In the early 1980s, Shemin Nursery, owned by Weyerhaeuser, Inc., began a grower supply business in Homestead, Fla., including a Young Plants division supplying plant cuttings from Europe and Central America to Florida growers. In 1987, Weyerhaeuser/Shemin withdrew from the area, and Foremost Foliage was born. From 1987 to 1992, Foremost Foliage, Inc. imported foliage cuttings to supply Florida growers. And then came Hurricane Andrew.
“Virtually all Foremost employees lost their homes or suffered severe damage,” says Randy Natalino, co-owner and vice president of marketing for ForemostCo. “The damage to Foremost Foliage was also very severe–much of its market and customer base were simply gone.”
But, when some would’ve given up, Foremost moved on and flourished. Natalino attributes much of the business’s ability to survive to the help and confidence of suppliers and customers.
“During this time, a decision was made to diversify both geographically throughout North America, and also beyond foliage into supplying young plants for perennials, groundcover, landscape/ornamental and flowering crops,” Natalino says. To illustrate the changes, the company’s name was changed to ForemostCo, Inc., and it has maintained double-digit growth over the last decade, thanks in part to its diversification. According to Natalino, only about 45 percent of the company’s sales are in foliage products now, and only about 40 percent are within Florida. But, it’s not just diversifying that has helped the company remain so successful.
“ForemostCo believes the key to sustainable business growth is in bringing value to every relationship, every transaction and every employee that it touches,” Natalino says, noting that in 20 years, ForemostCo has never missed a week’s shipment. “The proof that bringing value has been successful is not just ForemostCo’s steady growth over the years, but in the strong relationship it has created with suppliers, customers and employees,” he adds.
ForemostCo brings great value to its customers through quick turnaround times, which is no small feat considering where much of the product is coming from and going to.
“When a California customer orders large sanseveria cuttings far too heavy to ship by air, ForemostCo imports them from Central America to Miami, and then ships them on without delay by a ForemostCo-contracted truck direct to California,” says Natalino. “The quick turnaround time, the fresh material and the regular supply gives this grower a distinct advantage in his market.”
The company also goes above and beyond to make sure its young plants never sit. Natalino says imported shipments are cleared and forwarded on within only a few hours of arrival, even if that means extra expense and working after hours. One Christmas, for example, a perishable shipment of geranium cuttings arrived on Christmas Eve to ForemostCo. The company found USDA inspectors, and the shipment was cleared, arriving at the Dallas airport on Christmas morning for the customer.
“We have 14,000 items or more, but the customer only cares about the item that he needs,” says Joe Roberts, president at ForemostCo. “We can never lose sight of that.”
The employees are a big part of ForemostCo’s success, too, and a large percentage of its workforce was recognized as “life employees” in a recent survey, meaning they have committed their futures, both financially and professionally, to ForemostCo. Natalino says hiring people from outside the industry has been great for the company, too.
“We’re actually quite proud that we bring people in from outside the industry,” he says. “It started out by virtue of our location. We’re out by the Miami airport, quite far from nursery areas, and as we’ve been able to bring people in from outside the industry, we get a fantastic perspective, and it’s been great.”
The hiring process, according to Natalino, is very methodical. “A great deal of emphasis is placed on finding the proverbial ‘right fit’ for both parties,” he notes.
ForemostCo strives to be constantly innovative. Natalino says the company is always investing resources to develop new varieties and improve leadership. Thanks to its three farms in Central America, the company is able to provide a wide range of offshore cuttings, in addition to plugs and liners from Phoenix Foliage, Inc., a ForemostCo-owned liner production operation in Winter Garden, Fla.
Natalino adds that ForemostCo’s international component is going to be a huge area of growth for the company in the future. ForemostCo exhibited at the IPM show in Germany earlier this year and has begun to do quite a bit of business in Europe.
But no matter how much it grows, the company’s focus will always be on the customer. Jim Rietkerk of Kallisto Greenhouses in Fontana, Calif., has been dealing with ForemostCo for at least the last six years and says his experience working with the company has been very positive.
“One of their strengths is they have logistics down really well as far as product coming in from Central America and Florida,” he says. “They’ve really mastered the logistics on doing that, which enables us to not have to buy particularly huge quantities of one item, but the right amount of each item that fits our needs.”
Rietkerk adds that this is especially helpful when the market shifts, allowing Kallisto to respond accordingly.
Another advantage to working with ForemostCo, according to Rietkerk, is the company’s depth of product, including foliage material, nursery material and blooming crop material. This product depth allows for what Rietkerk refers to as “one-stop shopping.”
And as for the future?
“Foremost began with the idea to create an entity that will outlast its founders,” says Roberts. “In 20 years, some of the people here will still be around, and there will also be a fresh group of folks with new ideas. In 20 years, ForemostCo will be at the forefront of the industry, wherever that might be. In 40 years, we’ll be in the same place. The targets are moving, but we must continue to be innovative, work hard, and be honest and dedicated.”