The Perennial Farm: Walking In Their Shoes

Slideshow: The Perennial Farm

Realizing quality plants are only the entry point, The Perennial Farm in Glen Arm, Md., delights in raising the bar by out-servicing and out-marketing the competition. In fact, owner Rick Watson takes pride in being what he calls the price-value leader and explains what that means.

“We’re not always the cheapest in town but we are the price-value leader,” he says. “For what you pay and what you get, we consider ourselves the best. Selling plants cheaply is easy. Getting value for your product takes talent. Value is not always the cheapest price.”

Watson knows his customers’ needs, because he used to be on the receiving end buying plants from growers. He grew up in his family’s retail business, Watson’s Garden Center, still located in Towson, Md. After graduating from the University of Maryland with a horticulture degree and focus on garden center management, he and a partner started Exterior Design, a design-build landscaping business in 1980. It was his frustrations in sourcing plant material that led him to become a grower.

“When I purchased perennials and ornamental grasses, the plants were always smaller than I needed or wanted,” he says. “I wanted a more dramatic input at the time of planting. We started growing our own in larger sizes and then selling them to garden centers.”

When Watson’s landscape business partner passed away in 1998, he decided to move forward as a grower and renamed the business The Perennial Farm. His wife, Gail, is actively involved on the bookkeeping side and son, Tom, is a senior at Salisbury University, studying business, communications and marketing.

The farm has since grown to 100 employees, half of whom are seasonal. Managers are a mix of industry veterans and outsiders. For instance, sales and marketing director Ed Kiley came to the farm from the aerospace engineering industry seven years ago. In addition to building and designing several great websites, Kiley brings fresh thinking. On the softer side, Nancy Mickey is a plant guru and garden lover who loves to write articles for the company’s websites.

Customer-Centric Systems

The Perennial Farm’s fulfillment and logistics systems put the customer first. A few years ago, the company invested in handheld devices from SBI Nursery Software that integrate inventory control, order entry and order retrieval. Plants are pulled according to each customer’s order instead of amassing all the plants in a central area. The pull tickets have detailed instructions by customer related to tags and labels.

“Instead of pulling all the rudbeckia together for 20 jobs, we go to the greenhouses, pull plants, clean them, tag them, stack them on a rack and take them to the loading dock, where they are staged for delivery,” Kiley explains. “We have a dedicated work station right at the greenhouse. When plants are pulled by order, we can do a more efficient job of selecting what the customers demand.”

In addition to pulling the most precise order for the customer, the farm hangs its hat on beating its competition at delivery. The farm serves garden centers and landscapers in a region that spans as far north as Maine down to North Carolina. Four representatives are on the road visiting customers and placing orders on the spot.

“We love to frustrate the competition,” Kiley says. “We have customers in Boston who say we get plants to them faster than a source 30 minutes down the road.” Watson recalls another story about a competing grower’s representative spending a few hours at a garden center and witnessing the fast turnaround from The Perennial Farm. “The garden center had placed a small order with us and it arrived before he left.”

Kiley says the farm proactively schedules deliveries. “Everybody wants delivery on Friday, but if you schedule everybody for Friday, you’re going to disappoint a lot of people,” he says. “So we say we can deliver it to you sooner and push it forward, so for those who wait until Thursday to place an order, we can perform for them.”

Just-in-time delivery is especially important for landscapers, Watson adds. “We deliver to job sites and unload there. The shipment doesn’t have to go to a yard and be reloaded.” The farm also goes the extra mile responding to landscapers’ requests for quotes on plant lists. “If we have 16 of the 20 plants but not the other four, we will propose substitutions in similar form or color. We will also get a plant from somewhere else to make the order happen,” Watson says. “If you can’t supply all the plants, you’ll lose the order. They’ll give us the order because we are the total solution.”


Supporting Retailers

The Perennial Farm supports independent garden centers with a choice of looks and brands. Its signature tag is a Big Barn tag. Retailers can choose custom labeling options by adding their name and pricing. Sticky labels on the side of the pot are another option. In addition to tags, the farm supplies posters and brochures that serve as silent sales aides.

One hot new brand is Treadwell, inspired by Stepables creeping groundcovers. Watson has improved the line by growing plants in a larger size (a true perennial quart) and choosing plants that are easier to get and will withstand his market’s growing conditions. Garden Centers can promote Treadwell as its house brand and have market exclusivity.

A version of these plants geared more toward the landscaping trade is Mr. Big Stuff, which is sold in flats of 72 or 50 landscape plugs. This form is ideal for green walls and green roofs.

Another exciting niche the farm is simplifying is native plants. While a specialist could offer 850 plants, the farm has narrowed the assortment down to 225 that look great in pots and are readily available. These plants are featured in a book the company published called, “What’s Native,” which also has a supporting website, WhatsNative.com. Dr. Allan Armitage wrote the forward for the book and spoke at a symposium the farm hosted for 300 of its customers in January. 

The book tells the facts and stories behind each plant, including medicinal uses and folklore. The website has maps that show where plants are native. “It’s a subtle way of branding instead of saying our echinacea is better,” Kiley says. “We’re providing high quality pictures and information.”

Educational outreach has been an effective way to market. The farm’s experts make presentations to consumers on topics such as how to create a butterfly garden or attract hummingbirds, and their PowerPoints are available for others to use.

One of Kiley’s first big projects was building and designing a consumer-friendly website called GrowingForYou.com, which has engaged more than a million visitors since 2003. It is rich in content with hundreds of articles and thousands of pictures. It does not promote The Perennial Farm but is a place where retailers and landscapers can direct their customers–the consumer–for more information. The farm’s experts answer consumer questions and respond as Growing For You.

Last but not least, the farm has its own extensive website, PerennialFarm.com, which is a digital companion to its 132-page printed catalog.

Watson and Kiley view the investment in these resources as an investment in retailer success. “If they sell more perennials, we’ll sell more to them,” Kiley says. “Customers want to buy but they don’t want to be sold.”

Leave a Reply

6 comments on “The Perennial Farm: Walking In Their Shoes

  1. Wow! What a great article and so much good information. I love the way they have differentiated themselves. They are right…anyone can compete on price and they are soon to go out of business.

  2. Great Company. We deal with them and they are the best! Tried a couple of other growers and they disappoint. The Perennial Farm always does what they promise.

  3. I’m from China, so happy to see all these informations,I’m interesting about perennials, and I’ll keep looking at your imformation.

  4. Wow! What a great article and so much good information. I love the way they have differentiated themselves. They are right…anyone can compete on price and they are soon to go out of business.

  5. Great Company. We deal with them and they are the best! Tried a couple of other growers and they disappoint. The Perennial Farm always does what they promise.

  6. I’m from China, so happy to see all these informations,I’m interesting about perennials, and I’ll keep looking at your imformation.

More From Finance/Operations...

May 22, 2015

Nexus Greenhouses Is Optimistic For Expansion Into New Markets

Cheryl Longtin and Mike Porter, who own Nexus Corporation, say they were excited to attend the grand opening of Gotham Greens’ new structure atop the new Whole Foods grocery store in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., when it opened in December 2013. The project is just one example of some of the new and expanding markets that Nexus Corporation has expanded into over the past few years. Jeff Warschauer, vice president of sales for Nexus, says the company has enjoyed getting to know and working with the founders of Gotham Greens, Viraj Puri and Eric Haley, and Jennifer Nelkin Frymark, the chief agriculture officer, on their innovative approach to business. “They are very excited and work hard internally – just great people,” he says. “From our perspective, it’s great to see that excitement and vision. The employees there are happy and there’s no turnover; they’re only adding new people […]

Read More
Farwest2015

May 20, 2015

2015 Farwest Show Announces Second Annual Equipment Innovation Day

The second annual Equipment Innovation Day will be Tuesday, Aug. 25, prior to the 2015 Farwest show, which will be August 27-29 in Portland, Ore. Equipment Innovation Day, which was enthusiastically received in 2014, offers a real-time opportunity to see new heavy and automated nursery equipment in action. The demonstrations take place in manufacturing and nursery settings, adding value to the showcase. Attendees will be able to talk with participating manufacturers and learn first-hand from innovative growers who use the equipment in daily operations. The day-long event will be held at the main manufacturing plant of GK Machines, Inc., Donald, Ore. Further demonstrations of field equipment will take place at the nearby nursery of A&R Spada Farms, LLC. Bus travel to and from the event is planned, starting at and returning to the Oregon Convention Center. Attendees are welcome to provide their own travel to and from the site. Preregistration is required. The cost […]

Read More
Bee On Flower

May 20, 2015

White House Task Force Releases Pollinator Health Strategy

An interagency Pollinator Health Task Force commissioned by President Obama released its “Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” on May 19. The strategy, released in accordance with the Presidential Memorandum issued last June, is accompanied by a Pollinator Research Action Plan, which outlines needs and priority actions to better understand pollinator losses and improve pollinator health. The recommended actions will be supported by a coordination of existing federal research efforts and accompanied by a request to Congress for additional resources to respond to losses in pollinator populations. Pages 47 through 52 specifically address pesticides and pollinators. The report calls out plant production, native plants, mosquito control and all urban uses in its Pollinator Action Plan. RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) says it supports the goals of improving pollinator health and habitat contained in the White House Pollinator Task Force’s release of its National […]

Read More
Latest Stories
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
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