State Of The Industry: Driving Sales In A Down Economy

State Of The Industry: Driving Sales In A Down Economy

At a time when so many companies are filled with doom and gloom, we’re seeking out the success stories–growers who are defying the recession and excelling. The three growers we’re featuring offer strategies you can implement in your business.

Dedication & Reputation

Bettinger Farms in Swanton, Ohio, near Toledo is mostly focused on spring production, serving independent garden centers in the South and Eastern Midwest. At a time when maintaining sales is the new up, Bettinger’s sales continue to grow–12 percent in 2007, 3 percent in 2008 and 4 percent in 2009. The business was founded in 1940 by the legendary Leonard Bettinger, a pioneer in the bedding plant revolution. The 11-acre operation is now run by son Ron Bettinger, his son Brian and John Pawlaczyk.

“Even though the company has gone through many changes in the past 50 years, the key to our company’s success hasn’t changed–excellent employees and teamwork,” Ron says. “The people here care about the product and service as much as the owners care. We believe in leading by example and treating people with respect and integrity. The cooperation of the staff is phenomenal as in any successful business, whether the market is good or poor. My belief is that an economic downturn is a time to gain market share. It is tough to run a business today, but our goal is to continue to produce quality plants and grow relationships in the future. Positive thinking and excitement have taken us forward.”

Bettinger Farms prides itself on staying current on what’s new in the industry and performing well, as well as giving customers the tools to be successful in business. Standing behind the quality of its plants, Bettinger is now producing in branded pots. “We all offer plants and every customer has more than one supplier,” Ron explains. “That has given us the opportunity to show them the difference in product and service. Within 24 hours, their load is sitting at their door. Delivery is very crucial to their 12-week sales window. By combining a quality product with personal service, we don’t have to push a product out the door at a lower price just to say we moved it.”

While the season may only be 12 weeks, Brian’s wife Debbie nurtures customer relationships year round. “They are not just customers to us, they are my friends,” she says. “I don’t want the season to end and it really doesn’t for me. I keep working at it, thinking of new ideas and ways to make it better. I keep my customers updated, listen to them and visit them. Our customers can reach me in sales 24/7. They have my home number and cell phone number. I am here for them during the busy time to get the job done. I really love what we do and am proud of every bit of it.”

Shaping Up Shipping
Robrick Nursery in Hawthorne, Fla. sells finished plants to garden centers and landscapers and young plants to small to mid-sized wholesale nurseries. “Most of our attention is on rooted liners and our prefinished 4-inch program,” Robyn Turek says. “It’s with young plants we’ve seen the most sales impact.”
The company has driven sales for 2010 by solving shipping problems in 2009. While sales were down in 2009, prebooked sales for 2010 were already up 20-25 percent in December. These shipping solutions include working with Federal Express to negotiate better rates and a new bulk box that eliminates the risk of tumbling, protects plants better from extreme temperatures and uses 45 percent less cardboard.

“The loudest complaint we have heard from customers has been about the high cost of shipping, and we are doing something about it,” Turek says. “We have responded by working closely with FedEx to negotiate better rates with both Express and Freight. We have also worked closely with the Packaging Corporation of America to improve our packaging for FedEx Freight while reducing the cost. Orders that ship in our new Big Box can see as much as 60 percent savings on packaging costs while not losing any of the temperature insulation value and virtually eliminating the possibility of tumbling in transit.”

Robrick’s also is calling each customer to let them know the order is shipping and presenting the opportunity for customers to add last-minute items to fill the box and maximize freight. “We then follow up with the customer a few days after the plants are delivered to ensure that everything arrived in excellent condition,” she says. “This enables us to respond quickly if a claim needs to be processed with the carrier or if replacements need to be sent out.”

Spring Soul Searching
Lloyd and Candy Traven of Peace Tree Farm in Kintnersville, Pa., are completely revamping their spring production and going back to being a funky, niche grower. While petunias and calibrachoas represented 40 percent of spring sales, they will only be 5 percent in 2010. Hanging baskets will be custom grown and the only zonal geraniums Peace Tree will be growing are the fancy-leafed types. The potted plants will be broader range of interesting foliage and component plants in smaller numbers.

“I can’t make money off geraniums and calibrachoas. I am the sweet stuff guy,” Lloyd says. “We have to go back to being Peace Tree, which is growing weird, funky plants and heirloom annuals. This is what we were always known for, but when we opened our new greenhouse, we got away from it. It was all about filling the trucks. It’s not what we do, and frankly, it’s not much fun.”

So what is the sweet stuff at Peace Tree? In addition to always being known for a full range of herbs, Peace Tree grows 180 varieties of heirloom begonias, 60 varieties of succulents, 35 varieties of coleus and a wide selection of salvia. Plants with interesting foliage include acalyphas, pseuderanthemums and alternantheras. The couple is also looking at expanding standard tree forms and topiaries in coleus, geraniums and Fleurette mums. The Travens went to Israel this fall and were especially excited about niche offerings from Jaldety and a bulb grower.

These niche product categories will help Peace Tree’s independent garden center customers differentiate themselves from the box stores, too. “People are excited and want more interesting plants,” Lloyd says.

This strategy worked out especially well during the Christmas season. Peace Tree has developed a Christmas Tree Poinsettia that is a tall cone of red flowers, wholesales for $25 and retails for $50-$60. Winter Rose varieties are grown as standard trees. The poinsettias were nearly sold out by Thanksgiving. Herb topiaries also sold well.

One new signature Christmas crop is fully fruited peppers and tomatoes as decorative gift plants. Vegetables have been an exciting direction since Peace Tree’s production became USDA-certified Organic and they developed the One Earth brand for edibles, flowers, foliage, begonias and succulents. “We’re looking at gourmet grocery year round, not just another garden center program,” Lloyd says. “Has the investment in becoming certified organic paid off? We’re still in business. Would we be if we hadn’t? Maybe not. It has been that tough. I am convinced it will pay off.”

Help From Gen Y
In addition to focusing on product development, the Travens have hired Stephanie Whitehouse, a fresh Cornell University grad, to help with sales, marketing and customer service. She is developing Peace Tree’s online sales capabilities and website while enhancing marketing communications and pursuing social media. She also is calling on customers for business and following up after orders have been place to confirm delivery plans and promote add-on sales. The follow-through makes a difference.

 “One of the biggest issues for Candy and I is we’re kind of dinosaurs,” Lloyd says. “We’ve done this a long time and it doesn’t work with a lot of our customers now who are turning over to the new generation. We’re also serving brand new customers, like Terrain, with a different sensibility. We get frustrated. Even though I’m happy, pleasant and nice, they see the look on my face. I’ve been driving customers away. At least I’m man enough to admit it. I could take the attitude of ‘Fine, I don’t need you,’ but I do. Some new customers we’ve been after are gravitating toward Stephanie.”

Leave a Reply

More From State of the Industry...
Greenhouse Electrical System

May 26, 2015

Don’t Let Your Greenhouse Electrical System Come Up Short – Part 1

Ensuring your greenhouse has enough electricity to operate all the equipment that is installed takes planning and consideration of an operation's needs. Part one of two articles on greenhouse electrical systems covers choosing an electrician, meeting immediate and future needs and planning for back-up power.

Read More

May 22, 2015

Nexus Greenhouses Is Optimistic For Expansion Into New Markets

Cheryl Longtin and Mike Porter, who own Nexus Corporation, say they were excited to attend the grand opening of Gotham Greens’ new structure atop the new Whole Foods grocery store in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., when it opened in December 2013. The project is just one example of some of the new and expanding markets that Nexus Corporation has expanded into over the past few years. Jeff Warschauer, vice president of sales for Nexus, says the company has enjoyed getting to know and working with the founders of Gotham Greens, Viraj Puri and Eric Haley, and Jennifer Nelkin Frymark, the chief agriculture officer, on their innovative approach to business. “They are very excited and work hard internally – just great people,” he says. “From our perspective, it’s great to see that excitement and vision. The employees there are happy and there’s no turnover; they’re only adding new people […]

Read More
Farwest2015

May 20, 2015

2015 Farwest Show Announces Second Annual Equipment Innovation Day

The second annual Equipment Innovation Day will be Tuesday, Aug. 25, prior to the 2015 Farwest show, which will be August 27-29 in Portland, Ore. Equipment Innovation Day, which was enthusiastically received in 2014, offers a real-time opportunity to see new heavy and automated nursery equipment in action. The demonstrations take place in manufacturing and nursery settings, adding value to the showcase. Attendees will be able to talk with participating manufacturers and learn first-hand from innovative growers who use the equipment in daily operations. The day-long event will be held at the main manufacturing plant of GK Machines, Inc., Donald, Ore. Further demonstrations of field equipment will take place at the nearby nursery of A&R Spada Farms, LLC. Bus travel to and from the event is planned, starting at and returning to the Oregon Convention Center. Attendees are welcome to provide their own travel to and from the site. Preregistration is required. The cost […]

Read More
Latest Stories
Farwest2015

May 20, 2015

2015 Farwest Show Announces Second Annual Equipment Inn…

The second annual Equipment Innovation Day will be Tuesday, Aug. 25, prior to the 2015 Farwest show, which will be August 27-29 in Portland, Ore. Equipment Innovation Day, which was enthusiastically received in 2014, offers a real-time opportunity to see new heavy and automated nursery equipment in action. The demonstrations take place in manufacturing and nursery settings, adding value to the showcase. Attendees will be able to talk with participating manufacturers and learn first-hand from innovative growers who use the equipment in daily operations. The day-long event will be held at the main manufacturing plant of GK Machines, Inc., Donald, Ore. Further demonstrations of field equipment will take place at the nearby nursery of A&R Spada Farms, LLC. Bus travel to and from the event is planned, starting at and returning to the Oregon Convention Center. Attendees are welcome to provide their own travel to and from the site. Preregistration is required. The cost […]

Read More
CCGGA-Scholarship-Winners

May 20, 2015

Central Coast Greenhouse Growers Association Awards 201…

The Central Coast Greenhouse Growers Association (CCGGA) is awarding 20 scholarships this year to high school and college students. CCGGA-member nurseries raised money for the scholarship fund and each donated a portion of the fundraising sales to the fund, which is open to students currently enrolled in college for the following year. The scholarship program is also available to students of employees who work at CCGGA-member nurseries One of the organization’s goals is to continue encouraging future generations to enter the horticulture field and to promote higher education within the families that work in the local nursery business. The 2015 CCGGA scholarship recipients are: Aloysia Shea – Nipomo High School Andrew McHaney – CSalinas High School Angel Flores – Righetti High School Beatriz Barajas – San Jose State University Carolanne Garibay – Monterey Peninsula College Cladia Lavina – Salinas High School Erica Marquez-Ibarra – San Jose State University Jorge Zarate […]

Read More

May 18, 2015

Download Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Top 100 Growers…

Greenhouse Grower‘s Top 100 Growers Survey revealed that our projections in the 2015 State Of The Industry report were correct: Growers, at least the large ones, are expanding. Greenhouse Grower’s annual Top 100 List ranks the largest U.S. growers by total square feet of environmentally controlled greenhouse space, although this year, we have also listed shade and field acreage, to give perspective on how large these operations are beyond the greenhouse. In total, the 2015 list represents 228,906,001 environmentally controlled square feet of U.S. production, a 5 percent increase over 2014. All told, 26 growers reported that their operation grew between 2014 and 2015. Several growers reduced their production over the past year, as well, and while some operations’ downsized numbers were significant, most were slight and probably typical of the give-and-take in the horticulture industry. Greenhouse Grower‘s 2015 Top 100 Growers Whitepaper includes all the results of the survey, […]

Read More
USDA Logo

May 13, 2015

New Report Shows College Graduates With Agriculture Deg…

A new report from the USDA shows high demand for recent college graduates with agriculture degrees, with an estimated 57,900  high-skilled job openings annually in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environment fields in the U.S. According to an employment outlook report released by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Purdue University, there is an average of 35,400 new U.S. graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher in agriculture related fields, 22,500 short of the jobs available annually. “There is incredible opportunity for highly-skilled jobs in agriculture,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Those receiving degrees in agricultural fields can expect to have ample career opportunities. Not only will those who study agriculture be likely to get well-paying jobs upon graduation, they will also have the satisfaction of working in a field that addresses some of the world’s most pressing challenges. These jobs will only become more […]

Read More
USDA Logo

May 6, 2015

USDA Awards $10 Million In Grants To Universities To Ad…

More than $10 million has been awarded to U.S. universities to address critical water problems, such as water quality and availability, in rural and agricultural watersheds across the country. The awards were made through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Water for Agriculture challenge area and the National Integrated Water Quality Program (NIWQP). “Water is our most precious resource, one that is essential for both human survival and well-being and for our ability to grow our crops and livestock,” says Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “By funding research, Extension and education for citizens and the agriculture community, we are able to proactively create solutions to water-related issues like drought and its impact on food security.” The AFRI Water for Agriculture challenge area was first introduced in fiscal year (FY) 2014, and these grants represent the first year of funding for the program. Funded […]

Read More
fngla

May 6, 2015

Florida Nursery, Growers And Landscape Association Name…

Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) has awarded a group of individuals through its FNGLA Industry Awards Program for their contributions to the industry. This year’s winners will be honored during FNGLA’s Annual Convention in Coral Gables on June 13, as part of FNGLA’s Annual Meeting. FNGLA’s Industry Awards Program acknowledges both FNGLA and industry service, with varying criteria geared for each award. Nominations are accepted from the industry-at-large and winners are selected by a committee of industry peers. The Wendell Butler Award and the FNGLA Hall of Fame are recognized as the most prestigious awards given by FNGLA. The Wendell Butler Award is presented for service to FNGLA and the FNGLA Hall of Fame Award is a lifetime achievement award. Nominations are accepted from the industry at large. FNGLA Hall of Fame Inductee: Hugh Gramling, Tampa Bay Wholesale Growers (Plant City, Fla.), retired Wendell E. Butler Award: Theresa & Kevin Riley, […]

Read More
water

May 6, 2015

Record Low Snowpack Continues In The West

Across the Western U.S., snowpack has melted sooner than usual, according to data from the fourth 2015 forecast by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “Almost all of the West Coast continues to have a record low snowpack,” NRCS Hydrologist David Garen says. “March was warm and dry in most of the West; as a result, snow is melting earlier than usual.” Historically, April 1 is the peak snowpack. This year, the peak came earlier. There was little snow accumulation in March, and much of the existing snow has already melted. “The only holdouts are higher elevations in the Rockies,” Garen says. “Look at the map and you’ll see that almost everywhere else is red.” Red indicates less than half of the normal snowpack remains. A consequence of the early snowmelt is that Western states will have reduced streamflow later this spring and summer. In Western states where snowmelt […]

Read More
RedPeppers_RosanaPrada_Flickr

April 29, 2015

Nature Fresh Farms To Build 175-Acre Greenhouse Facilit…

Growing fresh vegetables in the Midwest is about to take a major turn in a new direction as Nature Fresh Farms has announced a large-scale investment in northwest Ohio. The company broke ground on April 10 to begin construction on a 175-acre greenhouse facility in Delta, Ohio. “This is an exciting time for Nature Fresh Farms as we expand our operations to include a U.S. growing facility,” said Nature Fresh Farms President Peter Quiring in a press release. “This development will allow us to better serve our Ohio customers with locally grown produce, year-round and continue to grow our U.S. operations.” Contingent upon acceptable levels of incentives from the State of Ohio and other government authorities, as well as utility rates agreeable to Nature Fresh, the company would be poised to ship its first case of vegetables in December 2015. The greenhouse project will be completed in several phases over the […]

Read More
RISE logo

April 29, 2015

RISE Delivers Petition Urging President Obama To Protec…

Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE) delivered a pollinator petition to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, urging President Obama to create more habitat and forage areas for pollinators, and to consider all sources of information on, and contributors to the pollinator health issue. Nearly 600 citizens from across the U.S. signed the petition. “Our petition shows President Obama that citizens want a balanced and substantive conversation to happen on the pollinator health issue,” says Aaron Hobbs, RISE president. “The pollinator issue is very complex and research points to multiple factors affecting pollinators, including pests and parasites, microbial diseases, nutrition problems, bee management practices and climate change.” According to Hobbs, the petition highlights some of the steps the industry is taking to support pollinators. This includes creating pollinator-friendly habitats and forage areas through integrated vegetation management in utility rights-of-way and large tracts of land. “We do applaud the White House for including in […]

Read More
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