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Seeds of Change – W. Atlee Burpee

By February 4, 1996July 12th, 2023Management and Leadership2 min read

From the time he was 14 years old W. Atlee Burpee knew what he wanted to do. And what he wanted to do was raise, breed, and sell poultry. At age 17, he had launched a home-based mail order business selling purebred fowl. These he sold, together with two instructional manuals he had written, to fanciers throughout the Northeast. By the time he was 20, he had formed the W. Atlee Burpee & Co., a catalog mail order house selling purebred fowl and livestock.

To provide his customers with the proper feed for their pedigreed animals, Burpee also included several varieties of farm seeds in his catalog. To his great surprise, his customers were more interested in buying seeds than livestock. It was then that Burpee made a critical business decision – one which changed the nature and the future of W. Atlee Burpee & Co. He decided to pursue the seed business aggressively.

Burpee searched both in the United States and in Europe for better specialized varieties of seed, which he introduced in his catalog with great fanfare. Written by Burpee, himself, in a highly entertaining style, the catalog was a source of entertainment (along with the Sears Catalog) among farming families. Not only were the unusual seeds farm tested and described in detail, the catalogue also contained anecdotes about the author’s adventures in his search for new plant varieties. Subscribers were invited to enter their produce in company sponsored contests. In every way he could think of, Burpee encouraged his subscribers to participate in the process, and they responded enthusiastically.

One of the critical ingredients of success is the ability to constantly gauge the marketplace and to react accordingly. That means being flexible enough to switch gears – to change the way you do business. The truth to this maxim is illustrated today by the phenomenal success of the W. Atlee Burpee Seed Company.