Henrico County has long been a hub for corporate giants, both new and old. Some, like Allianz Global Assistance, are relative newcomers to the county. Others, like Southern States, a 100-year-old cooperative, have been around forever and could be considered historical landmarks. What’s the secret to their longevity? President and CEO Thomas R. Scribner says it’s all about the basics. “Our agricultural heritage and quest for quality products and service to deliver value to our members is a priority, and our board of directors does a great job of keeping us focused on the main things we need to deliver as a cooperative,” he says.
Building a Better World
Southern States Cooperative began in 1923 under the name Virginia Seed Service. The co-op was started in Richmond by two employees with $11,000 in capital, 150 original farmer-members and a secondhand typewriter. The original mission: Secure a reliable supply of clover and grain seeds better suited to the soils of Virginia than what was commercially available. As the mission expanded, so did the membership base, prompting a name change in the early 1930s. Later, in 1978, the company set up headquarters in the Genworth office complex in Henrico County. (Learn more.)
Today, Southern States has more than 400 employees and 200,000 farmer-members. As one of the nation’s largest agricultural cooperatives, it provides a wide range of farming supplies, including fertilizer, seed, livestock feed, pet food, animal health supplies and petroleum products. The cooperative serves its members and non-member customers through 1,200 retail outlets in 23 states.
Scribner was recently quoted as saying, “Every day, Southern States works to demonstrate that cooperative enterprises build a better world. We not only deliver the highest quality agricultural products and services, but we work to improve the quality of life in the communities we serve.“
Recently, the co-op’s commitment was put to the test. “This past winter was one of the coldest on record for our operating territory,” says Scribner. “Our members and other customers were very concerned about staying warm, and our petroleum division stepped up and kept product flowing, while our retail and delivery employees did an absolutely outstanding job getting product to the end customer, whether a farm operation or a homeowner. This story exemplifies the type of employees Southern States Cooperative has, and is one of the main reasons we are still in existence after 90 years. It’s all about the employees and the customers.”
When asked about the future of Southern States, Scribner is optimistic. “These are very exciting times for our cooperative. Our board of directors and management team has worked very hard on our strategic plan, which includes a renewed focus on our customers, and aligning resources to effectively focus and serve our various customer types. This includes creating a new Agronomy Division, building three to five new stores per year, and expanding our dealer network. Additionally, we are installing a new point-of-sales system, which will deliver a richer customer experience, as well as new software to better manage inventory and stay in stock for our customers. These are truly exciting times for Southern States Cooperative.”
Southern States Cooperative at a Glance
|Rank (of top 50 employers in Richmond)||45|
|Major Business||Agribusiness supply and service cooperative for farmers, gardeners and homeowners|
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch, Top 50 Employers in Richmond, 04/16/2014