State Of The Industry Report: Spring Recap

The weather wasn’t cooperative for every grower this spring but it was good enough for most to declare 2010 a success. In fact, 88 percent of the growers we surveyed at the end of May declared spring a success for their business. We surveyed 120 growers in all, and only 12 percent called spring a failure. As usual, those who didn’t fare well cited the weather as their biggest seasonal challenge.

Sixty-one percent of growers say the weather was their No. 1 challenge this year. The economy (23 percent) was the second-biggest challenge growers faced this spring.

“Weather played a huge role in our spring sales,” says Lee Wright, a grower-retailer in the Northeastern United States. “We went from frost every other night to 85- to 90-degree temperatures. It was too big of a swing for customers to handle.”

When we asked growers for more details about their weather, the majority report the weather in their region was uncooperative. Only 16 percent say the weather was extremely cooperative in their region while 26 percent say it was extremely uncooperative. The other growers we surveyed say the weather was either moderately cooperative (30 percent) or moderately uncooperative (27 percent).

Growers located in the Southwest and West were the most adamant about their spring weather being extremely uncooperative. Southeastern growers, however, were relatively pleased with their weather, as 73 percent say it was at least moderately cooperative.

Despite poor weather in certain regions, sales were up or at least the same compared to 2009 spring sales. As a whole, 52 percent of the growers we surveyed report their 2010 sales were up – and 25 percent of growers say sales increased more than 10 percent over 2009. Twenty-four percent of growers say sales were about the same as last year, and another 24 percent report sales decreases.

Fortunately, the total percentage of growers reporting sales decreases is down from last year, when 38 percent of growers experienced sales decreases. Plus, the percentage of growers reporting sales decreases of 5 percent or more is virtually half the number it was last year.

“The stars aligned for a very good spring this year,” says Paul Westervelt, a Southeastern wholesale grower. “The heavy snow created some cabin fever and the early warm weather, combined with sunny weekends, got people buying.”

Sales were particularly good in the Southeast this year, as nearly 60 percent report sales increases. Northeastern and Midwestern growers also fared well, as at least 23 percent of growers in each region report sales increases of more than 10 percent. Even in the Southwest and West, where the weather was reportedly uncooperative, the majority of growers at least achieved roughly the same number of sales dollars as they did the previous spring.

Still, just because the majority of growers are calling their spring “successful” doesn’t mean they’re not striving for better seasons. One common gripe several small and mid-sized growers expressed in their survey responses is that big growers continue to flood the market with low-priced items that devalue product for all growers – even when those lower-priced items are of better quality.

“Small growers are under increasing pressure from big boxes who have captured the cream of the crop sales,” says William Clark, a Northeastern grower-retailer. “They have improved quality with no risk.”

Michael Verheul, a young plant grower and wholesaler located in Alberta, Canada, has another interesting market observation.

“We have an industry with a lot of part-time operators and they are getting older,” he says. “In the last few years, some have retired and just closed the greenhouse because it is mostly in the same yard as the house and the kids do not want to take over. There are more of them coming. We have to work hard to maintain volume and basically ‘steal’ customers from others to see an increase.”

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