The seeds of contract growing at Timberline Nursery, Hillister, Texas, were planted long ago. General Manger Victor Vasquez helped his contract growers get their starts in the floriculture industry 15 years ago. When Vasquez joined Timberline, those growers decided they’d like to continue growing for him. Timberline, live goods supplier to Wal-Mart, The Home Depot and Kmart, saw the opportunity to supply niche products a volume grower can’t usually cover.
"With seasonal sales, sometimes you don’t have enough product to keep your area full, so that’s how we decided to do contract growing, which we do only during the growing season, and that’s it," Vasquez explains. "We’re not obligated to maintain these places during the summer or fall." Mom and pop-type contract growers can raise crops that require more attention than a volume grower can give. The company now hires four contract growers, each located within three miles of the company’s New Summerfield, Texas, satellite office, to help out during the spring season. They supply Timberline with 300,000 square feet of growing area. For two years now, each contract grower has brought its own special touches to the product mix.
"I specialize them in a program," Vasquez says. "They grow stuff that I don’t have at any other location. At sale time, we know exactly where to pull from and there are no mistakes. This is the only person that has that particular program or particular item."
The contract growers are able to become specialists and Timberline was able to avoid spending the investment capital needed to build and maintain more greenhouses.
Timberline’s contract growers see some business perks of helping Timberline deliver to its 450-mile-radius customer base. Contractors don’t deliver direct to the customers. They ship to one of Timberline’s locations, where orders are sorted and shipped. Timberline also takes care of marketing and sales, as well as negotiating a bulk rate for materials, including plastic and soil.
"Whatever deal I make with suppliers, whatever I pay, they pay," Vasquez says. "Whatever deal I get, they get."
Vasquez’s expertise is also available to the growers. He says he visits growers twice a week, making suggestions and giving advice for production. There are big perks for Timberline as well.
"Nowadays, the big customer wants us to be like the milkman," Vasquez says. "We have to have the bread, the milk and everything that goes with it. The time is over when you used to bring nothing but jumbos and that was it. Now you have to bring every item to fill up the tables to make the garden center look good because you’re in charge."
Open Lines Of Communication
Having known his contractors for so long, agreements between Vasquez and his contractors are sealed with a handshake. The same casual, comfortable attitude applies to the communications between the players. Vasquez speaks of the open lines of communication with his growers.
"We’ve known each other for a long time and we trust each other," he says. "We want to succeed. We want Timberline to succeed. We want them to succeed because we need each other. We know exactly what our margins are, they know what ours are, there are no secrets. We’re open."