Meet Mr. Oat

Mike Gartner is “Mr. Oat,” and you should meet him, even if you have never grown oats and don’t ever intend to grow oats.

Gartner and his wife, Suzette, of Mandan, N.D., have built a successful seed company, Gartner Seed Farm, on four key principles that could improve any business.

Key Points

Mike Gartner has built a successful seed business on four key ideas.

The Gartners run a small company with a big emphasis on marketing.

His focus is on providing service now and positioning the farm for the future.

No. 1: Service first

“‘Can’t’ and ‘no’ are not in our vocabulary,” says Mike.

When it comes to providing seed, there isn’t a request that they refuse — whether it is loading trucks on Mother’s Day, which Suzette has done, or loading trucks late at night.

“We work around the customer’s schedule, not ours. We really emphasize service,” says Mike, whose idea of service was formed when he worked as an implement dealer mechanic before starting the farm 16 years ago.

They also provide customers with exactly what they order. If someone buys 100 bushels of seed, they get 100 bushels of seed, not a little more because the Gartners have a little extra on hand, and not a little less because that was all that was available.

No. 2: Niche markets

The Gartners focus on niche markets. Their main product is oat seed. They sell oat seed to cattle producers in the Dakotas, Montana and other states for forage production or to help establish a new alfalfa stand.

They also sell oat seed to Canadian seed companies licensed to sell North Dakota varieties to producers.Oats may be a niche nationally, but they are as important to the Western prairie as sugarbeets are to the Red River Valley, Mike says.

They also sell several varieties of AgriPro wheat; North Dakota State University’s Howard, Barlow and Mott spring wheats; NDSU’s Rockford, Souris, HiFi and Morton oats; 4010, Tucker and Summit forage peas; NDSU’s Rawson, Stellar and Pinnacle feed barleys; Montana State University’s Haybet feed barley; Canada’s Bobcat winter triticale and AC Ultima spring triticale; and several cover crop mixtures.

No. 3: Face-to-face marketing

The Gartners have a small company, but they put a big emphasis on marketing. That doesn’t mean they spend a lot more money than other seed companies on advertising. Rather, they devote extra time to farm visits, trade shows, and plot and farm tours. “Our goal is to contact our customers four times each year,” Mike explains.

No. 4: Positioning for the future

Though he’s 63 years old, Mike isn’t thinking about how he can sell the business and retire in a few years. He’s thinking about how he can position Gartner Seed Farm to grow and sell hybrid wheat, genetically modified wheat and other new seed technologies coming on the market.

“We want to stay on the cutting edge,” he says.

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NICE NICHE: Mike Gartner inspects oats growing on his seed farm near Mandan, N.D. He’s built a successful business supplying niche markets with high-quality seed.

This article published in the November, 2011 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.