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Vesey’s Seeds wins award

Vesey’s Seeds a 69-year-old seed business based in P.E.I

February 28, 2008  By Kathy Birt

A room that was once used for storing onion sets is now the boardroom for Vesey’s Seeds, a 69-year-old seed business based in York, P.E.I.

B.E. (Bev) Simpson, president of Vesey’s Seeds, holds the Excellence in Business Award the company recently received from the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce. Vesey’s boardroom walls are covered in photos and awards from the company’s 50-plus years in business. Photo by Kathy Birt 

A room that was once used for storing onion sets is now the boardroom for Vesey’s Seeds, a 69-year-old seed business based in York, P.E.I.

It’s here where numerous trophies and plaques are displayed, including the business’ most recent honour, an Excellence in Business Award presented by the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce during November 2007. An independent panel of five judges chose the winners from among 50 nominees selected from within the chamber’s membership.

And it’s also in this former storage room that company president B.E. (Bev) Simpson sits to discuss Vesey’s award win and reflect on the history of one of Atlantic Canada’s largest seed businesses.

“I feel honoured when it’s your peers that nominate you,” says Simpson. “And it’s not me but the whole company – a combination of everybody – a team effort.”

He has a long history with the company. In 1956, just out of school with a Grade 11 education, 18-year-old Simpson took a job at Vesey’s Seeds. Even though he had an interest in the business, he planned to work for just one year and then go back home to his parents’ farm, he recalls.

“I did a little bit of everything back then,” he says. “Packaging seeds, shipping and receiving, serving customers, and we had a commercial vegetable operation in the summer so I was a jack-of-all-trades.”

The company was originally started in 1939 by Arthur Vesey and Simpson recalls the business was attached to the owner’s home back in the 1950s.

“There was a tiny office just off Mr. Vesey’s living quarters,” he says. “It was the total office space for the whole company. And back then it was just seeds.”

One of Simpson’s many jobs was as an office assistant and he went back to college part time to learn typing and accounting. He recalls with amusement some of Vesey’s very wordy, handwritten letters. “I had to type them all and there was no white out back then,” Simpson says with a chuckle. “If you made a mistake, you had to start over.”

Less than 10 years after starting at Vesey’s, Simpson became a partner in the company. He has been part of the business since its first expansion in 1965 and it has continued to grow and change with the passage of time.

Simpson’s wife, Shirley had also been involved with the business over the years and is now semi-retired. “She keeps in touch with what we are doing, but is not here on a daily basis,” says Simpson. He adds that his children – Gerry and Laurie – are both with the company – son Gerry serving as vice-president and daughter Laurie in human resources.

Simpson bought Vesey’s Seeds in 1979 and sold the vegetable production side of the business not long after taking over the company. “We sold it to the Dykerman’s who have Brookfield Gardens,” he says, adding that at the time, the senior Mr. Dykerman was working with Vesey’s Seeds and the two boys – Gerald and Eddy – were ready to take on some kind of family business.

Vesey’s Seeds company president B.E. (Bev) Simpson has a long history with the company. He joined the company in 1956 at the age of 18. Photo by Kathy Birt

For Simpson, buying Vesey’s Seeds was “the natural thing to do to carry on the seed business.” There was never any doubt the company would keep expanding into other areas of the seed business.

He and his family lived on the company site but ongoing expansions eventually pushed them off the property. “We used to live where the parking lot is now,” Simpson recalls.

“It’s always been a family type business and even though we’ve grown, we like to keep that same spirit of family within the company,” he says.

Seed was always the mainstay, with a catalogue from the very beginning.  Starting out with about 1,000 copies, there are now more than one million copies of the award-winning catalogue printed today. “It was the catalogue that started the business,” says Simpson, adding that despite expanding the company into other areas, the mail order business is still Vesey’s backbone.

Additions to the staff, such as a marketing executive and a graphic designer for the catalogue, opening a 1-800 call centre for faster response to mail orders, as well as the hiring of a computer technology expert have brought Vesey’s Seeds into the 21st century and a long way from the time when everything was typeset.

“The proofs had to be sent back and forth through the mail,” recalls Simpson. “And sometimes when we got down to the final draft, we would meet the owner of the printing company, Tribune Press, from Sackville, New Brunswick, on the Borden ferry to go over the proofs. We’d just go back and forth on the ferry until we agreed. Now, a little disk goes to the printer all camera ready.”

The company has always been run with an independent spirit, relying on its staff and management to get the job done. “We’ve never believed in looking to government for funding,” explains Simpson. “We always keep in touch with what is going on in the various areas of business and keep improving (what we do). There have been lots of changes in business over the years, but we’ve always offered the same qualities and services. And a quality product never goes out of style.” ❦

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