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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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!

More From State of the Industry...
PP&L CAST 2015 intros

April 22, 2015

6 Breeding Companies Serve Up New Varieties At Pacific Plug & Liner

Pacific Plug & Liner’s theme this year, Labyrinth, a conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants, was perfectly topped off (pun intended) with fascinators for the women and newsboy caps for the men. The PP&L team dressed their part to act out the gothic “conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants.” Truly, the displays looked like they practically popped out of a catalog, and the costumes were a nice touch. Retailers take heed, the fully merchandised displays at Pacific Plug & Liner are worthy of emulating. We’ll let the pictures tell the story of all the fabulous variety introductions presented at  Pacific Plug & Liner’s 2015 California Spring Trials, where Cultivaris, Cohen Nurseries, Histil Nurseries, Jaldety Nurseries, Southern Living/Sunset Collection and Pacific Plug & Liner all highlighted their 2016 introductions.  

Read More
Speedling 2015 CAST intros

April 22, 2015

Speedling Inc. Presents New Varieties From ABZ Seeds, Hem Genetics, Thompson & Morgan, Vista Farms & PSI

You name it, we saw it at Speedling's California Spring Trials location in San Juan Bautista, where five companies showed off their new introductions for 2016.

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
Latest Stories
HRI logo

April 8, 2015

Horticultural Research Institute Accepting Scholarship …

The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) is offering seven scholarships for the 2015-2016 school year, totaling $20,000. Applications will be accepted through May 31.

Read More
protecting bees and pollinators video

March 31, 2015

New Video On Protecting Bees And Pollinators Educates H…

A new educational video that provides information on the horticultural industry’s essential role in bee and pollinator stewardship is one result of industry collaboration by the Horticultural Research Institute, AmericanHort, Society of American Florists and the American Floral Endowment. “Protecting Bees & Pollinators: What Horticulture Needs to Know,” narrates the current state of bee and pollinator health, provides information on factors that impact pollinators and the environment and underscores the beneficial role horticulture plays in providing healthy pollinator ecosystems.

Read More

March 25, 2015

NASS Reports U.S. Honey Production Was Up By 19 Percent…

Honey production in 2014 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 178 million pounds, up 19 percent from 2013, according to a March 20 report from the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Read More
cultivate'15 logo

March 4, 2015

Cultivate’15: AmericanHort Announces What’s…

In an industry that has seen major changes occurring at a fast pace, many industry professionals leave Cultivate with their heads spinning and no clear idea of how to regroup and strategize. Cultivate’15 is “Changing the Game.” As this year’s focus, Changing the Game will call your attention to the ways in which our industry has changed and your opportunities to compete successfully.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry

February 2, 2015

Download Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 State Of The In…

The Greenhouse Grower 2015 State Of The Industry Whitepaper includes all the results of the survey, including comparisons on 2014 sales to past years, details on how 2015 production volume and prices will compare to 2014, crops that growers will increase and decrease production on, where growers stand on using neonicotinoids on crops, how many growers will pursue growing medical marijuana and more.

Read More

January 27, 2015

Benchmarks: Let’s Change Our Story

It's a new year. Time for our industry to change how consumers perceive plants by creating a new reality where plants are valued for more than their physical beauty.

Read More

January 21, 2015

AFE Wins Platinum MarCom Award For “Murder, Sex a…

The American Floral Endowment (AFE) took home its fourth award for the animated awareness video "Murder, Sex and Greed." The organization also recently announced that there are two new members on its board of trustees.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry

January 19, 2015

2015 State Of The Industry: Current Green Industry Tren…

Demand for green industry products and services is forecasted to increase in coming years as the housing market rebounds.

Read More
DNA-logo

January 14, 2015

Terra Nigra Joins DNA Green Group

DNA Green Group will be expanding its range of cut flowers by incorporating Terra Nigra, a company specializing in breeding and propagation of gerberas and roses.

Read More

January 14, 2015

Florensis Receives Horticultural Entrepreneur Award

During the January 7, 2015 award ceremony in the Keukenhof, in Lisse, Netherlands, Florensis received the Horticultural Entrepreneur Award. Florensis was one of four nominated companies, which also included Arcadia BV, Artemis and Martens Asperges.

Read More
AmericanHort

January 9, 2015

AmericanHort Celebrates Its First Birthday

AmericanHort was formally launched one year ago on January 1, 2014, and the association is celebrating numerous successes of the first year.

Read More
Carol Miller

January 7, 2015

We’re All In This Together

Growers and retailers have a common goal — to serve customers better. In this new column, Greenhouse Grower will take a look at ways growers and retailers can work together to take advantage of profit opportunities and better meet customer needs.

Read More

January 7, 2015

Industry Speaks Out Against “Waters Of The U.S.” Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule change to the Clean Water Act, known as “waters of the U.S.,” has the potential to disrupt normal business practices for growers across the country.

Read More

January 7, 2015

Students Tackle Real-Life Challenges At National FFA Fl…

Top prize winners put skills learned in the classroom to the test at the National Future Farmers of America (FFA) Floriculture Career Development Event.

Read More
Lesley Judd

January 7, 2015

2014 Meister Scholarship Awarded To Ph.D Student

The Richard T. Meister Scholarship was awarded to Lesley Judd, a graduate student with a passion for horticulture and a desire to pass her knowledge along through teaching.

Read More

January 6, 2015

39th Annual Today’s Horticulture Symposium Will Be Febr…

The Professional Gardener Alumni Association (PGAA) will hold the 39th Annual Today’s Horticulture Symposium program will be on February 6, 2015 from 8 a.m. or 4 p.m. in the Ballroom at Longwood Gardens, and will feature an array of engaging speakers.

Read More
Shawn McBurney

January 6, 2015

Society Of American Florists Hires New Lobbyist

Shawn McBurney joined the Society of American Florists' (SAF) staff starting January 5 as the new senior director of government relations.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry

January 5, 2015

Growers Are Optimistic For A Strong Year In 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s State Of The Industry survey reveals that growers are being cautious about the inputs they use, and they’re worried about input costs and regulation, but enthusiastic about the rebounding economy.

Read More