Danny Takao has a greenhouse operation to run, and he’s been doing just that at Takao Nursery for nearly 30 years. But Takao wonders where his operation and others will be in the next 30 if the industry fails to connect with the next generation of consumers.
“We need to think beyond our own little companies,” Takao says. “If we band together and can have an organization that’s really focused and well funded to educate the next group of consumers â€“from kindergarteners to college studentsâ€“it would really pull all the supply chains together. Everybody would benefit.”
Part of Takao’s mission as OFA‘s current president is to cultivate that next generation of consumers so our industry remains relevant and prosperous in the coming years. Takao wants to engage more young people with OFAâ€“as part of its board of directors, committees or as members.
Financially, OFA took off under John Holmes, who served as CEO from 2002 until his unexpected death in February 2009. Under Holmes, OFA developed partnerships with other industry groups, strengthened its role as an event manager and ultimately became a national association. Holmes is certainly missed, but the OFA staff and interim CEO Jim Broderick steered the association through a difficult period and emerged as strong as ever. Takao showed leadership during OFA’s 12-plus months without a full-time CEO.
“OFA was fortunate to have Danny as our leader during the transition from one chief executive officer to another,” says Michael Geary, OFA’s current CEO. “His calm demeanor and experience was critical to the process and helped me settle into my new job. But don’t be fooled by his peaceful appearance because Danny is an aggressive champion for the horticulture industry and for OFA, specifically. We rely on his perspectives and are thankful to have him as our volunteer president for another year.”
Takao began serving OFA as a member of its grower committee. Doug Cole, president of D.S. Cole Growers and a former OFA president, nominated Takao for the committee. When Cole became OFA president in 2005, Takao took Cole’s spot on OFA’s board of directors for a year and he served for another year before becoming vice president under past president Bobby Barnitz.
“Danny seemed like a focused grower,” Cole says, thinking back to when Takao became involved with OFA. “He didn’t really have distractions, and he seemed like the kind of person who would both benefit from OFA and benefit OFA itself.”
Cole reached out to Takao, too, because OFA was becoming a national organization rather than the Ohio-centric organization it first was.
At the time Takao joined, OFA was underrepresented on the West Coast. So Takao’s involvement sent a message that OFA had national aspirations. “OFA is a national association now because the Ohio growers did such a good job making this state association so attractive that it brought in people from around the globe,” Takao says. “Due to their educational programs, OFA became a national organization.”
Now, Takao is carrying on those growers’ legacies. “Once Danny got involved with OFA, he had the commitment,” Cole says. “When he became president, it was really evident he wasn’t just hanging out and doing the bare minimum. He’s making sure conversations are taking place.”
Thinking One Step Ahead
As a grower, Takao is regularly having conversations about the market and how his greenhouse operation best fits into it. During Takao’s early years, Takao Nursery was primarily a bedding plant and groundcover producer. But conversations with Don Hanna and Pete Kruger of Vaughan’s Seed in the early 1990s convinced Takao his operation needed to move into liner production.
“Prices were going backward at the time in the groundcovers market,” Takao says. “Everybody was taking market share from each other. We figured we needed to make a transition or get out of the business.”
But today’s young plant growers, like yesterday’s groundcover growers, aren’t immune to challengesâ€“particularly in California. Takao has observed growers elsewhere in the United States can more easily transition from producing young plants to finished plants. Takao Nursery doesn’t have that luxury, though.
“We don’t have that option because California growers do not want young plant producers competing against them,” Takao says. “It forces us to find product that fits into late spring, early summer, late summer and our perennial production so that we’re operating year round.”
One specialty plant Takao Nursery recently began producing is UC Verde Buffalograss, a turf replacement that can thrive on just a quarter inch of water a week. In California, where water regulations have forced growers to make difficult production decisions, Buffalograss makes sense.
“We’re constantly looking for product lines where material has to be stocked during those different times of the year,” Takao says. “We’ll start sticking Flower Carpet liners that go back to the fields in Wasco (Calif.) for growing. We have mandevillas we stick during the summer. We’re just trying to keep our greenhouses full and our people working.”
Because Takao Nursery is at the point where it’s searching for specialty crops to propagate, Takao realizes he may eventually have to make another transitional business decision. “Young plant growers have to really create a new model compared to what they did in the past,” Takao says. “To hold some market share, we’re going to have to really be price conscious, regional and mindful of freight costs. If young plant growers are not doing that, they’re going to have to transition out of young plants and move toward the finished side.”
Other options are leaving the industry or becoming grower-retailers. “The grower-retailer model is dominant on the East Coast and in the Midwest,” Takao says. “I think we’re going to be seeing that more on the West Coast. California is predominantly chain stores. We have a lot of mid- to small-sized growers who are not going to be able to sell to box stores. As some independent garden retailers get to retirement age, growers are going to have to find new customers.”
Could Takao see his operation transiting to the grower-retailer mold? “I could,” he says. “Our property here is actually getting housing built around it, so I could see that happening in the near future.”