

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