Ellison Greenhouses Owner Talks About Transition To Color Star
The Ellison family has made significant contributions to the industry, but Owner P.J. Ellison Kalil is ready for new opportunities.
October 30, 2012
A 43-year-old business is closing its doors, but for the owner, it’s a new beginning. Ellison’s Greenhouses of Brenham, Texas, which grew from a commercial tomato operation into one of the best-known horticultural operations in the state, will be turning its greenhouses over to Color Star Growers beginning Jan. 1, 2013.
P.J. Ellison Kalil, owner of Ellison’s, says that while the decision was difficult, she sees a solid silver lining. “It’s a huge emotional thing,” she says. “It’s like a death. I can’t tell you how many tears I’ve cried and how many more I will cry. But the good news is, by leasing the greenhouse to Color Star, we’re helping their operation to continue to be successful. I feel really good about that because they are very good people.”
Ellison Kalil says once she decided it was time to move on, working with Color Star was a natural choice. “We have leased space to Color Star for the past few years and find them to be a great partner. They have the knowledge, resources and team to continue to be successful,” she says.
Retail Operation Will Close
Color Star Growers, which was founded in 1991 in nearby Giddings, Texas, has growing operations around the U.S. The company supplies garden plants to several large retail outlets, including Lowe’s. However, because Color Star is strictly a wholesale operation, the retail store, which contains a post office and is a tourist destination, will be discontinued as of Jan. 1, 2013.
“Our retail operation has been a viable part of the community for a long time,” says Ellison Kalil. “We were the first greenhouse operation [in Texas] to open our doors to the general public, the first to actually be a tourist operation and probably the only one that has pick-your-own greenhouse tomatoes. We were probably the first operation to do a poinsettia celebration at the magnitude we do. I think not only our local customers but people who have been coming from other states throughout the nation will really miss that.”
That is one reason that Ellison Kalil and her parents, Jim and Ellen Ellison, who founded the business in 1969, are glad that Color Star is taking over.
“We are pleased that the town location will remain as a greenhouse operation,” says Jim Ellison. “Ellison’s has been a tremendous asset to the community, the industry and the state of Texas for more than 43 years, and as a corporation it will continue to remain viable.”
The elder Ellison’s latter statement refers to the fact that his daughter retains ownership of the Ellison Corporation itself. The corporation itself is not closing, and since corporations can remain in perpetuity, “Who knows what will happen?” she says.
Another important consideration was that Color Star is allowing Ellison’s current employees to stay on if they want to. “Part of our agreement is to keep the team members that we have, other than me,” says Ellison Kalil.
The loss of such a long-time supplier will be a jolt to some of Ellison’s long-time wholesale customers, since Color Star sells to Lowe’s and larger stores.
“We have some wholesale customers who aren’t really happy, particularly when you’re talking about poinsettias,” Ellison Kalil says. “We do more shapes, sizes and colors, and we’re really the only ones who do the Texas-sized. Some people have bought poinsettias from us for more than 40 years. We are their place to buy poinsettias, so there’s going to be an adjustment.”
Ellison Family Leaves Legacy In The Industry
Ellison Kalil says the business shaped her life, and she is proud of what her parents started.
“My mom and dad have had a tremendous impact on this industry, for example, the Ellison Endowed Chair of Horticulture, which Charlie Hall has used to make such a presence in the industry. They have been so active and so good in the industry, and hopefully I’ve had an impact as well. In that regard, I’m very proud of Ellison’s and what we’ve given.”
Ellison Kalil has indeed made a positive impact on the greenhouse industry, becoming involved at both state and local levels. She served on the American Floral Endowment Board, as chairman of the Advisory Committee for the Ellison International Chair in Floriculture at Texas A&M University and is active in the College of Agriculture Development Council.
Like her decision in 1993 to return to the family business, the decision to close it was not made lightly.
“In 1993, I was living in California and I didn’t like the person I saw, so I said, ‘Ok, man upstairs, what is it you want me to do?’” Ellison Kalil says. I didn’t get an immediate answer. At Christmas I came home and saw a half-acre of poinsettias in bloom and a wave of emotion hit me. But what I was actually saying was, ‘Oh God, please no – low pay, long hours.’ But I have never regretted it. I also knew He would give me the heads-up when it was time.”
That heads-up came this summer. “The last six or seven years family and friends have been kind of encouraging me to do other things with my talents and skills because it’s been a challenging time,” Ellison Kalil says. “I said, ‘I will know when it’s time.’ And, this year in July, I was walking through the greenhouse and it hit me out of nowhere that this would be my very last poinsettia crop. A week later, Kenny Verbeek asked if Color Star could lease the entire greenhouse operation because they needed the space. There are no coincidences.”
Asked what her future plans are, Ellison Kalil says she is waiting to see what her next adventure will be.
“I don’t have a retirement plan, so I will be looking for gainful employment. I’m not going to have any huge answers to what my tomorrow is, because I just need to celebrate today and savor the next two months. I won’t get that again,” she says. “It’s time to say goodbye, but we certainly intend to go out with a bang. We’re having our 22nd poinsettia celebration. For those who have meant to go and have been putting it off, it’s time to get here.”
Although so many family businesses in the horticulture industry have struggled to come to similar decisions, Ellison Kalil is comfortable with her choice.
“Now that all this is out, I believe doors will start opening,” she says. “This has been a tremendous journey of faith. And, at the end of the day, it has nothing to do with the greenhouse, although that’s the vehicle. The real question is, ‘How obedient are you going to be here?’ I think I’m being obedient, and that’s where I find my peace.”
Robin Siktberg is Editor of Greenhouse Grower. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org