Within the seed industry, the Pennington name is synonymous with the finest quality grass seed available. That reputation stands on a foundation extending back to 1945. When Brooks Pennington Sr. established a small retail feed and seed store on Main Street in Madison, Georgia, few could imagine the company his son Brooks Pennington Jr. would grow from those roots. That simple beginning and a commitment to integrity led to the Pennington Seed of today.
While working in his father's retail business, Brooks Pennington, Jr. — known simply as Brooks Pennington — saw potential that others had yet to see. He soon left retail behind and moved into the wholesale seed business, focusing on cotton, soybeans and agricultural grasses. Pennington Grain & Seed was born. Through a life that included college, military service and public office, Brooks Pennington was known for his entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to see what others missed. That eye for opportunity and innovation set the company's course.
Industry-Defining Innovation and Direction
As his business grew, Brooks Pennington began to look beyond agricultural seeds and pasture products toward grass seed for lawns and turf. In the late 1960s, Pennington introduced a proprietary seed treatment known as Penkote Seed Technology, which helps seed establish faster and stay healthier. When Ronnie Stapp began his Pennington career in 1972, in a position others describe as Mr. Pennington's right-hand man, the impact of that achievement was clear. Now phasing into retirement from his role as Executive Vice President of Seed Operations, Stapp relates that Penkote seed and its distinctive green bag represented the company's first foray into lawn and garden, before the lawn and garden industry existed. It set Pennington grasses apart.
Kevin Smith, Senior Director of Marketing Operations and a Pennington employee since 1984, views the Penkote process as a milestone for the company and the industry. The Penkote process enabled Pennington to take a grass that was traditionally used as a pasture grass, Kentucky 31 tall fescue, and successfully market it as a viable lawn grass. This was prior to the introduction of improved turf-type tall fescues. "Tall fescue was not thought of as a lawn grass before that time," Smith explains. "This fueled the lawn and garden industry, and it started the company down the path of really big growth. It resonated with homeowners that beautiful lawns could be easy, and it made it possible for them."
As Brooks Pennington saw the first sparks of the lawn and garden industry, he decided to move away from agricultural seeds and focus on grass and turf. Stapp recalls that not everyone shared Pennington's vision. “Lots of people second-guessed that decision," he shares. “The growth of the lawn and garden consumer was just beginning. That decision positioned us at the front end of that growth."
Focus on Farming, Family and Fairness
Initially, the Pennington company bought loads of seed on the open market, as other grass seed companies still do today, but it soon began buying directly from seed farmers. As those relationships developed, farmers went from suppliers to Pennington growers, and helped ensure the quality of seed that carries the Pennington name. By the early 1990s, Pennington was established with bases in all major U.S. grass growing regions and all major grasses, from Missouri-grown tall fescue to fine, cool-season grasses grown in Oregon and warm-season grasses grown in Arizona.
Pennington's connection to farmers has been integral to the company's success. As relationships developed, Pennington's reputation for honesty, integrity and fairness grew. “A deal's a deal with Pennington, and it's always been that way," Stapp explains. “Fairness was instilled in people from Mr. Pennington, and that honesty and integrity was displayed to growers. We did business with the attitude that we wanted to continue to do business with them year after year."
From the beginning, Brooks Pennington ran his company as a family business —one where family extended to his employees. “From the early years, Mr. Pennington very much instilled a feeling of family among his employees. It created tremendous loyalty," Stapp explains.
Smith attests to the strength of the family culture that remains an integral part of the company today. “Lots of companies say their employees are like family, but talk is cheap. The Penningtons lived it, and still do," Smith says. Employee careers spanning multiple decades and multi-generational relationships with farmers are common in the company.
Early alliances with what were to become leading national retailers were formed in the same way, as Pennington's business expanded beyond grass seed to related lawn and garden products over the years. “Retailers learned they could depend on Pennington's integrity and can-do, customer-first attitude. We let them know that we're in it to grow their businesses," Stapp says.
Industry-Leading Research and Technology
Partnerships with leading university research programs have helped establish Pennington Seed as a company that values research, technology and new varieties. The acquisition of an established research facility in the early 2000s strengthened that position. “Both the professional and the retail customer saw us as a company on the cutting edge of technology," Stapp explains. Now known as NexGen Turf Research, it remains the largest private grass seed research facility in the United States.
The development and introduction of products such as Pennington Smart Seed, which requires significantly less water than other grasses, reflects years of selective breeding, technological advances and innovative testing techniques. “Smart Seed completed the turn of Pennington from a commodity-driven business to a company breeding our own improved, high-quality, proprietary product," Stapp notes. It helped set new standards for environmentally sound, water-conserving lawn and turf grasses, enabled homeowners to conserve and enjoy the beauty and environmental benefits of natural lawns, and strengthened a product portfolio based on research and science.
Culture and Commitment to Success
Both Smith and Stapp acknowledge Brooks Pennington and the company culture he created as being integral to the company's success and their long Pennington careers. “I've never seen any reason to go anywhere else," Smith says, pointing to the honesty, integrity and strong work ethic that drew him to the company more than 30 years ago. “If you have those and a group of people who share them, you can do just about anything," Smith says. Stapp agrees, and notes that Central Garden & Pet, Pennington's parent company since 1998, shares that appreciation. “Central Garden & Pet values that culture, preserves it, and tries to grow it within the larger company," he adds.
As Stapp looks back on a Pennington career that has spanned more than 44 years, he is proud of the company and its accomplishments. “When I first started, as a kid out of college, a lot had already been accomplished, but I still asked, "What else can we do?To everyone working with me, I want to say: There is so much more ahead for Pennington. There is so much more that we can do."
From its humble beginnings, Pennington Seed has risen to become one of the largest manufacturers, producers and distributors of lawn, garden and turf care products in the world. The company's commitment to excellence and innovation lives on in every Pennington product and the many resources available to help you learn. Pennington Seed remains dedicated to helping you grow the finest lawn possible and enjoy the benefits of generations of integrity.
Pennington, Penkote and Smart Seed are trademarks of Pennington Seed, Inc.