A business built on community and love for ag
December 12, 2019
Brett Locke and Kristie Dales came up with the idea to open a retail seed business in 2017. Within a few months the friends-turned-business-partners had a plan and a slate of potential clients lined up.
Their company, Synergy Seeds, started with a sign out front advertising their services and an upcoming meeting on the property, where 50 people came to see what they were up to.
“Literally there were guys giving us money to get seeds,” Locke said, taken aback by the strong early support.
Now in their second treating season, the duo has a base of operations built from the ground up, including test plots and a year-over-year growth in clientele, primarily servicing a 30-mile radius around Souris.
“The way we look at it is we can service a customer closer better,” Locke said, adding that while they have longer-term goals to expand their customer base and hire staff beyond the two of them, they’re comfortable with where they’re at for now.
“Our customers are our friends and we’re talking to them throughout the growing season whenever we can to make sure they’re having a good experience,” he said. “Our success is their success, or the other way around. Without them we’d be nothing.”
Locke grew up on his family’s cattle and grain farm northwest of Souris, attending Assiniboine Community College’s Agribusiness program straight out of high school.
Although one of the key reasons he chose Assiniboine was its proximity to his family farm, allowing him to help out come harvest time, the connections he made through the school have had a lasting impact on his professional life.
“Whether it be just on the ag side or in general, the amount of people you run into in day-to-day business is ridiculous,” he said.
Dales grew up in Saskatchewan, where her early introduction to agriculture was on her grandfather’s farm near Melville.
“It was just fun to be outside, and it seemed like the farm kids got to do all the fun stuff,” she said.
She started her post-secondary studies at the University of Regina before attending Medicine Hat College to narrow in on her interests in environmental science. She met Locke while working for Redfern Farm Services in 2012, where the two became fast friends.
Both of them settled with their respective spouses in Souris and kept in contact. They shared the dream of starting their own business, which they realized they could do better together than on their own by pooling their respective strengths.
“This is something we’re both passionate about,” Dales said, adding that they complement each other’s skills.
My biggest thing was working for yourself and having something of your own at the end of the day… It definitely drives you to work even harder than I already was.
While many companies in the agricultural sector are diversifying to better weather market fluctuations, Synergy Seeds is focused on their namesake product: seeds.
And the narrow scope of seeds isn’t quite so narrow in today’s marketplace, Locke said, adding that the industry is always evolving and Synergy Seeds is diversifying the products they bring in to meet these demands. For example, Locke and Dales said they believe in the safety of GMOs, but there are some clients who prefer organic seeds, so they make them available as well. The same applies to other specialty needs.
Regardless of the seed needs that arise, Locke said that they strive to stay on top of their ever-evolving field.
“We’re a retail seed business. We’re not certified to sell chemical or anything like that. We can be highly focused on what we’re doing and do a better job for our customer that way, whereas what we’ve seen with other companies is they try to broaden their scope and do everything, but they don’t have employees who are good at everything, and that’s where their customers start to fall off.”
On that front, Dales said that they’re not biased as to what chemicals they encourage farmers to use, as they’re not selling it themselves. “It’s simply a recommendation.”
“I just want what’s best for their crop,” she said. “And it’s our seed, so it’s in our best interest if they’re successful. If they’re not successful, we’re not successful.”
From their humble beginnings at a community meeting of farmers to now, it almost seems as though Synergy Seeds cropped up overnight, but both owners can’t help but laugh at the prospect of it having been easy.
“There are definitely challenges,” Dales said with a laugh, adding that her key piece of advice for those thinking of starting their own business is to not give up.
Dales said that prospective entrepreneurs typically have their pie in the sky plan, but they also need a reality check of what’s actually attainable.
Once you reach that, OK, where can you go from there?
Being in what Locke described as a “hyper-competitive” field, they’ve found what they love to do and, while they’ve already experienced some of those reality checks, they still have their pie in the sky plan they hope to achieve in the long term.
With these broader goals on the horizon, they’re already living their shared dream.
“For me, a lot of is being so close to our customers and a love for agriculture in general,” Locke said. “Nothing is better than if this fall I get a text from a farmer who says his field’s doing whatever bushels per acre and it’s really good and he’s happy with it. That’s all the satisfaction a guy needs.”