BenchPress Profile: Tom Batt
VP of Sales and Marketing, Hines Horticulture
June 12, 2008
What is your background in the industry up until this point?
"My grandfather was in nursery, and he was a true horticulturist and plantsman. He taught me everything I know - T budding, grafting, propagation, sticking cuttings. I purchased the family nursery and expanded it from one site to three and opened a retail operation for five years. That gave me the opportunity to do other things with propagation, and I went to work with Polyon, PTI. I learned attention to detail and knowing product mix. I've spent all my life in operations, production through shipping and true business management."
How do you strike the right balance between home improvement chains, mass merchandisers, supermarkets, independent garden centers and landscape rewholesalers?
"While these are large pieces of business, each of these pieces is extremely important to us. We need to service our customers the way they expect and need to be serviced. It comes down to planning and having the right product at the right time and right price for the right customer. My job is to simplify and execute and be very clear about what we're communicating. No company can be all things to all people, but we can benefit each of our customers by providing the best quality product and most efficient transportation."
What are big box stores looking for from Hines? What are independent garden centers looking for?
"Independents, chains, big boxes and supermarkets all do business differently. There are a lot of great people in place managing those channels, and they want us to be business partners with them. They want us to not just sell plants, but have the right product at the right time with the right quality, quantity and price."
What is a major challenge Hines is facing right now?
"One of the hardest things we do is commodity versus differentiated crops. The unfortunate thing is that if you don't take care of your product, it passes away, overgrows or becomes scrap. That's a big opportunity and the challenge is the forecasting perspective: balancing commodity, share and color. Based on history, what customers commit to is not even close to the final numbers. So always produce more than you need to meet expectations."
What are some of your long-term goals for Hines?
"Hines' goal and my goal is to continue to follow growth of the different channels and provide better solutions to big box stores and independents. Independents are important to us and our industry. While a lot of our volume goes to the box stores, independent garden centers are a significant piece of our business. For Hines to be successful, we have to move volume through independents and big box stores. Independents represent about 25 percent of our sales.
"One of the things we definitely want to put on the forefront, as we continue to gain efficiencies in production and ability to deliver product to stores, is a long-range plan of innovation. Just like a pharmaceutical company needs a pipeline of quality new products to benefit patients and customers, so does our industry. Horticulture sometimes gets stagnant. There are a lot of great opportunities for older native plants and new forms for patio programs."
Are you concerned about an economic downturn or reduced sales this year?
"When housing begins declining, fuel prices go up and people become skeptical of the economy, the trend is to become homebodies. Since consumers are not spending as many dollars, they are less inclined to buy trees but are inclined to buy shrubs, perennials, annuals, hanging baskets or make their own combination plantings. That's where I see consumers moving in to somewhat troubled times. Retailers are adjusting. They understand they can't force something on the consumer or the product will just sit there."