At Schlessman Seed, you walk into a modest building and into a modest office to meet a modest man in a corn colored sweater with candy corn on his desk. And you may never know that you’re in a business with over a century of growth under its belt – employing 35 people year round and 110 seasonally, using the most advanced technology and certified agronomists to produce products that are exported worldwide.
The modest man behind the desk is Daryl Deering, President of Schlessman Seed for almost 40 years. Daryl’s pride for this company and the work they do is evident. Schlessman produces proprietary popcorn hybrids for commercial processors. These proprietary products are exported to places such as Brazil, Italy, Hungary, France, and more. In fact, when the company first ventured into the popcorn business, even Daryl was surprised by its reach when he stumbled across their own proprietary strands being served at a restaurant in Chicago – foie gras with caramelized popcorn! Daryl describes the popcorn business as the smallest, but most fun part of the Schlessman business. It is a niche industry with only four breeders in the world. Of those four, Schlessman Seed, right here in Erie County, has the most breeders on staff. They are a big player in a tight industry.
Outside of popcorn, Schlessman produces hybrid seed corn and other field seeds such as soybean and wheat. Not only is their corn seed sold in stores across the nation like Lowes, Home Depot, even Corso’s, if you take a drive around the state, most fields you see are growing from Schlessman seeds. Daryl describes their business as a regional family seed company.
It’s Great to be on the Great Lakes
So how did this “regional family seed company” grow to such success? Schlessman is 103 years old this year. It was founded by John Schlessman, and run for many years by his fours sons, before being passed on to Daryl to operate. Daryl grew up on a farm just five miles down the road from Schlessman’s current location and when starting his young family, Daryl wanted to move home. Daryl says, “there’s a lot of opportunity in the area. You don’t have to own farms to come here and have a good job. There are professional jobs available in accounting, law, manufacturing, and retail.”
According to Daryl, not only is Erie County a great place to raise a family, it’s the ideal place for his business, with the rains off of Lake Erie, the cool breeze in the summer and the soil conditions. He feels extremely fortunate to be located where he is. The climate in combination with their location near I-80/I-90 allows this locally owned small business to compete with the major players in the competitive seed market.
Daryl shared some of the memorable moments in his years at Schlessman Seed – like the day the company hired their first popcorn breeder and the pivotal investment he and the Schlessman brothers made in buying their Mason Road property, a decision from 1980 that still allows them to expand capacity and grow today. Other moments come to mind too that aren’t necessarily celebrated milestones but are still a testament to the company’s success. Daryl has built close relationships with other seed companies, driving their success over 10-15 years, only to have them sell out to one of the six “majors” in the industry. But not Schlessman, Daryl describes his business as, “local and close to our roots. When we stay this way, things seem to work out.” Daryl also proudly reflects on successful staff hired, like youth who start as detasslers in the summer and go onto Ohio State and eventually return as college interns.
The fact that Daryl describes hiring interns as a memorable moment on the same scale as a major investment shows the joy he takes in working with people. In fact, he also boasted about some of their recent retirees, reaching the 50 year, 65 year, and even 70 year marks with the company! If he could give one piece of advice about managing a small business, it would be, “Be open and knowledgeable about the folks that work for you. The success of the entire company depends on them.”