California Cool

California Cool

 

California just wouldn’t be California without its tiled roofs, stucco plastering and palm trees. Back in 1999, that vision of a strong Mediterranean motif to accent West Coast décor and design was an interest that turned into a passion for the Barcelo family, and Barcelo Enterprises was born.

The family wasn’t starting from scratch. In 1981 the family founded its previous business venture, Barcelo Plant Growers (BPG), a bedding and groundcover nursery. When BPG was sold to Color Spot in 1996, the forward-thinking patriarch and president of the family business, Carlos Barcelo, asked that a non-compete agreement specifically exclude palms, which was always an interest for him.

“We discovered a huge void in the marketplace,” says Tony Barcelo, vice president of operations in northern California and Arizona. “At the time, the economy really started to change. Things started to boom and the demand for palm trees heated up. It was a case of being at the right place at the right time.” It was different than the Barcelos’ previous experience with bedding plants and groundcovers. Both have quick turns in production, but a Queen palm liner takes a year to grow and the job is labor intensive.

“I’m always trying to create a better yield in the germination process for the palms, which are very difficult to germinate,” Barcelo says. “We’ve increased our number of growth chambers–converted a lot of coolers into growth chambers.” Everything starts for palms in the greenhouse. From there, production moves outside to harden plants off. Some varieties of sagos are finished in greenhouses, but most everything is moved into the fields. After a very harsh freeze last winter, the necessity of the greenhouses was clear. “Without the greenhouses, in California you could never get it done,” Barcelo says. 

Riding The Bumpy Waves

Barcelo describes early business in palms as a self-fulfilling prophecy–everything the company grew sold, and fast. During the construction boom of the late ’90s, keeping up with demand was a struggle for many suppliers on the West Coast. Since then, business has slowed, a glut in the market has grown and many growers who expanded during the boom now search for outlets for their products.

What’s made the difference for Barcelo Enterprises is its size, product selection and outlook. Its customers include The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Costco, the Star Nursery garden center chain, Orchard Supply Hardware and independent garden centers. Stores like these want the right product mix and consistency from the vendor. With its ability to cover 200 to 300 retail stores at a time, his company can deliver that consistency, Barcelo says.

“The only way you can accomplish that consistency among stores is to have one vendor,” he says. “If you have five or six vendors for every marketplace, it gets kind of hodgepodge and the execution is difficult.” Barcelo Enterprises delivers a consistent look, and its product mix is just as consistent. Looking back over the years, Barcelo says his product mix hasn’t expanded or changed too much. Staples still include sago and Queen palms and the successful addition of tropicals like Bird of Paradise, hibiscus and gardenia. They’ve also returned to poinsettias and garden mums, staples of the BPG days.

“We grow what sells,” he says. “A buyer once told me, ‘You’re cherry picking the top items.’ Well, yeah! I want to make sure I can sell it. I’m focusing on the items that really sell. The market is the market. If they want red petunias, they’re going to buy red petunias–if they buy them from The Home Depot or Lowe’s, wherever.”

What little room there is for new and novelty products, Barcelo Enterprises fills with innovative merchandising–display racks, terra cotta pots, bigger, odd sizes (a hydrangea in a 7-gallon pot) or combination mixes of different palms. A trend is usually a flash in the pan, though, says Barcelo.

“Long term, people will buy it once, maybe twice, but then they need something else, something more exciting,” he says. These ideas create marketshare where none existed. 

The Right Attitude

Barcelo is nothing if not optimistic about his company’s place in the market. Although palms aren’t in demand the way they once were and immigration and transportation are serious challenges, there’s no telling what the future holds, and Barcelo Enterprises is ready for whatever is to come. When growing a crop with a long germination time like palms, the future is always linked to today. And today has been pretty good, considering the challenges the industry faces.

“We’re 18 months into some crops,” Barcelo says. “We’ve got to plant this stuff up whether or not the economy is good. We have to look into the future and hope it is. When the time comes, if you don’t have it, they’ll buy it from someone else.” That same long gestational period also helps insulate new players from entering the marketplace, he points out.

Selling a product that relies on disposable income is another special challenge of the industry, Barcelo comments. And while gasoline prices are a burden for growers, they’re a burden for consumers, as well. He figures the average California commuter now pays between $200 and $400 or so more a month in fuel increases. That’s $400 fewer dollars of disposable income.

“Rich people will keep their gardens looking good, but the masses is where the volume is,” he says. With the ups and downs his market has seen, Barcelo says nothing surprises him anymore and a successful grower needs to be ready for the unexpected.

“You can’t get caught up in the changes,” he says. “You just have to deal with them. We’re in an environment where change is going to happen every year. If you expect it, you’re not surprised by it. When you don’t expect it is when the problems happen.” The talents each Barcelo family member brings to the table are critical. Carlos oversees the company with the input of siblings Tony and Rosa Jr., vice president of operations in southern California. 

Optimistic Outlook 

Tony Barcelo, vice president of Barcelo Enterprises, on business:

– Staying niche-oriented and still growing the business is a great source of pride for Barcelo Enterprises. Between 1999 and 2007, the company has grown from zero to $30 million in sales.

“When I step back and look at what we’ve been able to accomplish, that’s probably the most impressive,” he says.

– “I’m an extreme optimist,” he says. “I always think things are going to be good. We’re fortunate we have a market with 50 million people we service. I think if we make a high-quality product and we can deliver to the tri-state area, we bring a lot of things to the table for a lot of retailers.”

Down The Road

Only good things lie ahead for Barcelo Enterprises if you ask the ever-optimistic grower. Carlos, Rosa and Tony will work in the future to keep developing in the West. Tony says he sees tremendous growth over the next 10 years, acquiring and building greenhouse space when and where it makes sense.

Barcelo Enterprises began with 35 acres of production and has now grown to 450 acres. But it isn’t about becoming a behemoth for Barcelo.

“Our business isn’t about the big picture,” he says. “It’s about the little things.”

Leave a Reply

8 comments on “California Cool

  1. Hello my name is Erik from Mule palm nursery. If you are ever interested in growing the cold hardy hybrid xbutyagrus / mule palm. Please let us know we are certafied to send to california and deal in seedlings and liners. I can provide photos for you if needed. Thank you

  2. Hello my name is Erik from Mule palm nursery. If you are ever interested in growing the cold hardy hybrid xbutyagrus / mule palm. Please let us know we are certafied to send to california and deal in seedlings and liners. I can provide photos for you if needed. Thank you

  3. mi nombre es arturo cabrales alias el buki si me puede dar trabajo trabaje en el invernadero en salinas Ca. pero si tiene un invernadero en el area de los angeles y si tiene trabajo para mi estoy disponible

  4. I just bought a Hydrangea (purple) no plant spike instructions given. The only thing on the pot said that it is from Barcelo Ent. in Salinas with no phone or website. I need to know the care of this plant so I can plant it correctly. Please advise or give me info to get in touch with Barcelo. Thanks

Latest Stories
Marijuana-Company-of-America-Cannabis-Greenhouse-Photo

May 24, 2018

New Cannabis Greenhouse in Washington Nears Completion

Once the Marijuana Company of America’s new 30,000 square-foot facility is fully built, it will have the ability to house approximately 4,000 plants.

Read More
Collegiate-Plant-Initiative

May 23, 2018

Collegiate Plant Initiative Helps Foster a Love of Plan…

CPI offers a unique perspective of the plant world, with the goal of connecting college students with exciting plants and teaching them more about opportunities in the plant industry.

Read More
Iron-Chlorosis-in-Hydrangea-feature

May 23, 2018

How Low Substrate pH Can Cause Lower Leaf Chlorosis

Geraniums grown in substrates below an optimal pH range will exhibit chlorotic leaf spotting between veins, interveinal chlorosis, and marginal and leaf necrosis of the lower foliage.

Read More
Irrigation-feature

May 23, 2018

Why Your Irrigation Water Affects Your Media pH

Irrigation water that is alkaline contains bicarbonates, and as crops are irrigated over time, these bicarbonates will increase media pH.

Read More
Little-Leaf-Farms-New-Greenhouse

May 22, 2018

Little Leaf Farms Expands Its Indoor Baby Greens Produc…

The Massachusetts-based company has increased the size of its greenhouses to 5 acres, more than doubling its annual production of baby greens.

Read More
Biocontrols in a Greenhouse

May 22, 2018

Register Now for Award-Winning Online Greenhouse Growin…

Learn about production cost and profit, as well as the basic behind plant science, via two online classes being offered by the University of Florida.

Read More
Brownley-Visit-to-Sun-Valley-Group

May 21, 2018

Insights From Lawmaker’s Visit to a Top 100 Greenhouse …

When Rep. Julia Brownley of California visited Sun Valley Group, she got a firsthand look at a very busy time in the life of a flower grower.

Read More
Oasis-Root-Cubes-Retail-Pack

May 20, 2018

Smithers-Oasis Now Offering Rootcubes Foam Media in Ret…

Designed with smaller or hobby growers in mind, the Rootcubes packs are also ideal for larger growers to use for trials.

Read More
Westerlay-Orchids-School-Donation

May 19, 2018

Westerlay Orchids Shows Its Support for Local Schools

Proceeds from all sales the company made during the Carpinteria Greenhouse and Nursery Tour will be donated to fund STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) programs.

Read More

May 18, 2018

Five Education Tracks Set for IGC Show

The event will feature topics such as online sales, store renovations, and more.

Read More
Ian Baldwin

May 17, 2018

Ian Baldwin: Why the Rise of the Under 35s Will Help Yo…

In his latest blog, garden retail consultant Ian Baldwin says this new generation of plant buyers is seriously engaged in gardening, and is using social media to help become successful plant owners.

Read More
Perennial-Plant-Symposium

May 16, 2018

2018 Perennial Plant Symposium Offering Power to the Pe…

Perennial and gardening enthusiasts of all experience levels are invited to attend plant discussions on Monday, July 30 for a chance to hear from the best in the field on a range of topics.

Read More
ISO-Group-Transplanter-feature

May 15, 2018

Floriculture’s Future Hangs in the Balance Between Labo…

The nation’s largest growers are investing heavily in technology, new structures, human resources, and efficiency measures to stay competitive and profitable, despite significant labor shortages.

Read More
Gotham-Greens

May 15, 2018

Gotham Greens Expanding Greenhouse Production Into Balt…

Scheduled to open in early 2019, Gotham Greens’ Baltimore facility will bring a reliable, year-round, local supply of fresh produce to serve retail, restaurant, and foodservice customers throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Read More
Growing Innovations conference and tradeshow logo

May 14, 2018

Growing Innovations Geared to Connect Specialty Ag With…

Innovation abounds in agriculture, yet it can feel sometimes as if the gap between exciting new developments and what growers actually need in their operations can be awfully wide. We at Meister Media Worldwide intend to help narrow this gap. Which is why we’re pleased to introduce Growing Innovations – an altogether new type of event that will debut Nov. 7-8 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, NV. Unlike most agricultural events and trade shows, Growing Innovations is not about technology per se, nor is it about everyday issues that growers face. Instead, this new conference and tradeshow is very acutely solutions oriented. It takes as its starting point specialty crop growers’ most pressing real-world challenges – production efficiency, labor and water shortages, logistics, and data management to name just a few – and showcases advances, both current and up-and-coming, that have the greatest potential to bring […]

Read More
Botrytis-Symptoms-feature

May 12, 2018

Fungicide Resistance in Botrytis is an International Ch…

Clemson University’s research team is exploring Botrytis in cut roses to find out how to help you maintain postharvest crop quality by avoiding fungicide resistance.

Read More
Miscanthus-Bandwidth EmeraldCoastGrowers

May 11, 2018

New Sterile Ornamental Grasses One Solution to Grass In…

Aggressive grass species can turn gardeners off to using ornamental grasses. Less fertile alternatives offer options for keeping grasses from taking over the garden.

Read More

May 10, 2018

Beekenkamp Plants Acquires Sunny Osteospermum Breeding …

Beekenkamp took over all Sunny Holland sales activities in 2017, and now has ownership of the company’s entire breeding program.

Read More