Learning From Each Other

Learning From Each Other

Eight years ago, The Home Depot was hungry for variety. Its customers were looking for new plants and the mass merchandiser was looking for growers who could supply them. At the time, Henry Mast Greenhouse considered itself more of a monocrop grower, with millions of New Guinea impatiens and geraniums filling production during the spring months. A more diversified menu of plants was required to get Home Depot’s business.

“We contracted with a couple of growers in Kalamazoo I had known for 20 years,” says Tim Stiles, president of Henry Mast Greenhouses and Masterpiece Flower Company.

In Western Michigan, where you can’t throw a rock without hitting a greenhouse, setting up a contract system is a bit different than in other parts of the country, or starting with growers without horticulture backgrounds. Masterpiece Flower Company, the distribution and sales company for crops produced at Henry Mast Greenhouses, had the ability to scope out growing facilities in season, taking notes on those they’d like to do business with in the future. Five years ago, the company added a full-time field inspector, a role filled by Mike Hughes, formerly a grower at Henry Mast Greenhouse, to observe growers’ production techniques and abilities. This is now part of the process for any operation that would like to grow for Masterpiece.

Today, Masterpiece contracts with growers to fill bedding plant and indoor plant needs for Meijer and Home Depot stores in 12 Midwest states, and news on that kind of business spreads fast. So much so that growers are contacting Masterpiece inquiring about supply needs.

“When we first started, as we brought our first grower on, I’d be out in the field and in a buying position,” Hughes says. “I was always looking for other things I could buy. I’d stop in and visit, somewhat of a cold call. As time went on, through word of mouth, growers are saying, ‘Mike’s in Kalamazoo today.’ They get my number and ask me to stop over and look at stuff.” 

The Right Stuff

Once a grower’s product and process is deemed up to snuff and a relationship is established, a weekly schedule spreadsheet for the season is set up, based on sales forecasts. The grower is given a spec sheet that supports every crop, including information on pot size, type of tag, weights and measures information and varieties.

“We do give some latitude on a bedding plant crop,” Stiles says. “They may grow two series of impatiens or they may want to experiment with a new series of marigolds. We’re all right with that. We encourage that kind of experimentation.” When numbers and prices are agreed on, Masterpiece signs a commitment form.

“An attorney might say it’s an intention to buy, but it’s not a contract,” Stiles says. “We place a great deal of trust in our contract growers and likewise they place a great deal of trust in our company.” These agreements are renewed from season to season. When production starts, Hughes visits growers about twice a week, taking pictures from the young plant level up.

“Probably unlike many contract growers, we let them purchase their own inputs,” Stiles says. “That’s beginning to change, though, driven by economies of scale and the need to coordinate marketing programs.” 

Working Together

Growing is a family thing for the Kloosters. Mike Klooster of Great Lakes Greenhouse and Steve and Don Klooster of Klooster Greenhouses all grow for Masterpiece. Mike estimates that 2âÂ�â€�3 of the growers in his area are growing for another distributor. These relationships let growers be growers and help them hook into a larger growers’ conduit into retail chain stores.

“We don’t see Masterpiece as being the impediment to higher prices or profits,” Mike says. “They’re working well to facilitate both sales and operations. There’s always the competition at store level for prices from one chain to the next. Masterpiece is quite efficient at what they do and that’s good for me.”

Mike describes himself as a life-long contract grower, working with the Kalamazoo Valley Co-Op before growing for Masterpiece. Many of Masterpiece’s contractors are second- and third-generation growers.

“Some people might say our growers have a lot of old habits,” Stiles says. “I guess we all come with that. However, that’s something I think has been a strength for us â€” having that kind of production experience within such a short distance from us.” While contract growers no doubt learn and benefit from Masterpiece’s expertise, there’s learning going on all over.

“They teach us things, too,” Stiles says. “We don’t have a lot of group meetings, but we have a lot of information sharing between growers and our sales staff. We encourage the contractors to work together and go to each other’s greenhouses. We’re their customer and they’re competing for our business, but yet, as they’ve gotten more established with us, there’s a greater sense of security.”

Information sharing and industry experience allow contractors to become specialized monocroppers themselves, which allows easier and more efficient crop management and recropping. It also makes for easier shipping. Growers are responsible for delivering shipments to the Masterpiece warehouse.

“They may pack four to five semi loads a day, some even 10 loads a day,” Stiles says. “And they’re not super large greenhouses. By being large monocroppers, they’re able to really efficiently pick up a lot of material at one time and send it in.” Once crops arrive at the warehouse, they are inspected one last time for tagging, correct retail signage, bar code compliance as well as size and maturity of the plant. Stiles says maturity, being a moving target, is what causes the most problems in the warehouse.

“We’ve rejected some materials from every single grower who has grown for us, not always because it’s bad quality, but for poor assortment or poor development,” he says. “It’s shipped too young.” When working in a pay-by-scan system, crop quality and timing is not negotiable. In this system, Stiles says Masterpiece can manage its own store inventories. Items can be substituted and Masterpiece can fill its stores with only the crops that are ready.

“We never let that commitment schedule drive our decisions,” he says. “We let the crop itself drive our decisions. If the crop is early and the weather is right, we push the crop out.” At the end of each season, Masterpiece sits down with growers to review and evaluate performance. The contractors are also encouraged to give feedback to Masterpiece on how the season went.

“About 75 percent of the grade they receive is solely based on the quality of the plant material they are producing,” Hughes says. “We put a very high percentage on what they’re producing because there’s a direct correlation, a reflection on what we put in the store versus what is selling.”

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Learning From Each Other

  1. I shop frequently at Meijer and I am appalled at the number of plants and cut flowers that are thrown away into the garbage, along with pots and perennials. I asked if I could purchase them at a discount since they would no longer sell at full price. I was told no. I was told that Masterpiece Flower Company decides that these plants are to be thrown away…WHY!!!!! Why aren’t they marked down for quick sale or donated to schools or retirement homes? Tulips, Lilies, daffodils, hyacinths etc grow each year. This is a highly irrisponsible act and should be stopped! At least provide returns for the cut flower containers, the pots and other containers. The unsellable plants should be taken back and at the very least composted! You are contributing to the garbage problems of this state! Many people cannot afford the high prices of the plants they would love, markdowns would allow many more people to enjoy your plants and flowers! Your way is not very “green” or Earth Friendly. You need to change this!

  2. I shop frequently at Meijer and I am appalled at the number of plants and cut flowers that are thrown away into the garbage, along with pots and perennials. I asked if I could purchase them at a discount since they would no longer sell at full price. I was told no. I was told that Masterpiece Flower Company decides that these plants are to be thrown away…WHY!!!!! Why aren’t they marked down for quick sale or donated to schools or retirement homes? Tulips, Lilies, daffodils, hyacinths etc grow each year. This is a highly irrisponsible act and should be stopped! At least provide returns for the cut flower containers, the pots and other containers. The unsellable plants should be taken back and at the very least composted! You are contributing to the garbage problems of this state! Many people cannot afford the high prices of the plants they would love, markdowns would allow many more people to enjoy your plants and flowers! Your way is not very “green” or Earth Friendly. You need to change this!

More From Finance/Operations...

April 17, 2015

Sakata Seed Uses California Spring Trials Display Plants To Give Back

Sakata Seed America is putting its post-CAST (California Spring Trials) plants and flowers to good use to support events in local California communities of Salinas and Morgan Hill. The plants, along with donations through Sakata's Charitable Giving Program, will support three fun-filled community events that promote healthy lifestyles and support the agricultural industry.

Read More
Hakonochloa macra Aureola v

April 17, 2015

Ornamental Grasses — A Few Thoughts

Grasses have been embraced by growers, landscape architects and retailers, and are an important component in wholesale and resale sales. Allan Armitage shares some popular grasses, one to avoid and a few to use with caution.

Read More
PW_CAST15

April 17, 2015

Allan Armitage’s Favorite Plants From Proven Winners, Syngenta And Danziger

Between visiting California Spring Trial giants like Proven Winners, Syngenta and Danziger, Allan Armitage saw a lot of great plants in one day. Despite the size of the challenge, Dr. Armitage finds a few favorites he thinks you should try.

Read More
Latest Stories
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
Dummen

April 8, 2015

Dümmen Group Welcomes Jim Devereux And Andrew Konicki T…

Dümmen group recently announced the addition of Jim Devereux and Andrew Konicki to its team. They are the newest members of the Key Account and Broker Support team for Dümmen, and will be responsible for building, developing and maintaining current broker and grower customer relationships.

Read More
Gov._Jerry_Brown_California

April 8, 2015

California Institutes First Ever Statewide Mandatory Wa…

California Gov. Jerry Brown announced April 1 that, for the first time in state history, action will be taken to implement mandatory water restrictions, with the ultimate goal of reducing water usage by 25 percent. As Californians are pushed to conserve more, growers will need to think about how demand for products will be affected.

Read More
DNA-logo

March 31, 2015

DNA Green Group Will Acquire Rijnplant

DNA Green Group and Riknplant have finalized DNA Green Group's acquisition of Rijnplant, meaning that the breeding and propagation activities in pot and cut anthurium, bougainvillea and heliconia will transfer to DNA Green Group.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadl…

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More

March 23, 2015

UF/IFAS Appoints Joseph Albano As Director Of Mid-Flori…

The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has a new directors for its Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (REC) on Apopka, Fla. The role has been filled by Joseph Albano, a research horticulturist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with more than 25 years of experience.

Read More

March 17, 2015

Pike Nurseries Implements Employee Stock Ownership Plan

Independent garden retailer Pike Nurseries has announced it will become an employee-owned company. Pike Nurseries management has combined with its sister corporation in California, Armstrong Garden Centers, to operate under an established Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

March 10, 2015

GrowIt! Mobile App Now Available For Android

The mobile app GrowIt! Garden Socially can now be used by gardeners with Android-based smartphones. Now available on the Google Play Market, GrowIt! helps users find plants to fit their lifestyle and connect them with other local gardeners.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Second Annual GreenhouseConnect Will Bring Growers and …

Following a successful inaugural event in Tampa last fall, Greenhouse Grower has announced the dates of its second annual GreenhouseConnect: October 26-29, 2015. Representatives of an expected two dozen leading greenhouse operations from across the U.S. will join senior-level suppliers at Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego for several days of one-on-one strategic meetings, a growers-only roundtable, informational sessions and a variety of networking events.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Maryland Green Industry Associations Unite

The Maryland Nursery and Landscape Association recently announced that it is expanding its reach to include the greenhouse industry, meaning it has become The Maryland Nursery, Landscape and Greenhouse Association (MNLGA). The change comes as a result of the planned dissolution of the former Maryland Greenhouse Growers Association and the invitation for those members to join the existing and renamed association.

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
american-hort-logo

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
Greenhouse Grower.com on your desktop, on your phone, on your tablet

February 11, 2015

GreenhouseGrower.com 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, GreenhouseGrower.com. The new design is the product of direct user feedback and GreenhouseGrower.com analytics, and includes responsive design for ease of mobile use.

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