We’ve got an update to our April cover story on Hines Horticulture’s new leadership team. Tom Batt, who was in charge of the Lowe’s account, was promoted to vice president of sales and marketing last week.
Based in Irvine, Calif., Hines is one of the nation’s largest nursery operations spanning more than 4,000 acres of outdoor and greenhouse production. The past two years, Hines has been in turnaround mode, and Batt’s appointment completes the new executive team. He brings more than 20 years of experience in horticulture and was most recently national sales director at Hines. Batt joined Hines from Spectrum Brands, where he was the Lowe’s business director and still lives in the Carolinas near Lowe’s headquarters. Spectrum Brands produces and sells fertilizer, soil, mulches and crop protection chemicals.
But most of Batt’s life experience is in nursery production. His grandfather worked for one of the largest operations in Alabama and then founded Webb Nursery in Huntsville, Ala. After graduating from Auburn University with a degree in horticulture, Batt took over the family business and expanded it to three locations. For five years, he added a full-service garden center and landscape division. He also directed production and inventory at Stacy’s Greenhouses in York, S.C., before returning to Spectrum Brands. Batt also credits his dedication to customer service to his father, who owned and operated several independent drug stores. On the industry side, he’s also proud to be a past president of Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association.
Hines’ sales organization is made up of managers devoted to servicing each customer segment–home improvement chains, mass merchandisers, supermarkets, independent garden centers and landscape rewholesalers.
“While these are large pieces of business, each one of these pieces is extremely important to us,” Batt says. “We need to service our customers the way they expect and need to be serviced. It comes down to planning and having the right product at the right time and right price for the right customer. My job is to simplify and execute and be very clear about what we’re communicating. No company can be all things to all people, but we can benefit each of our customers by providing the best quality product and most efficient transportation.”
Planning begins early and Batt and his team are already working on 2010 and 2011. “It’s not like a bag of fertilizer or can of soup that can be ready in a few months,” he says. “We’re growing plant material that meets specifications and can take more than 12 months plus a year in the propagation cycle.”
Energizing The Market
Batt is also looking forward to bringing more innovative products into the pipeline. He just got back from the California Pack Trials to check out hot new annuals and perennials and has also made two trips to England on Ian Baldwin’s tour to see the best independent retailers there, along with new shrubs from European breeders.
“Just like a pharmaceutical company needs a pipeline of quality new products to benefit patients and consumers, so does our industry,” Batt says. “Horticulture sometimes gets stagnant. There are a lot of great opportunities for older native plants and new forms for patio programs.”
Patio planters are a great way to bring the next generation and many who have never gotten their hands dirty into gardening, he adds. “Maybe a patio and deck is all they have, but they can enjoy it, learn about vegetable gardening and how to use trellises. We need to recreate our business so it’s not all PS3 (PlayStation) and the Wii but enjoying family time out on the patio grilling and the ambiance.”
When asked if he’s concerned about an economic downturn or reduced sales this year, he says, “When housing begins declining, fuel prices go up and people become skeptical of the economy, the trend is to become homebodies. Since consumers are not spending as many dollars, they are less inclined to buy trees but are inclined to buy shrubs, perennials, annuals, hanging baskets or make their own combination plantings. That’s where I see consumers moving to in somewhat troubled times. Retailers are adjusting. They understand they can’t force something on the customer or the product will just sit there.”
Batt also says consumers think nothing about spending $5 to $8 on a lunch that’s over in 15 minutes, but wouldn’t it be great if they could see the long-term value of the same dollars spent on plants? “How do we get consumers to buy perennials, trees and shrubs? It’s a small investment for lifelong enjoyment and what you get out of it. It’s one of the few things you do get money back from. Landscape your home and you will reap the benefits.”
For more on Hines’ new leadership team and plans for the future, read our April cover story here.