Profiles: The Visionaries
The path to success starts with a vision. These Top 100 Growers have that down, and they're following through on it.
April 25, 2009
Labor: A Dollar Goes A Long Way
Worried about employees not showing up? Post Gardens has an intriguing idea.
When asked what changes might make Michigan's Post Gardens even more efficient, owner/general manager Bill Tuinier was noticeably stumped. Presently, he is extremely pleased with his operation's efficiency, which is credited to an idea that stems back a decade.
In the late 1990s, Tuinier started watching his payroll. He noticed 12 to 15 people were missing every day. The absences came at the operation's busiest times.
"Now, you can lay them off or fire them and then hire more," Tuinier says. However, retraining new hires can become a costly and time-consuming process. Instead of taking that risk, he decided to offer an incentive to his greenhouse workers.
Tuinier came up with the idea to offer one more dollar an hour for those laborers who work every single hour of an extended springtime work week.
"I was upset the people weren't coming in," he says. "And the ones who were here, well, we appreciated them being here, but they got nothing for it.
He says it's an incentive for them to show up every day. "It was almost a form of overtime, but it wasn't. It's like paying them to show up. It doesn't make sense, but it does work. They actually work for that now."
This bonus is only offered in the spring, when Post is at its busiest and a full staff is crucial. Tuinier admits there are still one or two people who might not show up, but that's quite an improvement from 12 to 15.
R&D: Investing In Performance
Costa Farms works closely with breeders to make sure plants perform for both growers and consumers.
Costa Farms has partnered with leading breeders to support ongoing research and development programs at its facilities in the Costa Color division focused on spring annuals, perennials and blooming potted plants. With facilities in Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, Costa is in a unique position to provide a look at the same plants in three very different climates.
Since last fall, Costa converted one of its greenhouses to a research and development (R&D) house with poly greenhouse, shade and full sun outdoor environments. Nineteen trial beds were installed for field trials. Gold-level sponsors include Ball Horticultural Co., Dömmen USA and Syngenta. Bronze level include GroLink and McGregor Plant Sales. Gold sponsor benefits include dedicated trial beds, their name on the R&D facility and the ability to have Costa conduct trials for them on demand.
Grower Doyle Hicks is now fully dedicated to research and development. Trials in the R&D house include growing in biodegradable pots, fast-cropping prefinished hydrangeas, shelf life comparisons of seed versus vegetative bacopa and finishing times for larger plugs. Field trials included beds of New Guinea impatiens and Sunpatiens in sun versus shade and Water Wise reduced irrigation beds.
Costa held its first field trials and open house in the middle of March, two weeks before Pack Trials. Three guest trials evaluators were Doug Jimerson, group editor for Better Homes & Gardens; Delilah Onofrey, editor of Greenhouse Grower, and Jim Barrett of the University of Florida. The plan for next year is to time it with the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition in January, when so many industry members are in Ft. Lauderdale and come visit Costa anyway. Another set of trials and open house will be held this fall.
Business Services: New Name, Same Vision
Yoder Brothers to become Aris this summer.
Yoder Brothers, which has served our industry for nearly 90 years, will officially become Aris on July 1. This new holding company will continue to operate Yoder Brothers' three business units: Green Leaf Plants for all starter and prefinished products; Keepsake Plants for finished potted plants; and Aris for selling its own plants and those of other top young plant suppliers.
"We continue to provide the same services and products our customers have come to rely on," says Bill Rasbach, president and CEO of Aris. "All that has really changed is the company name. Although the mum and aster genetics have been sold, we still know mums and we still offer them for sale, along with our other product lines."
Aris is appropriate for Yoder Brothers' offerings because it's a Latin word for "green." Aris Horticultural Services is actually the parent company name. The Yoder Brothers brand name was sold with the mums and aster product lines late last year to Syngenta, but Rasbach expects the brand name's legacy to carry over to Aris.
"Yoder, in the past, was the largest sales group for mums and asters in the marketplace," he says. "We're still the largest sales force for that activity. The people here are still the same, and the knowledge base is still here."
The three business units will, however, have their own websites, offering customers information on all product lines, including availabilities, cultural guides and technical support.
"As we move forward, we're going to focus our business on Keepsake Plants and Green Leaf," Rasbach says. "In regard to the finished products business, there's a lot of consolidation going on at the retail and grower levels. On top of that, the Internet and the wholesale clubs are becoming more important players."
As that goes on, Rasbach says potted plants will become a smaller part of the market. Cut flowers, meanwhile, will take up a larger share of it.
"We see some fundamental changes going on in the demand side," he says. "I also think you're going to see more products for a narrower time of year with as low an energy input as possible. That's the future, and we'll try to supply markets from that regime."
Partnerships: Successful Contract Growing
Stacy's Greenhouses is meeting consumer needs better than ever because of contract growing
Contract growing? Tim Brindley would have scoffed at the notion 10 years ago. More growers were in operation then, and the idea of partnering with some of them - with his belief that more poor quality plants were available - was a bad one.
Such is not the case now, though. Brindley, the vice president of operations and sales at Stacy's Greenhouses in York, S.C., is a big believer in contract growing. Stacy's is contract growing for other Top 100 growers with crops like asters and mums, while other growers provide Stacy's with items it can't necessarily produce by late-March or April.
"Everything was so much more traditional five, 10 years ago," Brindley says. "You grew a product, put it on an order, invoiced the customer, shipped it and got paid. The industry has changed so much in the last decade with pay-by-scan, service, the economy, fuel, oil - everything. Contract growing is the wave of the future. If you have other people growing product for you, all you have to take is the best stuff. If it's no good, you don't have to purchase it."
Could there be a better scenario in play for growers? Stacy's own interest in contract growing was sparked seven or eight years ago when it ventured into groundcovers. South Carolina, Brindley found, wasn't warm enough early enough to grow 4-inch liriope and mondo grasses in time for spring, so the operation contracted them to a Louisiana grower.
"It allowed us to have the product we needed early enough to stores, and yet we didn't have to build greenhouses or anything," says Brindley, whose operation now contracts more than 4 million plants to other growers.
In fact, Stacy's hasn't added structures to existing facilities in about 10 years. The operation hasn't felt the need to expand, in large part because it's successfully growing product offsite.
After its success with liriope and mondo grasses, Stacy's turned to Florida growers for lantanas, purple fountain grass and setcreasia. The way Brindley sees it, Stacy's is better off having the experts grow the crops with which they excel. And entrusting other growers has allowed Stacy's to focus on the perennials it knows best.
Contract growing has even come full circle for Stacy's, which now grows certain crops for Top 100 Growers like Metrolina Greenhouses and Bell Nursery. Brindley says a good relationship with Express Seed has helped him form partnerships with the right growers.
"I think a big key to all this is the network, where you have relationships with others," Brindley says. "Contract growing really is like a partnership. Together, we're figuring out programs, fixing timing issues and meeting the needs of the consumers."
Brindley tries to keep programs with growers as simple as possible. He doesn't contract others to grow 40 or 50 varieties. He'll ask them to grow the five or six items they grow best, or, in some cases, the one item for which Stacy's has a pressing need.
"Florida Plant Specialists grows 1-gallon cordylines for us," Brindley says. "That's two or three main varieties. That's all we need them to do. If you think about it, this is going to be a way the small- and medium-sized grower performs going forward, especially if they don't sell directly to Home Depot or Walmart. They're going to stay in the game through the bigger grower."