Some Growers Like Growth; Others Like Growing. Which Type Are You?

Jim Sulecki
Jim Sulecki

Editor’s Note: Over the next several months, this column will feature a roundtable of viewpoints from various team members with vested interest in and experience with Greenhouse Grower and the horticulture market. Is bigger necessarily better? Depends. Maybe the better question is, which is better for you? Structures were going up left and right when I started as an editor for Greenhouse Grower magazine in the go-go late 1980s. I helped to compile our very first Top 100 Growers ranking – now, remarkably, in its 27th year (see page 15) – as our way of making some numerical sense of the expansion we saw all around us. Back then a standard question to ask of a grower was, “Are you planning to expand?” and I started to hear “oh yeah” so many times that I perfunctorily poised my pen to write down the expected growth in square footage. Then one particular grower said, “Actually, I have no plans whatsoever to expand.” Pardon me? Did you say… “Yes. Actually I just enjoy growing. If I add square footage I’ll just have to spend more time on management, accounting, taxes, payroll and…” He paused. “The more time I spend on those things, the less time I’ll have for growing.” And there’s no doubt about it: Going the “big” route isn’t for everyone, perhaps least of all a devout plant specialist. A goodly share of this year’s Top 100 Growers say they’ve widened their crop mix – and very often also their varietal selection – to become more of a “one-stop shop” that supplies as much as 75 percent or more of all the plant products their customers buy. Which is not to say expansion is the only route to success. As we’ve been reminded often through the years we’ve compiled the Top 100, biggest does not always mean best. And we heartily agree. Hail to the smaller growers, the boutique producers, the specialists and the niche-fillers who, much like my anti-expansionist acquaintance of years ago, lavish perhaps a bit more individuality to the growing side of things and, if they’re doing things right, are charging a premium for that. But we also caution that a big/small divide we see among growers echoes a wider trend in the business world that was famously described by former Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson as the “long tail:” a handful of very large suppliers accounting for a massive amount of sales rising vertically on an imaginary Y-axis (think Top 100); a multitude of smaller niche players stretching out along a long, tapering, horizontal X-axis “tail” (smaller growers); and not a whole lot in-between. The message: Be one or the other, whichever is truest to your preference and business vision. Some growers like growth, others like growing – know which type of grower you are. Second message: Have a plan. If you’re a smaller grower and you aspire to be a one-stop shop, you’d better plan for rapid growth. If you’re a larger grower who has a long-time specialty, double-down on your dominance in that category or else plan to widen your product mix. Just don’t end up in the middle of the road. As the Pretenders observed, that’s where you’ll see the darnedest things.

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