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Business Spotlight: Seeds of Change

Nixa Hardware has grown along with its city over 125 years

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Nixa Hardware & Seed Co. is celebrating its quasquicentennial in 2024.

It’s a big word, but these days it’s also a big store, especially compared to its origins in a 1,200-square-foot wooden building off Main Street in Nixa’s downtown.

Founded by F.M. Wasson in 1899, the business that is marking its 125th year is owned and operated by the fifth generation of Wasson’s family, and it has grown hundredfold, with 120,000 square feet under roof, according to the company’s anniversary announcement.

Shortly after its opening, the store relocated to a slightly larger building on Main Street, where it carried an array of tools, but also windmills, horse-drawn wagons, ice boxes, firearms, dynamite and Ford Model T vehicles, hoisted to the display floor by a hand-pulled rope elevator, according to Springfield Business Journal reporting from the 100th anniversary in 1999.

Today, Nixa Hardware still carries tools, but it also offers pet supplies, clothing, paint, feed, tools, plumbing and electrical items, beekeeping supplies, power equipment and a fireplace center. It boasts a small engine repair shop, fireplace installation and a fleet of factory-trained service teams and delivery drivers.

Seed production
A full half of the business is devoted to processing and selling seed, according to store manager Jeremy Pryer. Varieties include field grasses, as well as legumes and summer annuals.

Owner Larry McCroskey says a lot of customers don’t know about the company’s 500-acre research and production farm outside of town. Producing its own seed allows Nixa Hardware to sell directly to the consumer without the markups of intermediary wholesalers.

“We clean seed, and we’re probably the oldest seed cleaner and seed conditioner in the state of Missouri – I can’t think of one that’s older,” McCroskey says.

When asked how seed cleaning works, McCroskey starts at the beginning.

“Course you combine it in the field, bring it in, then you go over a series of one, two, three, four different cleaners, and they separate by size, by shape, and by bushel-weight or density,” he says. “You run it through screens, and the bottom screen would be the catcher, and it would let anything smaller fall through. It’s catching good seed.”

Screens above the catcher, called scalpers, remove leaves and sticks, he says.

McCroskey says some of the seed is grown locally, by the company and by area farmers, while some lawn seed is grown in the company’s production fields in Oregon.

“I remember the first bag of lawn seed I sold,” McCroskey says. “I said, ‘You mean you want a whole bag?’ And now we grow it not by the trailer load, but by the multitrailer load.”

Seed customers are varied, McCroskey says; they include farmers from throughout the region, as well as farmers’ cooperatives from out of state, wholesalers and corporate buyers.

“I’ve sold two trailer loads of seed to the Hanes underwear company,” he says.

The store also continues to serve individual customers, whether that’s in its garden center or its hardware aisles.

Growing community
The typical customer has changed in 125 years. When the store first opened, Nixa had a population of about 500, largely farmers. The latest census estimates showed a burgeoning population of nearly 25,000.

Nixa historian Wayne Glenn, a friend of McCroskey’s for 50 years, says the company has stood the test of time by rising to meet the changing needs of its customers, who are homeowners and gardeners instead of farmers.

“Suburbia has helped them sell a lot of their product,” Glenn says. “But they have competition, and so the fact that they have done so well for so long in fighting the competition or meeting the competition tells you about their service and the quality of their product.”

His friend agrees service is important, but he notes lower prices are the main takeaway.

“We’d rather be associated with price – as a one-step operation – rather than service,” McCroskey says. “Service is a code word for higher prices. The reason why people drive 100 miles to us is because of price.”

It’s different than what one might expect from a family-owned store, but there’s reason for the pricing, McCroskey says.

“We try to buy truckload on everything,” he says. “But the shelf hardware, we can’t buy a truckload of the small items. We get those through cooperative buying.”

Ace Hardware is one of the cooperatives supplying the smaller items in the store. But McCroskey says Nixa Hardware produces its own feed formulations, fertilizer and wood pellets for stoves.

“We sell all that direct, one step,” he says.

In fact, McCroskey says, the company makes and sells products that are ultimately repackaged by wholesalers and sold by some of their national competitors.

The store boasts a 30,000-square-foot garden center, mostly under shade cloth for the comfort of shoppers.

Pryer, who has been with the company for two decades, says the garden center offers a wide variety of plants.

“On the homeowners’ side of things, we do have a nice garden center – lots of selection, plants, good pricing and also bulk merchandising,” he says.

Authentically Nixa, the store continues its tradition of being a place where locals can be spotted chatting in its aisles. It’s a vibe that harks back to its origins. A black-and-white photo hanging above the entrance shows a group of men positioned around a stove, and Glenn says Nixa City Council once held its meetings in the old store.

Away from the public, in the hallway leading to administrative offices, family photos line the walls, starting with founder F.M. Wasson. Wasson passed the business to his nephew, Efton Hawkins, who won a flip of a silver dollar to determine whether he or his brother Herbert would run the farm supply business. McCroskey’s dad, Mack, began working for the company in 1935 and later married Efton’s daughter, Averiel.

Larry McCroskey remembers starting in the business in the third grade, when he swept floors for ice cream money. Today, his three daughters and their husbands work for the company.

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