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...
Feature image The 2015 Perennial Plant Of The Year, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’

September 1, 2015

Perennial Plant Association’s 33rd Annual Symposium Explores Perennials, Past And Present

The Perennial Plant Association's 33rd Annual Symposium, held July 27 to August 1 in Baltimore, Md., delved into the rich history of perennial suppliers and landscape architects in the Baltimore area and their influence on the perennial market today and its bright future.

Read More
Marc van Iersel

September 1, 2015

GROwing Floriculture Research And Extension

Research and outreach efforts help keep floriculture production profitable. With seemingly continuous budget cuts to university and federal budgets, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to sustain their programs and to keep making a positive impact on the industry. So what can be done to ensure that the industry will keep getting the research and outreach support it has come to rely on? There already is a variety of funding programs that support research and Extension programs in our industry. This funding is critical for many floriculture research and outreach programs. What can we do to leverage that funding and make sure it has the biggest possible impact? A program that I was part of in 2010 may serve as a model. LAUNCH was co-founded by NASA, NIKE, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State as a program to help make innovative ideas become a […]

Read More
Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler - Feature image

September 1, 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler Of Bell Nursery USA Leads By Example

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler is laying a strong groundwork for the industry by mentoring future growers and instilling a sense of pride in growing quality crops.

Read More
Latest Stories
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
Geary-Michael

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
cannabis, marijuana plant

August 7, 2015

Big Banks A Step Closer To Financing Cannabis — Or Not

A key Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill on July 23 that allows the nation's capital to establish regulated medical marijuana stores and lets banks provide financial services to state legalized marijuana dispensaries.

Read More

July 30, 2015

Spread Your Risk Beyond Spring Sales [Opinion]

Growers who participated in Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Crops Recap Survey said they have had enough of the uncertainty that the weather brings. They said it’s time to build up sales in other seasons like fall so we’re not so dependent on spring. As a couple of wholesale growers, both from the Southeast, very eloquently stated, our industry has mastered squeezing everything we can out of the spring season. And while this year happened to be a very successful one, thanks to the improving economy and elevated consumer confidence, they said, “now is no time to celebrate.” “Spring is still Christmas in the horticulture industry, but we have done such a good job focusing on spring that we have neglected other seasons,” one grower said. “Having so many eggs in the spring basket is dangerous. Fall will never be what spring is, but having a solid second season is in […]

Read More
Berns_Roberto Lopez_Purdue6

July 22, 2015

Cultivate’15 Greenhouse Learning Tour Showcases G…

Growers took advantage of the Greenhouse Learning tour held Saturday, July 11 at Cultivate'15 to see the strategies and technology two successful growing operations are using to tackle production challenges and come out ahead of the game.

Read More
thermoflor

June 16, 2015

Philip Schaafsma To Represent Thermoflor In The U.S.

Philip Schaafsma is a new sales representative for Thermoflor, a company with a lot of experience building garden centers worldwide. The history of the Dutch construction company Thermoflor goes all the way back to 1877. Since then, the company has been through a lot of changes, from simple conservatories to complex glass and steel turnkey projects. With a new sales representative, Thermoflor is well equipped to service the American market. Previously, Petitti Garden Center (Avon, Ohio), Chuck Hafner (Syracuse, N.Y.), Jacob’s Garden (Ottowa Lake, Mich.), Hicks Nurseries (Westbury, N.Y.) and Holes (Alberta, Ca.) were all built by Thermoflor. After a period of absence, the company is now  represented in the U.S. and Canada by Schaafsma, who has more than 40 years of experience in retail lawn and garden, greenhouse growing and the floral industry, and is a former board member of the Garden Centers of America. Schaafsma is the former owner […]

Read More

June 15, 2015

Hortica Insurance To Become Member Of Sentry Insurance …

Upon completion and approval of an affiliation agreement, Hortica Insurance (Florists' Mutual Insurance Company) will become a member of the Sentry Insurance Group, based in Stevens Point, Wis. As a member of the Sentry Insurance Group, Hortica keeps its name and brand and will continue doing business from its current headquarters in Edwardsville, Ill.

Read More
Cal-Poly fields

June 2, 2015

Cal-Poly Students Seek Continued Industry Support To Sa…

Agriculture students and faculty at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, want industry members to continue to stand with them in their effort to preserve Class 1 agricultural land from being repurposed. The university recently released an update to its Master Plan that indicates that almost all of its orchards, horticulture facilities and field sites could be repurposed for buildings, including residential and/or recreational space. According to Joel Leonard of Students For Agriculture, an organization of Cal-Poly students in favor of saving the land, the Master Planning Committee will be meeting over the summer to form a final version of its plan and present it once more to the public in the fall, before it is submitted for final approval to the California Board of Trustees. Students For Agriculture’s goal in the meantime is to increase awareness and rally industry supporters to continue to send their input to the planning committee. Visit studentsforag.com to see more […]

Read More
Cal-Poly fields

May 27, 2015

Cal-Poly Students And Faculty Ask Industry To Help Save…

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, has released an update to its Master Plan that indicates that almost all of its orchards, horticulture facilities and field sites could be repurposed for buildings, including residential, and/or recreational space. According to a letter from Scott Steinmaus, the horticulture and crop science department head, the proposed changes directly affect the current orchard plantings and other long term plans for the department. The department is committed to making sure that its facilities remain invaluable teaching environments that enable its students to learn about crop, fruit and horticulture production, food safety and pest protection, in addition to providing sites for externally funded research projects that benefit the industry. Industry members are invited to submit comments to the university. According to Steinmaus, a recent eMail to the Cal-Poly community from the university president indicates that all of the input gathered through the end of May will be studied by the planning […]

Read More
people-of-Battlefield

May 13, 2015

Battlefield Farms Receives MPS-A Qualification

Battlefield Farms, Inc., in Rapidan, Va., has been awarded the MPS-A qualification after becoming a participant for MPS-ABC in 2010. After four years of showing effort and improvement, the company has been awarded the qualification.

Read More
Barry_Sturdivant_columnpic

May 8, 2015

How To Survive Succession Planning And Resolve Conflic…

If you work in agriculture, you most likely work with family-owned businesses. This is especially true within the greenhouse industry. I’m fortunate to work for a company that specializes in financing and supporting such businesses. Family-owned businesses often have a level of commitment and support that helps during lean times. This is important for a company exposed to seasonality and events that are sometimes beyond management’s control. Business owners and management are constantly looking for solutions to the unique issues faced by these small but complex businesses. Specifically, how these issues affect the transition from one generation to the next. There are many family enterprise success stories, cases of harmony, health and longevity. Yet it’s no secret that family businesses can struggle with governance, leadership transitions and even survival. According to the Family Business Institute, only 30 percent of family businesses last into the second generation, 12 percent remain viable […]

Read More

April 30, 2015

North Creek Nurseries Welcomes Nikki Drake As New Finan…

Nikki Drake will fill the role of new financial administrator at North Creek Nurseries, with responsibility for the accounting department. She will also serve on the strategic planning committee.

Read More
Andy Huntington Pleasant View

April 29, 2015

Pleasant View Gardens Promotes Andy Huntington to Natio…

Pleasant View Gardens recently announced that Andy Huntington will be the company’s National Sales Manager. Huntington, who has years of horticulture industry experience, will oversee national territory and inside sales departments, while fostering strong partnerships with customers. “Our relationships with customers are central to all that we do at Pleasant View,” Huntington says. “In my new role, I am excited to work with a broader base of broker, grower and retail partners to understand their business needs. Pleasant View’s goal is to be so in tune with our customers that we are able to anticipate their problems before they arise.” Huntington has a history of growing sales and forming long-lasting relationships with a diverse customer base. For the past two years, he has been working as a territory account manager for Pleasant View Gardens, responsible for young plant liner sales in New England and New York. Prior to that, Huntington was […]

Read More
PittMoss on Shark Tank

April 22, 2015

PittMoss Wins On Shark Tank

Mont Handley, president and CEO of PittMoss, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on April 17 to try to get the “sharks” to invest in his peat moss alternative. Three investors from the TV show contributed $600,000 to PittMoss for a 35 percent stake in the company. Check out this clip from ABC’s website in which Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec discuss getting on board with the product. PittMoss is an alternative to sphagnum peat moss, made up of a mix of proprietary additives and recycled paper rescued from landfill space. Handley founded the Pittsburgh-based company in 1994. What started as a small experiment grew into a full-fledged business with the help of funding provided by an EPA SBIR grant and Pittsburgh’s Idea Foundry. Today, PittMoss is available to commercial greenhouses and nurseries from Michigan to Maine to North Carolina, with plans to grow. To learn more, visit PittMoss’ website, or check it […]

Read More
Syngenta logo

April 15, 2015

Syngenta Names Chris Freeman Senior Key Account Manager…

Chris Freeman is the new senior key account manager for Syngenta Flowers, Home & Garden's Commercial Sales business in the Americas, effective March 2015. Freeman, who joined Syngenta in 2006, carries more than 25 years of experience in the agriculture and floriculture business.

Read More
Lake Buchanan_LCRA

April 10, 2015

USDA Designates Areas Of West And Southwest As Drought …

The ongoing drought has resulted in disaster area designations in counties across nine Western and Southwestern states, including Texas, where some reservoirs are at or near historically low levels.

Read More

April 9, 2015

Altman Plants’ Online Cactus Shop Shows Strong Sa…

Altman Plants recently opened its new Cactus Shop, an online retail store that sells a variety of cactus and succulents. The store is a take-off of Altman’s original wholesale business, as the company started as a mail order catalog.

Read More