In 1948, Henry Mast Sr. arrived in Grand Rapids, Mich., fresh from The Netherlands with $300, three kids and a fondness for flowers. He had a dream to grow and sell flowers, which he quickly turned into a reality when he started growing in rented greenhouses with his children working at his side. Mast eventually purchased his own greenhouses in Byron Center, Mich., and Henry Mast Greenhouses was born.
Today, the operation, co-owned by Todd Potter, Shawn Koepnick, Ron Mercer, Leroy De Vries, Paul Bouma, Tim Stiles and Chris Mast, sprawls over 143 acres of land in Michigan and Wisconsin and includes 32 acres of covered greenhouses and 10 acres of outdoor growing area. Henry Mast Greenhouses is one of two production arms owned by the partners that supplies Masterpiece Flower Company, which is the management firm for all sales, marketing, distribution and merchandising for its two main customers, Meijer and The Home Depot.
Formed in 2002, the Masterpiece Flower Company includes Henry Mast Greenhouses, as well as Peak Transportation Solutions and Masterpiece Transportation, and the strategically located Whitewater Greenhouses near the Chicago market in Whitewater, Wis. The company also employs the contract services of approximately 35 growers.
Besides growing for Masterpiece, Henry Mast Greenhouses is also a contract grower for Four Star Greenhouse/Proven Winners. Four Star Greenhouse’s Director of Growing, and Greenhouse Grower’s 2013 Head Grower of the Year, Dennis Crum says Henry Mast Greenhouses/Masterpiece Flower Company has always been a leader in the greenhouse industry.
“It is a great example of a well-run company focused on quality, customer satisfaction and innovation,” Crum says. “Through the years, the owners have changed themselves and their business practices to stay ahead of our ever-evolving industry.”
A Strong Team En Route To A Common Goal
At any one time, the company juggles a mind-boggling amount of work, something that would be impossible without a strong team working toward a common goal. When hiring new employees, Stiles, Koepnick and De Vries look for attitude first, followed closely by ability and being a team player. If an employee has a good work ethic and a willingness to learn, management believes the rest will follow. And this philosophy has paid off, with highly dedicated, experienced employees that are mainly responsible for the company’s success.
With a strong team behind it, Henry Mast Greenhouse/Masterpiece Flower Company has maintained strong, enduring relationships with Meijer and The Home Depot. It knows its customers well and is dedicated to their success, believing strongly in Henry Mast Jr.’s words, “We’re only as successful as our customers and as happy as their customers.”
Partnerships Centered On Trust And Communication
The partnerships between Masterpiece Flower Company and its customers go beyond standard working relationships, diverging into unique bonds strengthened by mutual respect, cooperation and free exchange of information and ideas.
“Meijer has taught us how to think like a retailer,” Stiles says. “It introduced us to scan-based trading 13 years ago and helped us understand how to replenish stores with daily scan reports. Working closely with The Home Depot for nearly two decades has taught us how a mass marketer can transform into a premier garden center when retailer and grower work together toward a common goal.”
Henry Mast Greenhouses has always specialized in indoor floral crops like poinsettias and Easter lilies, but over the years, the spring line has evolved from 100 percent seed geranium (at one point 25 percent of the nation’s production of seed geranium) to a full offering of spring through fall annuals including, hanging baskets, patio containers, branded potted plants, bedding plants and vegetables.
Stiles says it has been rewarding to expand the plant products to include hundreds of different species and varieties in a wide range of packages and price points. He says the initial adjustment was difficult at first, prompting the operation to step outside of its comfort zone, but customers’ feedback triggered needed improvements.
“Listening to our customers and being open to suggestions and criticism helped us improve in areas where we needed it,” Stiles says. “Being willing to change and find new methods helps keep our quality up, which in turn enhances our customers’ reputations.”
Meijer’s attitude closely mirrors that of Stiles. “Retailing is a fast-paced business that demands continuous improvement,” says Jeff Lynch, live goods merchant for Meijer. “It is a collaborative effort where we share ideas and information. We are always open to constructive criticism, which fuels our competitive spirit and helps us win in the marketplace.”
Problems Or Opportunities
In order to help its customers win in the marketplace, Henry Mast Greenhouses/Masterpiece Flower Company is quick to see opportunities when customers come to them with problems. Many ventures the company has undertaken were in response to helping its customers solve problems, and both sides have benefited. Peak Transportation, for instance, was started as a way to lower customer costs and improve shipping services. The investment in carts, refrigerated trailers and lift-gates has helped the company perform better during the peak month of May.
Stiles says a willingness to work with customers and getting to know their needs and expectations isn’t just a good practice for growers working with big-box stores. Single growers serving a few retailers in small metro areas can do more to build customer relationships.
“Talk with your customers, understand their needs and be willing to take some of the risk together or share information,” Stiles says.
Making Customers’ Jobs Easier
Since its modest beginnings in the 1950s, Henry Mast Greenhouses/Masterpiece Flower Company’s goal has been to supply top quality plants and provide customer satisfaction. By doing this, it helps ease its customers’ burdens.
“Henry Mast Greenhouses/Masterpiece Flower Company asks questions when needed and listens and communicates well,” Crum says. “It also researches a situation well, and most importantly, sets up trials to look for corrections or improvements without being asked. The company is organized and accurate with reports and delivers in a timely manner. All of which makes my job much easier.”