Fourth-generation company stays true to family foundation while changing with the times
Founded in 1928, Fisher & Son, Inc. (www.fisherandson.com) is the largest independent distributor of chemical and seed to turf and horticulture professionals based in the mid-Atlantic region. The company operates out of three warehouse/customer service centers to meet the needs of customers throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Fisher & Son offers a complete line of products, including turf seed, fertilizer, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, adjuvants, soil amendments, biological pest controls, soil testing services, ice melt and other products to green industry professionals.
Initially, the family business was purely an agricultural company that sold lumber, coal, feed and flour. Then it began specializing in feeds, particularly for the equine industry. Beginning in the 1960s, it branched out into the turf field. “There weren’t as many horses and farmland as there used to be,” explains Mike Fisher, company president. “Eight years ago, we sold off the feed business and began dedicating ourselves to the turf industry. We remain service-driven, service-oriented and customer-centric.”
Each spring, the company saw that feed distribution was increasingly getting in the way of the needs of their lawn, landscaping and golf clientele, all while the number of feed clients steadily declined. “All the big horse farms were moving to Kentucky and the Carolinas,” Fisher says. The turf business was growing in every facet: lawn care, landscaping, sports turf. While the number of golf courses in the United States has actually declined from its peak in 2004 to 2005, the industry has experienced product evolution, and Fisher & Son was figuring prominently in that evolution. “As a medium-size company we’ve always been in a good position to change with each industry,” Fisher says. “At the end of the day, though, it’s a very technical industry that takes expertise and we’re able to provide that.”
The shift in focus to the “green side” is because all signs pointed to turf management as the growth sector. “We thought should we be leading that change,” says Thom Mahute, director of sales and marketing. Because of years of positioning, Fisher & Son believes it has had the ability to swing with the economy, and maybe even stay ahead of its ups and downs, but Mahute maintains the logistics end of the business is where the entire industry will continue to experience its greatest challenges. It’s not easy running same-day or next-day service in-season, with seven or eight trucks on the road a day. They own six trucks, but lease up to four others.
Fisher says he has the strongest team he’s ever assembled. Despite the downward economic turn, the company added a couple of sales representatives and two sales managers this year. In all, there are 15 technical field and inside sales representatives with an average of 21 years’ experience. The general manager is Stephanie Palko. In all, there are 33 employees.
Clients and products
From Arlington Cemetery to the White House, full-service accounts continue to be Fisher & Son’s bread and butter. The company handles the turf needs of professional sports teams like the Phillies, Eagles, Redskins and Nationals, and many minor league baseball fields, plus the governor’s mansion in Harrisburg, Pa., colleges and universities, numerous private institutions and many of the top 100 golf courses in the country. Fisher & Son has accounts for 900 golf courses in all. There’s a total customer base of 2,400 clients, many of them in crossover industries, but 90 percent of them turf-oriented.
“What’s unique in each client is the passion those clients have,” Fisher says. “People in this business don’t just do it because it is there to be done, but because they love growing and improving and seeing satisfaction in a well-manicured landscape. That’s special, and all our people bring the same level of passion with them. It’s not just about selling fertilizer here.”
Fisher & Son does sell fertilizer and a whole lot more. There’s a rolling inventory of $3 million of turf and some 1,500 products—actually a reduced number from a few years back. Of late, the three most popular sellers are Earthworks 5-4-5, an organic fertilizer line; Petro-Canada’s Civitas, an environmentally friendly product with fungicidal and insecticidal properties; and Tournament 2 perennial rye blend grass seed.
The company is also a founding member of ProKoz, the largest chemical cooperative in the industry. With a 30 percent national market share, gives Fisher & Son the best purchasing power in the market.
Mahute says Fisher & Son actually helps a client cross into a related turf business with its broad knowledge and diverse product lines. “We’re able to help our clients grow into other industries,” he says.
The long haul
The company is also committed to ongoing green industry educational seminars for applicator recertifications, keeping clients up to date on new products or procedures, and to advances in technology and product development through active membership and participation to more than 15 industry associations and organizations.
Each year, it offers two weeks of meetings in separate rotating regional locations at the end of November and also in January. For each geographic stop, these are full-day educational seminars, which include a keynote speaker. The sessions, which have been offered for 20 years now, draw 100 professionals each, or about 1,200 a year, another number that’s been on the rise. “We are simply playing our role in the marketplace,” Fisher says. “We’re not just distributors of product, we’re disseminators of information.” Mahute likes to say, “Our educated clients are our best clients.”
When Fisher & Son moved from nearby Malvern, Pa., in 2007 to relocate its headquarters in Exton, Pa., it was an investment for the future. There’s 6,000 square feet of office space, as well as 35,000 square feet of warehouse storage in Exton. The location in Virginia has a 20,000-square-foot warehouse, and there’s 15,000 square feet of overflow storage in Delaware. All offices and warehouses are geographically positioned. “We like to be within a two-hour drive of all our customers,” Fisher says.
A steward of quality products, the company’s investment in the future is also evident in what it represents. Product lines are from manufacturers such as Bayer, BASF, Dow, DuPont, Earthworks, Mauget, Syngenta and others.
Fisher & Son directly represents two of the top three proprietary granular fertilizer producers for the industry: Lebanon Seaboard and The Andersons, as well as four of the best research and development grass seed producers: Pickseed, Jacklin, Lebanon and Tee2Green. The company also has exclusive representation in its market for Grigg Brothers Fertilizers, Earthworks, Redox Chemical, Mitchell Products, Petro-Canada and ArborSystems.
The author has been published in national and regional magazines as well as daily and weekly alternative city newspapers. A gentleman farmer in Quakertown, Pa., he writes about people, social trends, historic preservation and 18th century America, agrarian culture, land use and sports and recreation topics.