Dewar Nurseries: Making The Grade

Slideshow: Dewar Nurseries

It’s not too often you find a blooming potted plant specialist who also is big in outdoor nursery production. You may find it with a specialist in a particular genus, like azaleas, but not with a full assortment of florist-grade blooming potted plants spanning roses, hydrangeas, Easter lilies, kalanchoes and more.

Dewar Nurseries in Apopka, Fla., is a strong force in two distinctly different markets–indoor blooming potted plants, which mostly revolve around holidays, and shrub roses for the outdoor garden market. As a result, the precise attention to detail and quality demanded for mass market floral carries over to nursery crop production.

“The outside garden is more flexible. Floral crops have to be ready on the day,” says Bill Dewar, president of the company. “Easter lilies, for example, have to be in bloom with one bud cracking open as they go to the distribution warehouse. You have to measure each bloom. Because of our commitment to floral, we perform better on the outdoor garden products. We strive to produce the best-looking plant in a pot ornamentally.”

Bill never ceases to be amazed at what some growers will ship in comparison. “Others will grow a landscape rose in inferior soil, resulting in smaller leaves and poorer keeping quality. We don’t want to ship that,” he says. “Ours looks like a hybrid tea rose. If you put both plants in the store, you see a difference. People want what we’re shipping. Buying better soil and spending an extra $13 for 400 pots is well worth it.”

The true art of growing resides with Bill’s father, Alex Dewar, who founded the company after working many years for another Florida grower. Alex graduated with a degree in horticulture and chemistry from the University of Florida. Bill, who grew up working for his father, holds a degree in marketing and management from Stetson University near Daytona Beach. At age 77, Alex is still very active in the business and looks forward to coming to work every day.

“We have the eye of a florist that I hope we don’t lose,” Alex says. “Sometimes it’s something of a cost disadvantage, and not always required, but it’s the finer points of quality that make the difference.”

Reaping Rewards

The investment in quality pays off as Dewar outperforms competitors in the stores and gains more business. Customers include several food chains, as well as the mass market and home improvement chains.

Ranked at No. 78 on our Top 100 Growers, Dewar Nurseries has 914,000 square feet of greenhouse production and 740,520 square feet under shade for blooming potted plants and 5.5 million square feet of outdoor production just for roses. In addition to the Apopka location, this includes a 20-acre satellite facility 200 miles south in Palm Beach County, where 800,000 of 3 million roses will be produced this year. The company has 160 year-round employees and ramped up to 225 this year.

Alex recalls humble beginnings of putting a van on the road to peddle gloxinias and then growing with supermarket chains. Big-box business began when Home Depot approached Dewar in the 1980s. “The buyer said ‘I’ll take everything you’ve got left,’ and we fell over,” Alex recalls. “There’s a lot of opportunity, but you need balance. Fortunately for us, the outdoor garden center roses and floral side are two different businesses. We were heavily into the food chains and are trying to re-establish that.”

About half of Dewar’s business is roses. Several years ago the company made a conscious decision not to participate in pay by scan–selling to retailers who only pay for plants rung through the cash register.  “Rose bushes are not good for pay by scan,” Bill says. “If you go to a Macy’s sale and see how people treat clothes, it’s a disaster. They treat plants the same way. It’s a different mentality. The item we produce, roses, are harder to shop. There can be a lot of shrink.”

Although not participating in pay-by-scan limits which retailers Dewar can do business with, opportunities continue to grow. One emerging category is edibles, producing blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and grapes for Lowe’s Grow Your Own program. The large cooling facility Dewar uses for floral crops comes in handy for setting buds and berries.

Dewar Nurseries

Owners: Alex and Bill Dewar

Location: Apopka, Fla.

Size: 914,000 square feet of greenhouse space, 740,520 under shade and 5.5 million square feet of outdoor production.

Crops: Blooming potted plants, roses and ornamental edibles

Markets: Supermarkets, mass merchants and home improvement chains

Dewar is the largest Easter lily producer in the Southeast, producing 300,000 plants this year. The million-dollar cooler in which Dewar invested in 1990 can hold 21 semiloads of finished product. “Before, we were outsourcing coolers and competing with fresh fruit companies,” Bill says. “Once we had 10,000 boxes of lilies in one room that iced up and were hosed down with a fire hose. Experiences like that led us to invest in our own cooling facility. We have the largest cold room in the Southeast for bulb crops.”

Transportation & Logistics

The Dewars realize growing a quality product is only half the job. The other half is delivering. The company has its own fleet of 52 refrigerated trailers and 10,000 racks and uses the TruckStops program to manage all its routes.

Bill recently saved $700,000 by purchasing 4,200 carts overseas from China, but he had to pay $1 million up front, which made him nervous. “We spend a lot of money on infrastructure just to move product,” he says. “We can load 35 semis at a time.”

The market for drivers has dramatically improved with the economic downturn. “Four years ago, we couldn’t find drivers, now if we need 100, we can get them,” Alex says. “Now we’re finding drivers with 10 years experience and a clean record. It’s a buyer’s market now.”
Dewar has been offered markets in territories as far away as the West Coast but the father-and-son team is careful to not over extend the company’s reach. “It doesn’t fit our model, but it’s a nice offer,” Bill says. “We could have expanded more if we wanted to. Perfect scenario is 10 percent a year, which is comfortable. Nineteen percent this year goes beyond comfortable.”

The pair also has been careful about the amount of debt they take on. “All these years in business, even in the 1950s, I saw good growers with good product but debt killed them,” Alex says. “If you lose your market, who will you sell to? Why would other growers want to carry your line? There has been so much consolidation on the grower side and retail sides. There are fewer growers with major impact and not nearly as many retail outlets. With the volume we produce, we’re geared to large retailers. But make an effort to serve independents.”

Leave a Reply

8 comments on “Dewar Nurseries: Making The Grade

  1. I bought two plants last year from a nursery here in Birmingham, Al. I cannot remember what kind of plant it is, but they tag on the plant said Rose Premium. I don't think it is an azalea. It is a beautiful plant and I have not taken it out of the pot and I cannot remember what it is. Can you help. The plant was purchased from Dewar Nurseries in Apopka, Fl. Thanks

  2. I've bought a beautiful little fig tree from Home Depo, but the tag just says FIG. How can I determine the exact type of fig? I am asking you because the tag says grown by Dewar Nurseries.

More From Business Management...
Lavandula 'Meerlo' (Sunset Western Garden Collection)

March 3, 2015

Why You Will Still Grow Today’s Big Perennial 10 Years From Now

What will be the next big perennial? Breeders say it takes more than a splashy plant to distinguish itself in the market. Therefore, the question is not what will be the next big perennial, but rather what perennial performs well enough in the garden to have staying power in the market for years to come.

Read More

March 2, 2015

Avoid Surprises On The Delivery Dock

A call in advance about problems with a plant shipment to a retailer you supply goes a long way toward customer satisfaction.

Read More
Janeen Wright

March 2, 2015

Deliver Plant Quality That Trumps Price [Opinion]

The industry's goal is to have loyal customers who return to the same plants time and time again, not because of price, but owing to a plant brand that shouts top-notch garden performance and is synonymous with excellence, which gives them the secure knowledge that their investment will be worth every hard-earned cent.

Read More
Latest Stories

March 2, 2015

Avoid Surprises On The Delivery Dock

A call in advance about problems with a plant shipment to a retailer you supply goes a long way toward customer satisfaction.

Read More
Smart Herb Garden

March 2, 2015

Smartpot Uses Sensors And Cartridges To Ensure Success …

Click & Grow helps make it simple for consumers to grow their own herbs and spices at home, even if they have little experience with plants.

Read More

March 2, 2015

Student Flash Mob At TPIE Has Roots In Floriculture

The local FFA students who entertained TPIE attendees in 2014 and 2015 received industry donations of plants and a greenhouse structure to help expand their horticultural program.

Read More
IPPS Sharing Plant Production Knowledge Globally Logo

February 25, 2015

International Plant Propagators Western Region Sets Ann…

The annual meet for the International Plant Propagators' Society (IPPS) Western Region has been set for this September. It will take place September 23 to 26 in Modesto, Calif., and will include learning sessions, tours to local nurseries, a research poster display and poster presentations, various networking opportunities and an awards banquet to close the event.

Read More
myers industries Lawn and Garden Logo

February 24, 2015

Myers Industries, Inc. Lawn And Garden Business Sold, N…

The management of Myers Lawn and Garden Group, along with Wingate Partners V, L.P. have recently acquired the Myers Industries, Inc. Lawn and Garden business. The new company is named The HC Companies, and will continue as a North American leading provider of horticulture containers supplying the greenhouse, nursery and retail markets.

Read More

February 18, 2015

Range Of Nursery Inspections To Protect Patented Plants…

Plant patents are under protection, and breeders are fighting for their rights to keep growers from illegally propagating protected varieties. It's something you don't want to take a chance on, because the risk is far higher than the reward. More than 300 inspections were carried out last year from New York to British Columbia and from Ontario to Florida to protect plant patents, Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBR) and branded programs.

Read More

February 17, 2015

AmericanHort Announces New Board Members

AmericanHort recently announced the election of new officers and members to the board of directors. Each will assume their positions on the board during Cultivate’15, July 11 to 14 in Columbus, Ohio.

Read More
All American Selections

February 17, 2015

All-America Selections Elects New Officers, Names New J…

While meeting during the Flower and Vegetable Seed Conference in Tampa, Fla., hosted by the American Seed Trade Association, All-America Selections elected new officers for a two-year term. Read on to learn about the new officers, as well as all of the new judges that were added in 2014.

Read More

February 11, 2015

Benchmarks: Find Your Game-Changer

Refuse to accept the status quo in your organization. Explore possibilities until you find what works best for your company.

Read More
Greenhouse on your desktop, on your phone, on your tablet

February 11, 2015 Relaunches With Responsive Design …

Greenhouse Grower magazine, the nation’s leader in profits, production and education for greenhouse growers, announces the launch of its completely redesigned website, The new design is the product of direct user feedback and analytics, and includes responsive design for ease of mobile use.

Read More

February 4, 2015

TPIE 2015: An Electrified Industry Vibe Boosts Cool New…

The general feeling at the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association's 2015 Tropical Industry Exhibition (TPIE) was upbeat and positive. Attendees were inspired by exciting new products and varieties, as well as creative new displays and innovative ideas and left energized for the season ahead.

Read More
Noble Foundation

February 3, 2015

Lloyd Noble Scholars Program Application Period Now Ope…

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation is offering college students an opportunity to work side-by-side with the Noble Foundation’s renowned agricultural consultants and researchers through the Lloyd Noble Scholars in Agriculture program, a summer internship that provides students the opportunity to enhance their in-class education with real-world application and experiences.

Read More
Andy Higgins

February 3, 2015

MasterTag Names Andy Higgins As Its New President

Former CEO and president of Ecke Ranch, Andy Higgins, joins MasterTag as its new president. He brings more than two decades of industry experience to the position.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry

February 2, 2015

Download Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 State Of The In…

The Greenhouse Grower 2015 State Of The Industry Whitepaper includes all the results of the survey, including comparisons on 2014 sales to past years, details on how 2015 production volume and prices will compare to 2014, crops that growers will increase and decrease production on, where growers stand on using neonicotinoids on crops, how many growers will pursue growing medical marijuana and more.

Read More
Syngenta Bioline Hires Ronald Valentin For Technical Lead Role

January 28, 2015

Syngenta Bioline Hires Ronald Valentin For Technical Le…

Ronald Valentin has been appointed technical lead for Syngenta Bioline, effective January 2015. He will be responsible for technical support of Bioline biological control agents and will be instrumental in helping growers develop integrated pest management (IPM) solutions.

Read More

January 28, 2015

Innovation Drives Growth At Plantpeddler

Mike and Rachel Gooder, owners of Plantpeddler, a 400,000-square-foot, multi-divisional greenhouse tucked away in Cresco, Iowa, have a unique foresight that allows them to turn potential into profitable reality.

Read More
Carol Miller

January 28, 2015

Retailer To Grower: The Right Plants Are Hard To Find

Retailers say too many growers offer the same plants, leading to a lopsided plant supply. They offer a simple solution: Talk To Your Customers.

Read More

January 27, 2015

Give Equal Time To The Number Crunchers

Before investing in a new business opportunity, check in with the financial gurus of your organization to make certain you have the cash flow to back up your efforts.

Read More