Going For Broker-less

Going For Broker-less

Dan Gibson didn’t grow up in the horticulture industry. You can’t fault him for that, though, because his route to growing might be the next best thing.

Gibson, the president of First Step Greenhouses, was first introduced to greenhouse growing as an engineer for Q-COM, a horticultural environmental controls company.

“After our guys installed a new system, I would sit down with the owners to customize the program to fit their needs,” Gibson says. “By doing that, I was exposed to all of the best, top greenhouses in the country. I also got to see first hand what the industry was like.”

Not long after, Gibson decided to “jump in” and build a growing operation called First Step Greenhouses, which is now 12 years old and located in Temecula, Calif. “With the benefit of having seen a lot of how things are done well, I sat down to design a better one from everything that I’ve learned.”

Outside The Industry

Not being from the industry, Gibson didn’t have any preconceptions of how a greenhouse operation should be. “So I set out talking to customers about what they liked and didn’t like about their existing suppliers,” he says.

Gibson noticed a trend. There were several problems growers had based on service  they received from their brokers and suppliers. To offset the probability of First Step having these same issues, Gibson decided to follow the business model of Dell Computers.

“In my experience, I had watched Dell climb quickly to the top of the computer world by selling directly to the consumer and also offering direct customer service,” he explains.

For Gibson, that made perfect sense. “Who’s going to know more about a Dell, the kid at a general computer store or the actual tech that works for Dell?”

According to Gibson, customers get better service directly from the source and he saw that same opportunity with First Step Greenhouses. “My staff is providing better service than the brokers and there’s no delay in the service, a shorter chain of communication and fewer chances to make mistakes,” he says.

Early on, First Step did try its hand at selling through a broker, which Gibson says “was fine,” but he quickly realized the future of his business was going completely direct, without the inclusion of brokers.

“I think brokers have their place, but I do see most of the young plant producers beefing up their customer service staff, working directly with customers,” he says. “We started building this company with very talented people, but some of our best ideas come from listening to our customers, and that would get lost through the broker.”

Resourcing Down Under

First Step Greenhouses grows “everything but woody ornamentals,” focusing heavily on annual and perennial plugs and some vegetative varieties. Presently, Gibson is very excited about a First Step program called Celebrated Plants that teams with Australian supplier Ozbreed.

And as California is suffering its third straight year in drought, Gibson knows how important this series is for retailers and homeowners throughout the water-rationed United States.

“It’s a drought tolerant series that doesn’t contaminate our native population,” Gibson says. “They are extremely low maintenance and only need to be cut back every three to five years instead of annually.” This line is comprised of the genera dianella and lomandra, and hardy to Zone 7.

Along with its Aussie cooperative, First Step recognizes the variety and large amounts of production going on around the world in the open market. “An open market means that anybody can buy and sell plant genetics,” Gibson says. “This has rapidly caught up, which can be equal to and in some instances even better than those protected and controlled varieties.”

He goes on to say that there will always be protected varieties when they first come out. However, four or five varieties with extremely similar genetics could be accessible in the open market.

“I think in general, there’s so much breeding going on in the world and there’s so much more understanding of plant breeding and genetics, there will always be plenty of alternatives and less differential in the genetics themselves.”

Multiple-Climate Grower

Thanks to his background in environmental controls, you can bet Dan Gibson’s greenhouses at First Step run efficiently.

A concept taken from Pan American’s research greenhouses, First Step has used positive pressure greenhouses since the company’s inception, which brings pads and fans to the same side of the greenhouse.

“Our fans pull through a room that has one big pad in it and pushes air through tubes in the greenhouse and the air comes out of holes in the tubes,” Gibson says.

This method provides First Step with even distribution of cooling, which, in turn provides consistent production quality. Gibson says positive pressure greenhouses work best with a hot-dry environment.

And even though this cooling system offers consistency, subjecting young plants to a variety of growing climates is something First Step makes a top priority.

“We tone plants to withstand abuse, to acclimate them to the worst grower,” Gibson says. “One of the keys to our growing is moving the product throughout these different environments so we’re always pushing that plant to get to the next level, but at the right time.”

First Step uses Cravo retractable-roof greenhouses for hardening off and Dutch-palletized rolling benches for easy movement

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...

October 10, 2017

Sharpen Your Skills in Cost Management and Profitability With This Online Course

The University of Florida is offering a new online course on costing and profitability. The course will take growers through the process of how to accurately evaluate cost of production, labor efficiency, pricing, and equipment investment decisions.

Read More
Willoway Nurseries Team

October 1, 2017

How Willoway Nurseries Gets Its Staff Engaged in The Company’s Future

Willoway Nurseries in Avon, OH, is creating a culture with people who think, act, and feel like owners. Learn how its team is taking the business to the next level.

Read More

September 21, 2017

Horticulture Is All About Connections

The beauty of our industry is that we are more than willing to reach out and help those around us. What connections can you make today to help your business, and what can you offer to help another grower?

Read More
Latest Stories

October 10, 2017

Sharpen Your Skills in Cost Management and Profitabilit…

The University of Florida is offering a new online course on costing and profitability. The course will take growers through the process of how to accurately evaluate cost of production, labor efficiency, pricing, and equipment investment decisions.

Read More
Willoway Nurseries Team

October 1, 2017

How Willoway Nurseries Gets Its Staff Engaged in The Co…

Willoway Nurseries in Avon, OH, is creating a culture with people who think, act, and feel like owners. Learn how its team is taking the business to the next level.

Read More

September 21, 2017

Horticulture Is All About Connections

The beauty of our industry is that we are more than willing to reach out and help those around us. What connections can you make today to help your business, and what can you offer to help another grower?

Read More
Worker taking cuttings at Vivero Internacional.

September 11, 2017

Vivero Internacional Elevates Clean Cuttings to New Hei…

One of the last independent cutting operations, this fast-growing company raises the standard for delivering clean, high-quality unrooted cuttings.

Read More
Selecta Sponsor bed at Raker trial gardens

September 5, 2017

C. Raker & Sons Acquired By Roberta’s Unique Garden…

Ownership will change hands in December, and Raker will supply young plants for the 2018 season. Beyond that, leadership of the two operations say they are excited to move forward with a partnership that will continue to supply the industry, and gardeners, with top-quality plants.

Read More

August 1, 2017

MPS Honors D.S. Cole Growers for 10 Years of Sustainabi…

At Cultivate’17, a ceremony to mark a 10-year milestone since D.S. Cole Growers became involved with More Profitable Sustainability (MPS), as the first U.S. grower to achieve MPS certification, took owner Doug Cole by surprise. Separate celebrations also recognized Metrolina Greenhouses and Dümmen Orange for achieving MPS certification.

Read More
Nexus greenhouse construction for Knox Cannabis Facility

July 27, 2017

Ornamental Growers Will Revolutionize Cannabis Industry…

Professional growers have much to offer the emerging cannabis market, according to the co-owner of Knox Medical, one of the licensed cannabis producers in Florida.

Read More
Ball ColorLink logo

July 11, 2017

Get Guidance on Running Your Business from Ball ColorLi…

Representatives from Ball ColorLink will be on-hand at Cultivate’17 to answer questions and present business-building tools and industry insights to growers.

Read More
Lean Consortium in Washington

July 10, 2017

Washington Growers Join New Horticulture Lean Consortiu…

The group of growers has committed to learning and applying the principles of Lean, a method for eliminating waste that results in more value to customers delivered at a lower cost, in a shorter time, with fewer defects and less human effort.

Read More

April 11, 2017

Jerry Halamuda of Color Spot Nurseries Retires

The co-founder of Color Spot Nurseries has retired, effective immediately, and has named a replacement.

Read More

March 21, 2017

How Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Can Prepare for a Prod…

The United Fresh Produce Association is holding a Recall Ready Workshop in April that is designed to help growers properly manage a recall, from liability to communications.

Read More

March 14, 2017

Expanded Customer Footprint, E-Commerce, Succession Key…

Costa Farms' acquisition of indoor foliage producer Delray Plants rocked the industry, but the story behind Delray Plants' sale is the same as for many growers struggling with succession planning. For Costa Farms, the strategic purchase expands its customer footprint and also fast tracks its foray into e-commerce.

Read More

March 10, 2017

Costa Farms Expands With Purchase of Indoor Houseplant …

Costa Farms annnounced March 10 that it has acquired Delray Plants, one of the leaders in the indoor houseplant industry. The two operations are committed to the same values, principles, and goals to grow the industry, and will fit well together to accomplish this, say Randy Gilde, CEO of Delray Plants, and Joche Smith, CEO of Costa Farms.

Read More
Ken and Deena Altman

March 7, 2017

Altman Plants in Escrow to Purchase EuroAmerican Propag…

Ken Altman, a co-owner of Altman Plants based in Vista, CA, has confirmed that the operation is currently in escrow to purchase EuroAmerican Propagators, the Bonsall, CA-based young plant and finished plant grower that filed Chapter 7 Bankruptcy on Jan. 23, 2017. Ken and Deena Altman are co-owners of Altman Plants and The Plug Connection, along with their son Matthew, who has recently bought into the family business. The 55 acres of land and all of the facilities on it, which were previously owned by Jerry Church, a partner in EuroAmerican Propagators, are part of the purchase agreement currently in escrow, Altman says. However, it would not be absorbed by Altman Plants, which in 2016 was number 3 on Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers list with more than 11 million square feet of environmentally controlled greenhouse production, 62 acres of shade production, and 400 acres of outdoor field production. Altman Plants’ property […]

Read More
EuroAmerican Propagators Greenhouses

February 14, 2017

Suppliers Comment on Plant Genetics’ Fate After EuroAme…

Since the operation’s bankruptcy filing on January 23, 2017, suppliers associated with EuroAmerican Propagators have updated Greenhouse Grower on what the operation’s bankruptcy means for them – and how it will impact grower customers.

Read More
Stephanie Whitehouse

January 17, 2017

Stephanie Whitehouse Takes Her Passion for Plants to Di…

Stephanie Whitehouse, who has spent the last seven years as the Sales and Marketing Director for Peace Tree Farm in Kintnersville, PA, recently joined Dickman Farms Greenhouse and Garden Center in Auburn, NY, as the company’s new Retail General Manager.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

December 6, 2016

Are You Driving Young Growers Away? [Opinion]

In a time when the industry is facing a critical shortage of both labor and skilled, educated growers, it's important that grower operations don't unwittingly turn candidates off to a career at their business or in the industry in general. Take a closer look at your hiring practices to ensure you are being inclusive and not breaking any laws.

Read More
Trays move on an overhead conveyor to the end of the production line, where workers carefully pack the cleaned, sized, graded, counted and sorted Calla tubers

November 29, 2016

Texas Judge Halts Overtime Rule; Here’s What It Means F…

According to Craig Regelbrugge at AmericanHort, the injunction against the overtime rule is welcome news for horticulture.

Read More