REEDLEY — The Gar Tootelian company may not be a household name, but this family-run firm is an industry leader in the farm chemical business.
Its success recently earned it the Fresno Chamber of Commerce's 2013 Agriculture Business of the Year, an annual award given by Baker, Peterson & Franklin, a certified public accounting company in Fresno.
This year, the 64-year-old company — an independent retailer of farm chemicals, fertilizers and other services — expects a 30% growth in sales, on top of an 18% boost last year.
Sales aren't the only thing growing. The company is building an additional 1 million gallons worth of storage on its east Reedley property. Two years ago, it moved into a new 7,100-square-foot office building.
Its success makes it a growing workforce, too: Gar Tootelian added 20 pest control advisers who help make chemical and fertilizer recommendations to growers. The company employs a total of 90 people.
Much of Gar Tootelian's growth is driven by its 1,400 customers stretching from Madera to Kern County. Many are longtime customers enjoying their own growth.
"Our family has been dealing with them since they opened their doors," said Kevin Clark of Reedley, who grows stone fruit and citrus. "They really know how to treat a customer."
Gar Tootelian president Greg Musson said the company has come a long way from its humble beginnings, but has remained true to the principles of its founder Garabed "Gar" Tootelian, who believed in providing quality service, a good product and expert advice.
Tootelian, a grape farmer, started the company in 1949 after seeing an opportunity to provide neighboring growers with fertilizer at a competitive price.
"It worked out for him and whatever money he made, he put back in the business and bought more fertilizer," said Karen Musson, Tootelian's daughter and Greg's wife.
But growth didn't happen right away. In the early years, the company consisted of Tootelian, his wife, Esther, and a salesman. Those were also the days when the company's accounting system consisted of growers coming to the warehouse, taking what they needed and writing it down on a piece of paper that hung on the wall of the shed.
"Esther would say she would even help load the fertilizer in customer's trucks," said Greg Musson.
He joined the company in 1986 and worked under the guidance of Tootelian, who died in 2003. Esther Tootelian passed away last year.
What Musson learned from Gar Tootelian is the value of giving customers what they need, when they need it and at a fair price. Tootelian was also a master at turning customers into friends.
Musson joked that when he went to lunch with Tootelian it took at least two hours.
"The first hour was usually spent saying hello to everybody he knew," he said. "He was that kind of guy."
Although he never saw the new office building, Tootelian would have been impressed.
Along with giving the office staff more space — the old office was 1,600 square feet — it also has a training room where the company hopes to develop the next generation of pest control advisers.
"Our industry is not creating enough new pest control advisers to take over for the guys who are going to be retiring," Musson said. "At least 75% to 80% of PCAs are 55 years and older."
Rick Wescott, a sales specialist for Bayer CropScience, has sold chemicals to Gar Tootelian for years and is not surprised that the company remains solidly in business. Other independent retailers of farm chemicals have folded or been absorbed by larger nationwide companies.
"There are not a lot of independents left and those that are still around are run by progressive people," Wescott said. "Because in this business, if you don't grow you are going to be out."
Gar Tootelian understands that and has added multiple products to its lineup of chemicals and fertilizers as well as different services. These days, the company can help farmers improve their operations by cleaning their irrigation water lines while also helping them wade through government regulations, including food safety requirements.
Ralph Rendon, Musson's son-in-law, represents the third generation of the company and is optimistic the company will continue to grow.
"We talk a lot about continuity here and having the depth to get things done," Rendon said. "We also don't have a lot of layers that some other companies have. You don't have to go through two or three people to take care of things, and our customers know that."
Industry: Agriculture chemical and fertilizer retailer
President: Greg Musson
Phone: (559) 638-6311
Ownership: Karen Musson, Christina Musson-Rendon, Linda Salwasser and Cari Salwasser
Annual revenues: $72 million
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, email@example.com or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.