The flow of goods to retailers is critical to the success of every greenhouse. And it’s no different at Bergen’s Greenhouses, a Minnesota-based operation that climbs six spots this year to 54th on our list of Top 100 Growers.
Bergen’s is, however, somewhat different in the way it tracks the flow of its own goods. It uses a weekly vendor scorecard and several other reports to provide performance feedback for its customers.
"It’s just a report card we use when we meet our buyer and a report that provides me an overall snapshot of how our company is executing versus last year," says Kevin Johnson, sales manager at Bergen’s. "We print out a scorecard and it shows how we perform for them, our margins, how much money they made and it goes right down the list."
Salespeople like Johnson do more analysis with each passing year, he says, and online technology gives Bergen’s better information to make decisions on the products it sends to retailers.
To avoid markdowns, for instance, retailers give Bergen’s full or limited access to their inventory. That way, Bergen’s knows whether stores are full or if they need to supply more goods as quickly as possible.
"You know before you go in and meet with your buyer if you’re going to get a pat on the back or a kick in the pants," Johnson says. "So you’re prepared for it. They base a lot of their decisions on the scorecard. If you’ve got a poor scorecard, they’re not going to keep you around for long."
Finding Their Niche
Bergen’s, which added 152,460 square feet of greenhouse space over the last year, has also benefited from student trainees who take jobs through programs like the Minnesota Agricultural Student Trainee Program (MAST). Bergen’s has about 15 student trainees from MAST and Communicating for Agriculture between its two facilities in Detroit Lakes and Forest Lake, Minn.
Some students are first-year trainees; others returned to Bergen’s for a second year. Csaba Lippai, a Hungary native who’s now the facility manager at the Forest Lake greenhouse, is a product of a student trainee program.
"Before you finish your degree, students want to travel, go abroad, learn language and get their feet wet in the industry," Lippai says. "They come in and everybody has different talents, background and seriousness about it."
Trainees can work in different departments and learn anything from planting to production to shipping in order to figure out what they’re passionate about. Bergen’s even provides some housing for first-year trainees, and second-year trainees have earned management positions at the greenhouse.
"Csaba’s assistant is actually a second-year student," Johnson says. "He’s been a huge asset. We also have a person who’s currently working with me on the sales end. He has a master’s degree in finance, and he’s been a huge asset for me when we do all of our sales analysis."
Bergen’s also keeps sustainable practices in mind. It has built Max-Air structures that use natural air movement for ventilation. It also uses flood floors to recapture and recycle all irrigation waters. Additionally, high-efficiency boilers have been installed with flue condensers.
Bergen’s has no plans for structural expansion over the next year, but it intends to add energy and shade curtains in its existing greenhouses.