Every year we send our bedding plant survey to a random sampling of 1,000 growers across the country. This year we had less than a 3 percent response rate, which was a little disappointing, but those of you who did respond provided some great insight.
The spring season was varied for our respondents, some rating it a 2, and others giving it a perfect 10. The positive, though, is that no one’s spring was too abominable (or if it was, you weren’t in the mood to fill out our survey). Seven of the respondents had average springs, 17 had above average springs, and only 4 gave their springs a rating of 4 or lower.
When asked to rate this spring, one grower in New Mexico described it as the “best year ever,” while a Connecticut grower said, “It was the worst season I ever had. Weather was poor and the rising cost of gas caused consumers to spend less than normal.” A Michigan wholesaler who rated the season a 3 summed it up this way: “(We) had many challenges that were very costly to our company with crop quality and vendor reliability.” A New York wholesaler/retailer suffered from the negative effects of an area economic slowdown that meant “less money for frills” for a lot of customers.
Competition also was steep for some of our respondents. One Michigan retailer rated the spring a 4.5 because of an “oversaturated market — greenhouses selling extremely cheap product,” making it “too hard to compete.” An Ohio-based wholesaler/retailer, whose spring was a 7, said the biggest factor in determining that rating was increased competition that made it “hard to get good margins.”
It’s no surprise that energy was another factor that determined the ratings. Although one Illinois wholesaler said sales were a 9, the spring as a whole was rated a 7 because of having to recoup energy costs from the 2005/2006 winter. “Even with increases of pricing and a new energy surcharge, it couldn’t keep up with expenses,” wrote the grower. A Pennsylvania grower reported, “Good sales, but fuel prices caused us to cut back.”
On the whole, the weather seemed to cooperate with most of our respondents, especially in April. Growers in Virginia and Kentucky
reported great weather in April, May and June, but the northeast experienced a cold and rainy April and May. Overall, May was the worst month for our respondents, with 12 of them saying the weather was poor.
Winners and Losers
When asked which plants exceeded expectations this year, several growers said none did. Hands down, though, Wave petunias (one of the few brands named by growers) top the list as the variety that most exceeded expectations. As far as sales volume goes, geraniums and petunias tied for the No. 1 spot, with three growers specifying Wave Petunias as their top seller. Impatiens came in at a close third, along with combination planters and mixed hanging baskets.
As in years past, the love/hate relationship with geraniums prevailed. They took the No. 1 spot for plants that did less than expected sales-wise. Impatiens join the dichotomy, too, taking the No. 2 spot for doing less than expected, while still maintaining a high score in the best sellers category.
One Connecticut grower’s response to what did less than expected in sales this year was “everything.” We’re glad only one respondent felt that way. In general, it seemed to be a decent year.
What’s In Store
So what do our survey respondents have in the works for next year? Some of them won’t change a thing, while others will completely revamp. A Michigan wholesaler plans to aim for “less variety overall for big boxes and larger blocks of colors and varieties.” The OFA Short Course inspired a Kentucky retailer and a Maryland wholesaler/retailer to change to some new varieties they saw there, and the New York grower who suffered from an area economic slowdown will have “less of everything!” An Illinois grower said several factors will determine next year’s plan, including Ball Seed Trials, the Michigan Growers Tour, Local growers’ trials and feedback from customers.
A couple of our more elusive respondents chose to keep their plans on the down low, most likely so they wouldn’t lose their edge to competition. One grower from Oklahoma circled both “yes” and “no” on the survey when asked if he/she will add or remove varieties from next year’s crop mix. “No telling,” wrote the respondent. A response from an Ohio grower read, “It’s a secret.”
Only next year’s bedding plant survey will tell. Thanks to all who participated.