Most every community has at least one iconic business that has stood the test of time. For Winter Haven it might be Andy Thornal’s or perhaps Andy’s Igloo, but none is more beloved or iconic than Doty’s Farm and Garden Supply.
The year was 1954 and 37-year-old John Doty had allergies. On the advice of his physician, he decided to relocate to Florida. He was operating a retail pharmacy in Greeneville, Tennessee at the time. Upon the recommendation of friends, he decided to check out a little place called Winter Haven. So he packed up his wife and five children and came to town.
Upon arrival, he met Joel Norris who shared that the town was in need of a dependable place to obtain farm and garden products. Several prominent families approached John offering to become customers buying significant amounts of quality farm products. Some went so far as to front $1,000 in advance to help him get established and said, “Bill against it until it’s spent.”
His very first customer was Joel Strickland who remained a customer until his death. Strickland always attended Doty’s anniversary celebrations and at the 40th event John gifted him with a pocket knife and a checkered Purina cup. For 64 years the red and white Purina checkerboard logo has been synonymous with Doty’s … right down to their trademark shirts.
Son Bill took over the reigns of the business in 1994. He learned the business from his father and quickly notes, “He believed in hard work and doing things right the first time. I learned early on that I’d better get it right the first time.” Regular customers will tell you there is no more knowledgeable plant expert in the area. Bill can tell you what is wrong with your plant, what to use to cure the problems (and whether you need to shower after the application). If Bill knows you well you will probably be in for some good-natured ribbing as well.
John Doty was the founding president of the Rogersville, Tennessee Kiwanis Club and had perfect attendance for 55 years. Bill served as president of the Winter Haven Kiwanis and also as president of the Winter Haven Area Chamber of Commerce. John died in 2008 at the age of 90.
Ask most anyone about Doty’s and they will mention how they love the animals there that have been a constant from the start. Why the animals? “My father learned early on that the animals will keep the children entertained while the parents do their shopping.” Bill chuckled.
Ask what philosophy has guided the business from the start, Bill shared two bits of advice his father taught him. “I’ve never sold a product I wouldn’t take home and use.” And “If you never have to apologize for what you told them or sold them, you can keep a customer for life.”
After 64 years it’s obvious that is sound advice.
This column was based on an interview with William “Bill” Doty.
The Museum of Winter Haven History will reopen on Saturday, October 6 from 9 a.m. to Noon. A pictorial program about the history of Winter Haven will be presented at 10 a.m. that morning. The museum, located at 660 Pope Avenue and Lake Howard Drive, is free and open to the public. Come explore.