For a century, the Ross family has operated businesses, first in Chickasha and later expanding to El Reno. Now with third generation family members involved, it appears the family will celebrate being in business into the next century.
Ross Seed and Feed opened in Chickasha in 1918. El Reno Seed and Feed was purchased later and in the 1940s, after returning from service in World War II, Walter Ross moved north on U.S. 81 to lead the store here.
Walter, who just celebrated his 95th birthday, managed the El Reno location for the better part of the 20th century. He fondly remembers the history behind his family-based business.
“Marion Watson owned the El Reno location,” said Walter.
“She called my father, Henry, and asked if he wanted to buy it. A week later we owned it, and the whole family got involved.”
Walter’s brother, Joe, managed the Chickasha location after their father died and Walter was responsible for Ross El Reno. His children, Tom Ross and Julie Ross-Martin, have been involved since their childhood.
Today, Walter has grandchildren taking a role in the business.
“We’ve been working here since we were pre-teens,” said Julie. “We didn’t use forklifts back then — we loaded the seed by hand.”
“When we were kids, we had chickens on brooder houses,” said Tom. “We had three henhouses going, with as many as 10,000 chickens at one time. When I was a youngster, I delivered eggs and chicken to most of the restaurants in town.”
For decades, children flocked to Ross Seed during the Easter season as the business offered chicks and ducklings. The business continues to this day to offer free popcorn. Wednesday is especially popular because it’s caramel popcorn day. And Ross is about the only place around where a real Christmas tree is still available for purchase.
Both Ross stores have sold seed, paint, gardening products and other items for decades. In the 1970s, hardware was added and the move has paid off. Most likely because Ross also offers customers advice gained through experience.
“We basically have an expert in every department, and that sets us apart,” said Julie. “You can come in for just about any project and have someone there to help you.”
Their team of employees makes the difference.
“We’ve got a great bunch of employees, and great service,” said Tom. “Sometimes you can’t get that at the big box stores. People all over the state buy from us, and they ask us, ‘When are you going to build a store like this in our town?’ We get asked that all the time.”
The success of the brand is partly due to the name that stands behind the business.
“In addition to having quality seed, my dad and my grandfather had good reputations as people,” said Julie. “They were known for being honest and for taking care of customers.”
Though the number of farmers doing business in the store has declined in recent years, Ross Seed isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
“It’s all about taking pride in the work and putting out a good product,” said Tom. “We’ve altered and diversified our business to take care of homeowners, whether it’s their houses, their lawns or their gardens. We’ve survived the big box stores by having great service and quality products at competitive prices.”
Ross prides itself on its employees, including a few of them who have worked at the locations for more than 40 years.
“It’s definitely a family business,” said Julie. “And all employees are part of our extended family.”
“It’s been going for generations,” said Tom. “We’ve added new family members, including my son, Mason, and Julie’s son, Matt.
“The new blood injected into the store is creating a new energy.”
Members of the Ross family said they are thankful for the community of El Reno. The town has supported the family business and in turn, the business has always supported the community.