Ground Floor: Father and son aiming to grow Vinton seed business expands with 9 varieties

George Ford
Published: April 1 2014 | 6:00 am - Updated: 7 April 2014 | 3:01 pm in

Brad and Tyler Johnson would like to see their young business grow into something big.

“We hope to someday be the largest purveyors of sunflower seeds in the world,” Brad Johnson said.

They have a long way to go. The father and son duo admit that two-month-old is probably the smallest seed business around, but they already have expanded the business once and are gearing up for even more growth.

Each year, Brad and Tyler plant 30 to 40 sunflowers in the garden of their Vinton home and collect the seeds to grow the following year. Over the winter, when brainstorming ideas for a joint business venture, Brad drew inspiration from a pot full of thousands of sunflower seeds they had saved.

“My dad and I have wanted to run our own business together, so we talk business ideas a lot,” explained 18-year-old Tyler. “Dad shot the idea out and I said, 'Let’s go.’”

“Tyler is a business-minded individual,” Brad said of the first-year Kirkwood student. “What a great way for him to learn how to run a business.”

The Johnsons set up an online store to sell their Heartland Sunflower Mix, which Brad calls their “estate grown reserve line.”

“Can you tell I come from the wine industry?” he said, referring to his former employment at Fireside Winery and current work as a public relations consultant for wine industry clients.

Brad and Tyler set a modest goal to sell 10 packets of seeds and decided if they were successful, they would add to their product line.

They achieved their goal in just a couple of days and expanded their inventory to include nine additional varieties of sunflower seeds that they purchase from a wholesaler.

“We choose the ones that catch our eye and produce the most beautiful flowers,” Tyler said, noting his personal favorite is the Red Sun variety due to its unique, vibrant red blooms.

The Johnsons package the seeds themselves in packets of 25-30 seeds, which they count by hand.

“It’s a slow process,” Brad acknowledged. “If we expand more, we’ll need some sort of seed counting mechanism.”

Each packet comes with instructions for planting sunflowers and collecting the seeds from the blooms.

The Johnsons have adopted the motto “plant’m – eat’m – feed’m” for their new business and plan to launch lines of edible sunflower seeds and premium bird food. For now, their focus is on the plant-able kind of sunflower seeds.

“Sunflowers add beauty to the garden space and call in birds, bees and butterflies,” Brad said. “Our goal is to make the world just a little more beautiful by sharing our love of sunflowers.”

At a glance

  • Owners: Brad and Tyler Johnson
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