Sandy Slager, Walters Seed Company
Walters Seed Company defies easy categorization. Its mission covers diverse causes, including hunger relief, environmental awareness, and children’s education, and its product line ranges from cat grass kits, to custom imprinted seed packets, to a wide assortment of 6-sided SeedGems.
When Henry and Connie Walters started the company in 1958, it was a perennial plant farm by the name of Walters Seed and Nursery. As a marketing initiative, they began the practice of including a free packet of seeds with every mail order. Fast forward 60 years, and seeds have taken center stage. Daughter Sandy Slager took over the reins from her parents in 1996 with a partner. She bought the partner out in 2011, and put her considerable creative powers to work in rethinking everything about the compay: the product line, the packaging, and the mission.
“I’ve designed our seed-starting products, and have had the joy of seeing them on retail shelves on a national level,” explains Sandy. Two popular products in Walters lineup are SeedGems, which consist of seeds, grow pellets, and colorful biodegradable paper box planters, and Mini Grow Kits, beautifully designed collections containing pots made using post-industrial ingredients and assortments of herb, flower, and cat grass seeds. Walters also has a line of certified organic seed for urban gardening.
Retail products make up the front line of Walters’ output. Behind the scenes, however, the company has two other major areas of production. One is certified organic packaging and private label packaging for other brands. Sandy is proud of her company’s association with Seed Programs International, which involves storing donated seed and then packaging it to fulfill orders that are shipped around the world to alleviate hunger and poverty. The other niche enterprise involves creating custom orders of promotional seed packets and seed-starting kits. Walters Seed partners with corporations and non-profit organizations to develop promotions that focus on nutrition, sustainability, and ecological stewardship.
Sandy Slager was named one of West Michigan’s top women entrepreneurs by the Grand Rapids Business Journal in 2015 and again in 2017 in recognition of her successful initiatives. “I design products that I, as an educated consumer, would want to buy,” she explains. “I want people to be successful in their attempts to grow seeds.” She describes the Walters’ office environment as happy and congenial, with six employees that have been with her for many years, flexing up to 15 during busy periods of packing and assembly. Her dog Ruby is a regular at the office as well, though, she admits, “I had to cut her hours to part time because she barked too much.”
At home, you might find Sandy playing on the floor with Sam and Julia, her 1- and 3-year old grandchildren, or in one of the cars or Cushman motor scooters she and her husband, Ken, restore. “I even got my motorcycle license,” she says proudly. She and her family also enjoy road trips with their clamshell camper, and particularly enjoy the sandy beaches and dunes of Ludington State Park.
You can expect to see more creative ideas from Walters Seed. “I enjoy designing new products, as I see a need and an opportunity to promote gardening,” Sandy reflects. “My work feels fluid, and new everyday. While it’s true that things do not always go as expected, the process is always interesting. You learn to roll with it!”