A Talk with September’s Profile, Rob Johnston Jr., Founder and Chairman of Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Profile of Success, Catalog Success magazine, September 2007
Interview by Joe Keenan
Catalog Success: When was the catalog established?
Rob Johnston Jr.: The catalog was started in 1973. I was the original founder at the age of 22 when I started the catalog on a farm in New Hampshire.
CS: What is your primary merchandise?
Johnston Jr.: Seeds. From vegetables, flowers, herbs and farm seeds for covering crops. Vegetable seeds make up 70 percent of our business.
CS: What was your biggest initial challenge?
Johnston Jr.: The biggest challenge was the day-to-day operations of running a business. The creativity or the energy to do the work was never an issue, just not having run a business before was the biggest factor.
CS: How did you overcome that challenge?
Johnston Jr.: I overcame the challenge by gradually growing the product which allowed me to hire people to run the business end of the company. I was able to focus on the creative and product development aspects and let the business people handle the business issues.
CS: What about the business appeals to you?
Johnston Jr.: Product development is what is most interests me. When a home gardener tells me that I have helped him grow a certain flower that he has never been able to grow before, it makes me feel good. On the commercial end, helping people make a living through our seeds is gratifying. The success of my customers fuels me.
CS: What is your current biggest challenge?
Johnston Jr.: Transitioning from private ownership to employee ownership, who hold 30.5 percent of the ownership today. I’m an amateur at selling a company. It’s going to be an adventure making that change, going from a friendly monarchy to group ownership (board of directors).
CS: How do you deal with the increased postal rates?