Charting A Course

Charting A Course

Recently named one of the 200 biggest trade shows in the United States, OFA Short Course is a who’s who and what’s what for new products and services in floriculture. Growers and retailers who attended this year, July 13-17, were treated to 1,400 exhibit spaces, tours, idea exchanges and more than 135 top-notch sessions. Here’s a sample of what we saw and heard at the show. 

On The Show Floor

There’s always something new and interesting at Short Course. For example, the brand new Hort Couture plant and marketing line made a huge splash. Ten growers signed on to provide the plants, which include cordyline, Kangaroo Paw, nemesia, musa, eucalyptus and rudbeckia. Hort Couture’s sophisticated black and white pots and upscale design are targeted towards the high-end female shopper looking for home design elements.

If you were on the show floor, you couldn’t miss the Novalis house, as some of the company’s employees took to calling it during the show. The two-story display centered around an outdoor living theme, complete with Viking grills and furniture from Summer Classics. Short Course also marked the debut of Novalis’ Plants That Work by Color line of annuals, bringing genetics to independent garden centers for spring 2008. Available exclusively from Novalis, the Commotion series of gaillardia includes ‘Frenzy’ and ‘Tizzy.’

Over at the Proven Winners booth, the company was celebrating its 15th anniversary and making 2008 product recommendations for retailers. Expected big sellers include Supertunia petunias, ‘Flambe’ chrysocephalum, ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia, Rockapulco double impatiens, ‘Opal Innocence’ nemesia and Superbells calibrachoa. ‘Totally Tempted’ cuphea drew lots of attention on the show floor with brilliant red tubular flowers with red throats. Proven Winners Professional Greenhouse Water Soluble Fertilizer is formulated to match each grower’s specific water supply. For $25, Proven Winners will test your water and send results along with a corresponding fertilizer recommendation.

At Short Course, S&G Flowers announced a whopping 100 new varieties for 2008, including two all-new impatiens series–Jambalaya and Shimmer. The company has also introduced a merchandising program for the Plush spreading petunia series. It is aimed at female consumers, with an elegant dragonfly logo and fashionable color scheme.

Fellow Syngenta company Fischer USA announced 30 new varieties for 2007/2008, including Goldfisch introductions ‘Corey Yellow’ coreopsis, ‘Fresca Yellow’ goodenia and orange, rose and scarlet colors for the Goldalia dahlia line. 

Mixed containers are getting larger, so filler machines are, too. Available from AgriNomix, this large container filler has a pot capacity of up to 16 inches wide by 12 inches high and can fill up to 60 pots per minute. The conveyor vibrates, ensuring a consistent fill for transplanting plugs or bare root.

The Scotts Company has unveiled the new Peters ABC Selection System, which helps simplify the fertilizer selection process for growers. Based on four different water types (depending on alkalinity), the system recommends the most appropriate Peters Excel and Peters Professional fertilizers, which are labeled as A (all-purpose), B (base) or C (customizing) components. An online Interactive Product Selector also helps choose the right product, coordinating with extensive water research the company has done across the country. Growers can also register for water tests online.

Along with some great cut flower poinsettias, Paul Ecke Ranch displayed the introduction of On Target, a Web-based graphical tracking program for height of poinsettias. The program includes technical support and does not require a software download. Data from previous seasons can be saved or easily exported to the user’s computer. The program is available at http://OnTarget.Ecke.com.

How about an extra little touch for retail? Slide Show carts from Innocraft have sliding shelves, which are much more shoppable. Plants also enjoy more light and space while in display position.

If you’re looking for unique, check out Ramm Botanicals and its Downunder Wonders. The company’s anigozanthos Kangaroo Paws are distributed in the United States, and other unique finds include the showy shrub Hardenbergia violacea ‘Purple Spray’ and prolific flowering Pimelea linifolia ‘White Jewel.’ 

Stimulating Sessions

A hot topic, two very well-attended sessions at Short Course focused on sustainable production methods. Ball Horticultural’s Anna Ball sees sustainability as the fifth great trend in horticulture after plastics made plants transportable, plugs boomed in the early 1980s, mass marketers emerged in the 1990s and the recent trend toward vegetative propagation.

“This trend is different because it’s not specific to the production of bedding plants,” Ball says. “It affects production and marketing, as well.” Retailers are ahead of growers in this area, she says. So what does it mean to use a sustainable production method? Cut flower growers are a bit ahead of bedding plant growers, and consider sustainability a three-legged stool, according to North Carolina State University’s John Dole. It must be environmentally sound, meaning using the least amount of inputs, including water and energy. It must also be economically viable (growers still need to make money) and socially just, depending on how workers and neighbors are treated. It also means examining all aspects of a business, from greenhouse to headhouse to office. It’s a long-term process.

Grower Lloyd Traven also added a local element to the definition–staying local means less gasoline use.

Some alternative sustainable product/practice suggestions:

  • Root Shield, Companion and Organica soil innoculants, as well as compost teas
  • Milstop whitefly larvae killer
  • EcoTech zero REI pesticide
  • Cooling plants rapidly and controling water consumption for height control 

What Retailers Saw

Members of the Garden Center Group met during Short Course to discuss hot products on the show floor. Here are a few of the tops:

– Hibiscus from Dupont Nursery, www.dupontnursery.com.
–Hardy orchids (above) from Planteck Biotechnologies, www.planteck.com.
–Rooftop planters from Bench Systems, www.benchsystems.com.
–Decorative sleeves from Palm Tree Packaging, www.palmtreepackaging.com.
–Signage available through Grow Tech Solutions’
Web store, www.growtechsolutions.com.

Willoway’s Not Knocking Wood

Alternative fuels aren’t right for every greenhouse or every grower. But Tom Demaline of Willoway Nurseries in Avon, Ohio, told attendees in a Surviving The Energy Crisis session on Saturday that there were actually a number of reasons he decided to look into alternative energy sources to heat his 6 acres of greenhouse space. Increasing natural gas costs. Rising and falling gas prices leading to uneven heating expenses throughout the season. Even a desire to be part of “the greening of America.” (“It’s the right thing to do,” he says.)

But there’s one more reason Demaline decided to change from natural gas to a wood-burning boiler, and it’s hard to argue: How’s a 75 percent savings on heating costs sound?

Demaline says Willoway’s new biomass boiler system is relatively low maintenance, large enough to run for 12 hours without reloading fuel and capable of burning a range of different fuels. (He was all set to use corn until prices jumped and he settled on wood instead.) A 75,000-gallon thermal storage tank allows the boiler to be used more efficiently and it’s like having another boiler online, he says.

But the kicker, Demaline says, is he’s saving enough each year to put $300,000 toward capital repayment, meaning the system could pay for itself in just four years. 

Overproduction Or Undermarketing?

Bruce Anderson, professor Emeritus at Cornell University, Peter Konjoian of Konjoian’s Floriculture Education Services and Stan Pohmer of the Flower Promotion Organization asked the question, overproduction or undermarketing, where did the profits go? A slowed market, overexpectations and increased global imports have resulted in overproduction, according to Anderson, which has led to reduced prices. For growers, lowering prices has been the main way to compete in the market, but Anderson says better marketing is the answer to the current market challenge. Focus on a high-quality product, no-hassle delivery, consumer-friendly packaging, brand names and good billing.

Pohmer commented on the pricing war in the market, stating that the consumer doesn’t set the price, the grower does. Because of a perceived overproduction, growers and retailers tell the consumer what products are worth based on price. “Consumers will pay for success,” he says. As far as marketing goes, Pohmer sees two possibilities: efforts from individual companies or from a national, industry-wide promotion. He doesn’t see the industry as being ready for the latter, however. Another opportunity he sees is the sustainability movement.

“Other industries are taking credit for green initiatives,” Pohmer says. “Our challenge is to promote the positive aspects of the products our industry offers.”

Konjoian’s talk focused on how pricing and shrinkage can affect profitability. Discounting is one way to move product late in the season, but how much is really lost? Konjoian walked the audience through an example of 10 and 20 percent discounts on geraniums. At a 20 percent discount, every fifth plant is free. The big question is how much of each crop is sold at the discount? If only 100 of 1,000 $3.49 geraniums are sold at a 20 percent discount at retail, the profit loss is 5.6 percent. If half are sold at a 20 percent discount, the profit loss jumps to 28.2 percent.

Another source of profit loss is shrinkage. Five percent shrink seems acceptable, Konjoian says, while 5 to 10 percent is unacceptable. Three to five percent shrink is considered excellent, but can seem an unattainable goal. Growers should keep in mind that every plant that does not sell erases profit from 2.5 plants sold at full price.

Pohmer wants growers to keep in mind that if your shrink rate is less than 5 percent, you’re probably shipping at least some inferior product. This does a disservice to customers and in the long term can dissuade consumers from gardening. Shrink rate is a delicate balance between product quality and profit. 

Reaping Rewards With AIB

Four growers and a wholesaler shared how they were able plant America In Bloom (AIB) in their towns and watch plantings grow. The panel moderated by AIB’s president Marvin Miller included Gordon Elsbury of Elsbury’s Greenhouses & Garden Center in Indiana, Lori Kelly of Bob’s Market & Greenhouses in West Virginia, Deborah Sweeton of Techni-Growers Greenhouses in New York, Rick Webb of Webb Perennials in Ohio and Bill Ruppert of National Nursery Products in Missouri.

Plantings have at least doubled in Logan, Ohio, since Webb got the town involved in AIB. “It has been a positive catalyst for change,” he says. “Our next project is commissioning three of 10 murals celebrating Logan’s history. We’re also auctioning off flags designed by students to raise funds for beautification.” Sweeton says Warwick, N.Y., went from not having a program to having 40 baskets, 70 planters and 15 bridge planters, five years later. The next project is lighting up Christmas with luminaries during the solstice.

Even small amounts of color make a big difference, Elsbury says. “Think of the improvement in your city if everyone would spend 15 minutes on tidiness. It can happen. Even a few pots of flowers make a difference.” He tells growers to get involved for the right reasons–”to make your city a better place to live, work, shop and play.”

Kelley encourages growers to get their towns involved even if they don’t feel fully prepared. “The benefits will come later. The program will develop,” she says. “Go ahead and enter and see where you stand. The judges provide an evaluation of your city and the city gets information and perspective inexpensively.” 

Ringing Receptions

This year’s grower town meeting was titled, “Are We Cultivating Our Own Extinction?” Speakers J Guy, Stan Pohmer, Kerry Herndon and Tim Stiles, as well as many attendees spoke on a range of topics including grower cooperation, the importance of transportation, education, vendor-managed inventories and fashion trends. For more details, see Delilah’s editorial.

In the company of friends and supporters, FloraStar announced its dissolution at its OFA final reception. The independent organization known for trialing containerized plant material in more than 20 locations throughout the United States, declaring winners based on trials and marketing those winners, had a profound impact on the industry.

With the number of floriculture breeding companies that now have their own very active and successful trialing and marketing departments, the FloraStar board of directors determined the organization had become less relevant to the industry and decided it was time to dissolve the organization. At the reception, FloraStar President Bob Humm of Yoder Brothers announced that FloraStar’s remaining funds will be given to the American Floral Endowment to be used for floriculture research and scholarships in the name of FloraStar.

Humm also recognized the current Board of Directors, as well as past Board members, and Executive Director Gary Hudson of Hudson & Associates, who has managed FloraStar for three years. Hudson spoke of the accomplishments of FloraStar, past presidents of FloraStar and honored Humm for his leadership in difficult times. Board member Jim Eason of Eason Horticultural Resources also honored Mike Novovesky, the long-time Executive Director and spirit of FloraStar, who grew the organization over its tenure.

PanAmerican Seed hosted its second annual Ride The Wave Fan Club party at OFA Short Course. Partygoers to “the pinkest party” in Columbus played games to win pink prizes, including t-shirts and seed samples. 

America’s Blooming

For eight years, Dramm Corp. has organized a charity relay race to benefit industry causes. This was the second year the event will contribute several thousand dollars to America In Bloom, a national nonprofit organization that encourages more cities to plant flowers as part of their revitalization efforts. Ten teams participated this year and friends and coworkers gathered to cheer them on.

Defending its first-place title for four consecutive years is the Carbon Footsprint team (see photo). Second place was the Grower Talks team, and a Mix & Match team of solo runners matched with a team made a strong rookie showing, taking third place. Priva and True Leaf teams finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Congratulations to all runners who participated in this event.

D.S. Cole’s Hockey in Columbus brought in over $14,000 this year for America In Bloom. The event’s four leading sponsors, Jiffy-Preforma, Smithers-Oasis, Flowvision and Perishable Transport Solutions, each contributed $1,000 towards the event.

Chuck-a-Puck, sponsored by Deglas, took place between periods which netted an additional few hundred dollars for AIB. This year was a close game with the white team pulling ahead by two goals at the end.

For the second year in a row, the Unplugged event took place in a club adjacent to the hockey rink. More than 150 young industry professionals got a chance to network while watching the hockey game from the comfort of the glassed-in lounge.

Many thanks to the OFA attendees who supported our John Deere Gator giveaway this year. The winner of this year’s Gator is Nick Iannetti of Iannetti Garden Center in Pennsylvania. Greenhouse Grower’s John Deere Gator Giveaway is sponsored by Blackmore Company. The contest benefits America In Bloom.

The big winner of the America In Bloom raffle was Stan Pohmer, who donated the $5,000 prize back to America In Bloom. Congratulations to all the winners and a big thank you for supporting the industry and America In Bloom.

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