October 26, 2010

Johnny's Selected Seeds expanding to Fairfield

By Scott Monroe smonroe@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD -- Johnny's Selected Seeds has spent more than $600,000 to renovate a vacant building on U.S. Route 201 into a new call center and is moving about 50 employees there.

click image to enlarge

ORDER UP: A portion of this building at the Huhtamaki mill in Fairfield will become a new call center for Johnny's Selected Seed company.

Staff photo by David Leaming

The building, at 13 Main St. in Fairfield, is just over the Waterville city line and it's owned by Huhtamaki Packaging, which has a factory on the other side of the street.

Johnny's officials said the move will help the company expand and possibly hire more people.

"This positions Johnny's well for planned future growth," said Harry Fraser, the company's general manager.

Johnny's Selected Seeds, with a main office at 955 Benton Ave. in Winslow and more than 200 employees during its peak sales season, is leasing 14,500 square feet of the 19,000-square-foot Huhtamaki building.

Fraser said Johnny's signed the lease earlier this month and has been renovating the building. The move, Fraser said, will free up more space for the company's operations and product storage in Winslow.

Between building renovations, equipment and a new call system, Johnny's has spent more than $600,000 on the building, according to Johnny's Customer Center Manager Tonia Harris, who is overseeing the move.

Employees of Johnny's Call Center, Data Services, and Customer Service departments should be moved in by Friday.

The company said in a statement that the employees are "gardening and farming experts who process orders and answer questions from customers around the U.S. and Canada." In addition, Johnny's commercial sales staff are scheduled to move into the new building next spring.

Asked whether the company planned to hire additional employees following the move, Fraser said, "Johnny's has been growing the last couple of years, so we're always adding people and I don't expect this to be any different."

Harris said the entire left side of the building was "gutted and rebuilt," creating a "wide-open call-center space with offices and conference rooms, new cubicles, a server room downstairs ad network infrastructure."

The call center's new Cisco phone system will allow them to prioritize calls, better direct callers to departments, provide quality monitoring and feedback, and allow the company to manage its staff levels depending on call volume during the day, Harris said.

Harris said the new space has better lighting and its floor plan provides for privacy for call-center employees.

Eventually, Johnny's may move its corporate offices into the building as operations are expanded at the Winslow facility, Harris said. The building can now house about 85 employees and could be renovated further for more than 100, she said.

Fraser said he's familiar with the building, because he worked there in the 1980s when it was used as a corporate office for Keyes Fiber. The building, and Keyes Fiber, was later acquired by Huhtamaki, which later moved its corporate offices to Kansas.

"We're just trying to keep jobs in the local area," Fraser said.

Ray McMullen, plant manager at Huhtamaki, said his company has been trying to find use for many years, beside occasional use for training. It's been vacant for at least a decade, he said.

"We're very pleased they chose to use it," he said.

Earlier this year, Johnny's Selected Seeds was named Business of the Year by the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

Scott Monroe -- 861-9239


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