Grown By Al’s

Grown By Al's

As many growers were cutting back on selection and raising quantities on a select few varieties in the early ’80s, it’s no surprise that’s when the innovative Jack Bigej and Al’s Garden Center began growing its own plant material.

“We picked up on the trend toward the mass merchandisers and knew we had to diversify in order to stay ahead of the tide,” Bigej says. That’s exactly what he has done. The grower-retailer now produces between 1,500 and 2,200 varieties of perennials, and as an example on the annuals side, around 125 varieties of petunias and calibrachoas.

“We may have gone to an extreme, but we’ve certainly kept up diversity,” says Bigej. Having total control over what you grow is only one advantage of being a grower-retailer. Other advantages include the possibility of branding your product and the ability to set your own pricing.

Branding At Al’s

It is obvious that this dedicated grower and marketer produces an end-product that could benefit from a thoughtful approach to branding. That’s exactly what Bigej has done. Almost every plant that comes from Al’s Garden Center’s three retail stores carries a simple but strong message: “Grown By Al’s.” When your name is on the product, quality control is paramount.

“If we’re going to have a fall sale, we will buy extra October Glory Maple, or we’ll grow Red Sunsets, but we’ll grow four or five items that we buy at special prices, grow on and can sell at special prices,” says Bigej. “So we grow for our sales.” Quantities can also be controlled.

“If we grow too many, we just lower the price, put them on special, blow them out,” Bigej says. “We’re in control.” The operation’s newest venture is pot-in-pot in-ground sockets in the growing fields.

“It gives us total inventory control,” Bigej says. “We have room at our new store for 952 trees, and we keep 952 trees there or very near that all the time. We just keep refilling as we sell. Our inventory is actually sitting out in the field, growing and increasing in value, instead of sitting jammed up on the retail floor.” The company rarely runs out of merchandise–a very important feature in the lush and competitive Willamette Valley. 

Perennial Possibilities

In retail numbers, Al’s Garden Center grows and sells about $2.5 million in perennials every year. Current new construction includes 2 acres of Cravo retractable roof greenhouses just for perennials.

“We feel the retractable roof is the only way to grow perennials,” Bigej says. “They don’t like greenhouses except in the winter to keep them dry. The rest of the year we run them wide open. That’s why we build retractables. We say this is the only way to go, if you can pencil it out and make it work. With the price of steel and everything else these days, you really have to get your pencil sharpened to figure it out. If you can afford it, it’s a wonderful way to raise perennials.” The idea of raising perennials from year to year is another big advantage–there doesn’t have to be any spoilage.

“If we bring in 5,000 peonies and we don’t sell them all this year, they’re just worth more next year,” Bigej says. “So we like that aspect of it.” Bigej also reports experimenting with sizes and shapes to see what works.

“We can play with sizes,” he says. “Let’s try this phlox in a 5-gallon. If it doesn’t work, drop the price, blow it out, we’ll go do something else next year. You know, we can play around with a lot of things. If we had to have someone else grow it for us, they’d want to do it in a standard size that everybody else uses and on down the line. It gives us the advantage of being different. And, it just makes our selection phenomenal compared to a box store.” 

Building Loyal Customers

Bigej’s sales of annuals isn’t too shabby, either. He reports sales volume of $4.5 million in annuals and holding steady.

“They are going up slower than perennials or shrubs are, but we’ve been at it a heck of a lot longer and harder and really beat it up over the years,” he says. “So we’re kind of getting up to our max or in that range. Again, we will grow for specials.”

Al’s grows annuals in a variety selection and volume that turns heads. The grower side of the operation brings in unrooted cuttings from Central America, South America, Holland and Israel, rooting and selling to other greenhouses as rooted liners. “This helps us increase our selection on our varieties because we can do so many more varieties with the increased volume, and it helps us with our selection for our own plants — for our own retail,” Bigej states.

He says in the spring, the company will try a season kick-off of 150,000 primroses at 50 cents a piece, leading consumers to their store through their wallets.

“Our theory is if we get them in the door first thing in the spring, then maybe we’re their garden center for the year,” he says. “That’s true, especially if we can give them more than they expect. At 50 cents they’re looking for a little tiny runty, ugly thing and we give them a beautiful 4-inch. It exceeds their expectations and it makes you look like a real hero, and maybe you will be their garden center for the rest of the year. That’s what we’re attempting to do.”

Owner: Bigej family

Founded: 1948
Size: 700,000 square feet of greenhouse, plus outdoor production
Locations: Woodburn (retail), Sherwood (retail) and Gresham, (growing/retail) Ore.
Main Crops: Annuals, perennials, woody ornamentals, trees
Market: Its own independent garden centers and finish growers

Pricing Pressures

The low-price offers aren’t a gimmick. Bigej reiterates that growing and retailing allows flexibility more like non-plant retailers.

“We can grow for our specials. If we want to run Candy Tuft, we grow an extra 2,000 to 3,000 and put it down at a price that it blows out. By doing this, it makes our pricing in our stores so much more attractive. We do just like Nordstrom or anybody else. Put a few things down there cheap, blow ’em out and get a little more for other things. It’s the same thing that everyone does, it’s nothing new.”

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...
Colorado State University 2015 Container Field Trials

November 29, 2015

2015 Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colo.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.

Read More
Coleus 'Colorblaze Velveteen' (2015 University of Tennessee Field Trials)

November 28, 2015

2015 University of Tennessee Gardens (Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.

Read More
Feature Image Cob 700 (NewLux)

November 28, 2015

16 LED Lighting Solutions For Your Greenhouse

Narrowing in on the right LED lighting product often comes down to considering your specific crop needs and growing requirements to see what works best for your application. Here are 15 LED products to take into account when choosing the right fit for your greenhouse.

Read More
Latest Stories

November 25, 2015

Everything You Need To Know About the New England GROWS…

Held In Boston December 2-4, New England GROWS includes a comprehensive conference program, a trade show, and with six special programs that teach new skills and provide opportunities to network with colleagues.

Read More

November 20, 2015

Lessons Learned From The California Drought

For those of us who live in the areas of the country that experienced harsh winters and significant rain over the past three seasons, water has become a nuisance in some cases, rather than a blessing. I can’t count the number of times I have wished to be able to send the snow or the rain to the West Coast, tied up with a big red bow. But think about how we’d feel if we didn’t have the snow and the rain, and we were experiencing the same dry conditions that the residents of California, Oregon and Washington have. With fresh water supplies dwindling in regions of the world, and the resistance of residents in states like Michigan to share water from the Great Lakes, it’s likely that the next civil or world war could be fought over our most precious resource. California’s epic drought should cause everyone to look […]

Read More
Jill Calabro

November 3, 2015

AmericanHort Names New Research And Science Programs Di…

Jill Calabro will bring strategic direction and oversight to research funding by the Horticultural Research Institute, the research affiliate of AmericanHort.

Read More
SBI’s ANY Device Application allows growers to quickly determine availability-featuer

November 2, 2015

SBI Software’s Solutions Help Simplify Logistics For G…

The company focuses on helping growers improve their existing processes with solutions for site fulfillment, replenishment, inventory management and more.

Read More
Griffin Expo15 seminar

October 28, 2015

Griffin’s Hits Record Attendance With 2015 Expos,…

Griffin Greenhouse Supplies set new attendance records with its 2015 Expos. Its 2016 Expos are set for August 31 and September 1, 2016, in West Springfield, Mass., and September 21-22, 2016, in Lancaster, Penn.

Read More

October 28, 2015

Possum Run Greenhouses Taken Over By New Owners

Justin and Lynn Marotta have placed Possum Run Greenhouse and Gifts into the hands of new owners. John and Caroline Bletner, a newly married couple, took over the Bellville, Ohio, property October 2, according to an October 24 article in the Mansfield News Journal. The Marotta family has run Possum Run Greenhouse and Gifts for 41 years. When the Marottas announced in April the greenhouse operation was for sale, they said they were looking for an energetic couple to take the business to the next level, which is what they found in the Bletners, the article reports. The Bletners have hinted they’ll be “opening to a larger market” and that the retail side will “look different.” They’ll hold a grand re-opening the week of April 22, 2016. Staff are staying on board and the Bletners are maintaining many of the suppliers. The 200-plus varieties of fuchsias Justin brought to the greenhouse […]

Read More

October 25, 2015

We Could Be Growing More Green Infrastructure Plants Th…

At her Cultivate’15 presentation in July, Shannon Currey of Hoffman Nursery challenged the horticulture industry to get involved while green infrastructure is still developing, saying that a good start is to offer more plants that fit the unique needs of this market.

Read More
Integration Key To Compliance For Specialized Crops

October 22, 2015

Integration Key To Regulation Compliance For Specializ…

Growers considering supplementing ornamental crops with cannabis will enter into a new world of governmental regulations where key business systems will be indispensable for successful crop management.

Read More
Kate Santos Operations Director Dummen Orange

October 21, 2015

Kate Santos Explains What The Sale Of Dümmen Orange To …

Over the weekend, Dümmen Orange announced that the Dümmen family has sold its majority stake in the Dutch flower breeding company Dümmen Orange to European private equity firm BC Partners. The deal is valued at more than $560 million, around 11 times its core earnings, according to a Reuters press release. The company, owned by the Dümmen family and investment firm H2 Equity partners, has locations all over the world, including farms in Central America and East Africa. This is BC Partners’ first foray into the flower business. We caught up with Kate Santos, operations director for Dümmen Orange, to find out how the company’s sale to BC Partners affects Dümmen Orange customers, if at all. Here’s what she told us: Why did the Dümmen family decide to sell their shares? Why to a private equity investment company? Similar to the reason that H2 sold its shares to BC Partners, all […]

Read More
The tradeshow at the Cannabis Business Summit & Expo — outside of the occasional 1960s vibe, perhaps — would feel familiar to most growers

October 19, 2015

Have Cannabis Growing Expertise, Seek ‘Golden Ticket’

Many horticultural growers might start cultivating cannabis tomorrow if they could secure a license, the equivalent of a “golden ticket.” But these are hard to come by, and the number and criteria vary greatly by state

Read More
Lurie Garden Millennium Park

October 16, 2015

Green Infrastructure An Opportunity To Redefine How We …

Green infrastructure is an emerging market that has important ramifications for the horticulture industry. That is, if growers, designers and other industry players take a proactive approach to grasp the opportunities that come their way.

Read More

October 5, 2015

Smart Business Sense At Tidal Creek Growers Yields Succ…

Tidal Creek Growers stays competitive by focusing on what really turns a profit. It helps the large operation successfully balance contract growing with growing for retail garden centers.

Read More

October 4, 2015

ePlantSource Adds 5 New Partner Companies

ePlantSource has announced an additional five companies that have been added to its partner distribution list. Not only do the additional partners offer more supplier options to ePlantSource customers, but the website now also provides a more diverse product list with the addition of bulbs, clematis and many new varieties. New partners added for the 2015 – 2016 season: A.D.R. Bulbs Lennon Farm Greenhouses Micandy Gardens Pacific Growers Roseville Farms “We make it a priority to respond to our customers, and we have had many requests for additional options and a more diverse product line, so we are continually evaluating suppliers that work well with our non-traditional approach to the sale of live goods,” says Gary Falkenstein, President and CEO of ePlantSource. “We feel that it is good for our company, our customers and the industry as a whole to keep looking forward and seeing how we can improve and expand how […]

Read More
Cannabis marijuana

September 8, 2015

Supplemental Lighting Benefits For Growing Cannabis In …

The cannabis industry has moved out of the basement and into the light, and with this shift in politics and regulation occurring worldwide there is a need for growers to change the way they think about lighting and energy consumption.

Read More

September 2, 2015

Delegation Is Key To A Successful Greenhouse Operation

In a packed room at Cultivate’15, speaker Bernie Erven presented key steps growers need to take to improve their delegation skills, the benefits of delegating and the dangers of not learning how to delegate. This is a skill, he says, that everyone needs to learn. “For all of you who are part of a family business, you are choosing not to do things the easy way,” Erven laughed, as he presented a list of ways to know whether or not you’re an effective delegator. The owner of Erven HR Services, LLC, Erven has been working with and observing family businesses for many years. In his presentation, he said, he didn’t share anything that he hasn’t seen first-hand. You might not be a good delegator if you: Tend to be a perfectionist Work more hours than anyone else Lack time to explain clearly and concisely Are often interrupted Enjoy what you used to […]

Read More
AmericanHort logo

August 20, 2015

David Savoia To Serve As AmericanHort’s Interim P…

Following Michael Geary’s announcement that he has resigned as president and CEO of AmericanHort, the association has announced that CFO and Senior Vice President for Operations David Savoia will serve as interim president and CEO while the board conducts a search for a new staff executive. Craig Regelbrugge, the senior vice president for advocacy and research, will support Savoia with the association’s external affairs. Geary announced August 12  that he will be leaving his position after September 30 to serve as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industries. “As some of you know, I grew up connected to the horticulture industry so this was not an easy decision for me,” Geary said in an eMail. “I have loved working with our organizations and our talented members, staff and partners. However, my choice to return full time to Washington, D.C. will allow me […]

Read More

August 18, 2015

Michael Geary Is Leaving AmericanHort

AmericanHort president and CEO Michael Geary announced last Wednesday that he will be leaving his position at the end of September to serve as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services. “I am writing to share with you that on October 8 I will begin a new professional chapter as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industries,” Geary said in an email. His last day with AmericanHort will be Sept. 30, 2015. “As some of you know, I grew up connected to the horticulture industry so this was not an easy decision for me,” he said. “I have loved working with our organizations and our talented members, staff and partners. However, my choice to return full time to Washington, D.C. will allow me to be closer to my family and aging parents and to re-engage with another industry […]

Read More

August 15, 2015

Ball Horticultural Co. Buys Conard-Pyle/Star Roses And …

Ball Horticultural Co. plans to add Conard-Pyle/Star Roses and Plants to its family of breeding and distribution companies, according to a press release dated August 14, which announced the company’s recent acquisition of the famous introducer of Knock Out Roses and other perennials and woody plants to the market. Ball plans to capitalize on the expertise of its Ball Ornamentals woody ornamentals division, as well as Conard-Pyle’s market-leading position as a top rose breeder to strengthen its product line. The sale is scheduled to close by the end of September 2015. Conard-Pyle’s in-house breeding division NovaFlora, along with its intellectual properties and the distribution, production and administration facilities of its wholesale division are also part of the acquisition. NovaFlora is the driving force behind the Star Roses and Plants brand. “Conard-Pyle has been the leader in roses in its market and has been actively diversifying its offering with other woody […]

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]