Fredriks Nursery: Nice Guys Finish First
David Fredriks takes the old recipe for success in business, find a need and fill it, to a new level. As the owner of Fredriks Nursery in Ripon, Calif., about a two-hour drive east of San Francisco, Fredriks tries to anticipate people’s needs and fill them before they feel, well, needy.
Take his customers’ products, for example. Fredriks is a wholesale grower who supplies independent retail nurseries within a 100-mile radius of his operation, which consists of approximately 140,000 square feet of greenhouses and more than 12 acres of shade house area. “I have to keep them happy,” he says, “and to be happy they need to have things that are different than the chain stores.”
Fredriks says he’s always sold to the independent stores, and they’ve been really good to him. So he made a commitment years ago not to sell to the big box stores. “I have nothing against themâ€“there is a place for all of usâ€“but it is important not to sell to the big box stores,” he says. “If I did, my customers aren’t anything special, and I’m not anything special.”
It’s getting harder and harder for the independents to be special, he says, as the chain store buyers have started looking for new products. “The chains are paying more attention to the Pack Trials, so I feel the need to really get out there and look,” he says. “When I see something new, I usually add it. I very seldom turn down something new.”
No More Retail
These days, Fredriks certainly has room to experiment, as he has a total of 25 acres of land near Highway 99 in the San Joaquin Valley. He’s come a long way from the 10- by 20-foot greenhouse he and his dad, Glenn, built a quarter century ago soon after he graduated with a degree in horticulture from Modesto Junior College. Fredriks originally sold retail as well as wholesale, going so far as to simply leave plants by his sign out front and asking people to pay on the honor system. He got out of the retail end of the business altogether after a few years when he realized he was competing with his own customers.
From there he built two Stuppy greenhouse kits and put the 30- by 150-foot greenhouses together. Then he loaded his little Datsun pickup truck and stopped at the retail nurseries, asking them if they’d like to come see what he had in the truck. “They were very kind to a young kid,” he says. “And pretty much all of them, at least 90 percent of them, are still with me.”
Fredriks hosts an elaborate open house every other year for all his nursery customers, and he says he gets a kick out of the fact that they will talk about how long each has been a Fredriks’ customer. “I just have some great customers out there,” he says, adding that his customer relations are greatly enhanced by his team of drivers. His crew of truck drivers are mostly retired from full-time work, 55 to 75 years old, and make fine ambassadors. “They just know how to deal with people,” he says. “The people at the nurseries say they are always glad to see them.”
One of those longtime customers is Jacquie Courtright, owner of Alden Lane Nursery, a high-end garden center in Livermore, Calif. Courtright has been a Fredriks customer for 24 years, though she prefers a different term. “They’re our partners, I truly believe they’re our partners,” she says. “‘Partners’ is a key word because they truly are a critical part of who we are and what we do.”
Courtright says Fredriks is completely in tune with Alden Lane’s goal to provide products that are different enough to really catch a customer’s eye. She says Fredriks is often traveling, on the lookout for cutting-edge products. For example, when she saw some yellow cosmos on a tour of Japan that aren’t yet available in the United States and she mentioned it to some of the Fredriks people, they immediately knew to what she was referring. And when Courtright and her husband were on a panel at the OFA Short Course last year, she looked up and saw the people from Fredriks.
As for Fredriks’ service, Courtright says all one needs to know is the story of the snapdragons. She had a customer with a background in horticulture who had planted some orange snapdragons, and had saved the seed because he liked the color so much. He gave Courtright the seed in hopes she could grow it, and she turned to Fredriks. One subsequent day, she was delivered 14 flats, each with 48 orange snapdragons. “No charge, they saw it as a challenge,” she gushes. “Of course the customer was blown awayâ€“and so were we.”
Playing At Work
Many of Fredriks’ 75 full-time employees (though the ranks can swell as high as 100, depending on the season) have been with him for a long time. Three key employees in the office, Dawn Wiemers, Sheila Ellis and Debbie McPeak, have each been with the company for nearly 20 years. Even his seasonal employees tend to come back year after year. Perhaps it’s because he goes the extra mile.
For instance, most of the men who do the growing are Hispanic, and they are passionate about soccer. So about five years ago, Fredriks installed a soccer field right in the middle of the growing grounds. “Every lunch hour, every break, they are out there playing,” he says. “Last night at 6:30 they were still out there playing. They just love it.”
Soccer is now also a part of Fredriks’ extensive community involvement, as he sponsors a company soccer team. Fredriks also fills all the urns in downtown Ripon with flowers. He donates flowers and vegetables to area schools too, as well as to community functions and any organization with a good cause. Getting involved in the community is like building long-lasting, rock-steady relationships with employees and customers. You feel like you’re making a difference. “And to think when I went to college,” says Fredriks, “I was going to be a dentist.”