Five Questions With … Fran Hopkins

Five Questions With … Fran Hopkins

Fran Hopkins, president of Under a Foot Plant Co., shares her take on the state of the industry this week.

How would you describe the state of the greenhouse floriculture industry today?

In complete disarray and total pandemonium. I must say this is the most disturbing place I have ever been in as a grower, as an owner and as a marketer. Instead of a unified front, forging forward in this horrible economy, we are regressing into civil war–box store versus independent, generic versus brand, paper versus plastic. You name it, our industry has pushed itself into every corner it can with a fight or flight mentality.

I used to love this industry, but going to meetings now is a dreadful undertaking. It’s vigilante time for many I think. Instead of pulling together and finding a common cause to whip this bad economy, my friends and colleagues are yelling at each other and pulling the industry I love so much apart.

Has our industry entered a new era or paradigm shift? Please explain why or why not.

I believe it has. We have seen these shifts before over the last 20 some years, but never this dramatic. We are all working for pennies now instead of dimes. What used to be an easy sale is getting harder and harder. Many, many people are sitting on the sidelines and complaining about how hard it is, complaining about the “other” side making their life harder, instead of rolling up their sleeves and accepting that things have changed.

I hope (for the independent retailer’s sake) we have seen the last of the double plus 10 pricing structure. Shoppers are smarter than that now–they have to be. Every dollar counts now. Pricing products to grab all the money from one customer instead of a little bit from many is a mentality that has sent many retailers to the big dark retailer in the sky.

Has there been a changing of the guard in industry leadership? Please explain your answer.

What industry leadership? We have factions around the country that are more intent on getting “their” viewpoint heard rather than a communal message. Until this industry steps away from the Dark Ages and comes into the light of the new millennium, I am afraid our industry will continue to deteriorate.

If there are “leaders” of this industry, lead! Bring this industry together rather than pull it apart for your own sector’s interest. We are “the” green industry, all of us: trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials, annuals, independents, boxes, landscapers and growers. Everyone is in this industry and our products help the world breathe. No one else in the world can state that equivocally.

Why is this such a hard message to unify around. The consumer gets it. Why can’t we?

What are the greatest challenges growers are facing today?

Shrinking margins and nervous retailers. Retailers are too afraid to take inventory, thus pushing growers to grow on spec, which they won’t anymore. No orders, no product grown. No one is taking any chances right now. This is the same cycle we saw last year, except much more viral.

It’s not the economy, silly; it’s the weather that makes sales in our industry. Spring came last year, just like it does every year and was fantastic. Every retailer was caught with way too low of inventory, and every grower was sent scrambling to grow more product in a shorter amount of time. And by the time everyone was ready, the rush was over and everyone got stuck with product. Timing is everything and in a bad economy, the timid lose.

What are the greatest opportunities for growers to build their business?

What I can tell you is this: I have an ever-increasing consumer base that wants our product more than ever before. When in doubt, go with a national brand. They have the power and the clout to move consumers to buy a product. We are reaching consumers on a level never seen in this industry before.

Instead of brands being the whipping post for the industry right now, we all ought to be getting a hero’s reception for keeping the 21st century consumer interested in digging in the dirt–because it sure ain’t happening from the “generics” out there.
Realistically, this industry has found itself in the middle of a “lane change” and it doesn’t like it. Most have their feet firmly planted in the ground and are refusing to accept that the road has completely shifted into a new highway, leading in a whole new direction. They do not understand there is no road leading back to the good old days. This is it–and those who have merged with traffic and changed lanes with the times will reap the benefits. Those who don’t won’t.

Leave a Reply

20 comments on “Five Questions With … Fran Hopkins

  1. Anonymous

    No doubt our industry has changed lanes and is heading down a new highway. The “good old days” are just that, a memory. New idea’s and methods will surely be the success stories to come.

  2. Anonymous

    Well said! To try to define this industry is to try to herd cats. It is just so damn difficult. We can complain or we can lead. Thanks Fran for comments obviously from the heart.

  3. Anonymous

    We can lead by example, not retoric. We are the leaders of our generation and we can set it’s direction. The customer base is there, the interest level has never been so high, and the course is set. We as growers need to get behind the wheel, take control and floor it!

  4. Anonymous

    i certainly agree this is my 32nd. year and i think there is somethng broke here. in 1980 i wholesaled poinsettias for 5.00 ea. and now i can buy a nice one for 4.75. im tired of working for nothing. we all really need to get togeather and show people what were worth.

  5. Anonymous

    Great commentary Fran, I could not have said it better myself other than to reiterate ALL segments need to heed your input, plant suppliers, chemical suppliers, media suppliers, fertilizer etc….

  6. Anonymous

    Succinctly put! As a past grower and present industry supplier I see this crisis from both sides, but I also see many opportunities, and those that pursue them will flourish.

  7. Anonymous

    Very well put. I have seen the pessimism you speak of and I have never let it affect my optimism about what this industry has to offer. I have been a grower for 25 yrs and have always felt that if I grew a quality product at a FAIR price that I would be successful. At this point and time we as growers have more opportunity than ever. When the economy is bad it means a big advantage for us as growers. Consumers are spending less on high ticket items and staying home in the summer. Take advantage of the next few years because if you don’t it could be disasterous. That means that you might want to grow just a little extra on spec next year. You might also consider selling a few things for a few pennies less than you might. We have more competition for disposable income than ever and consumers are very thrifty about how they spend it. Consumers are looking for values so provide a few. We have lived in the past way to long. Remember it is 2009 not 1980. I have a very successful business and I don’t even remember what I sold poinsettias for last year or even care what I sold them for in 1980. All I know is that I am still making a good living and having a great time doing it. Embrace change because change is inevitable.

  8. Anonymous

    Very well said Fran! I would add that the industry’s current propensities to devalue their crops just to keep up cash flow will soon weed out the poor business people and hopefully those of us who are selling product for what it is worth and not less than it costs to grow will still be here to enjoy greener days ahead!

  9. Anonymous

    No doubt our industry has changed lanes and is heading down a new highway. The “good old days” are just that, a memory. New idea’s and methods will surely be the success stories to come.

  10. Anonymous

    Well said! To try to define this industry is to try to herd cats. It is just so damn difficult. We can complain or we can lead. Thanks Fran for comments obviously from the heart.

  11. Anonymous

    We can lead by example, not retoric. We are the leaders of our generation and we can set it’s direction. The customer base is there, the interest level has never been so high, and the course is set. We as growers need to get behind the wheel, take control and floor it!

  12. Anonymous

    i certainly agree this is my 32nd. year and i think there is somethng broke here. in 1980 i wholesaled poinsettias for 5.00 ea. and now i can buy a nice one for 4.75. im tired of working for nothing. we all really need to get togeather and show people what were worth.

  13. Anonymous

    Great commentary Fran, I could not have said it better myself other than to reiterate ALL segments need to heed your input, plant suppliers, chemical suppliers, media suppliers, fertilizer etc….

  14. Anonymous

    Succinctly put! As a past grower and present industry supplier I see this crisis from both sides, but I also see many opportunities, and those that pursue them will flourish.

  15. Anonymous

    Very well put. I have seen the pessimism you speak of and I have never let it affect my optimism about what this industry has to offer. I have been a grower for 25 yrs and have always felt that if I grew a quality product at a FAIR price that I would be successful. At this point and time we as growers have more opportunity than ever. When the economy is bad it means a big advantage for us as growers. Consumers are spending less on high ticket items and staying home in the summer. Take advantage of the next few years because if you don’t it could be disasterous. That means that you might want to grow just a little extra on spec next year. You might also consider selling a few things for a few pennies less than you might. We have more competition for disposable income than ever and consumers are very thrifty about how they spend it. Consumers are looking for values so provide a few. We have lived in the past way to long. Remember it is 2009 not 1980. I have a very successful business and I don’t even remember what I sold poinsettias for last year or even care what I sold them for in 1980. All I know is that I am still making a good living and having a great time doing it. Embrace change because change is inevitable.

  16. Anonymous

    Very well said Fran! I would add that the industry’s current propensities to devalue their crops just to keep up cash flow will soon weed out the poor business people and hopefully those of us who are selling product for what it is worth and not less than it costs to grow will still be here to enjoy greener days ahead!