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
Natureworks Monarch life cycle caterpillar FEATURE

April 29, 2016

Do Customers Really Care How Plants Are Grown?

The consumer uprising against neonicotinoids has roiled the industry over the past couple of years. In June 2013, someone applied pesticide to a tree in full bloom, using the product in an off-label manner. That misapplication killed tens of thousands of bees, capturing the attention of activists. A short three years later, that activism has led to policy changes for big chains like The Home Depot and Lowe’s. Several cities and towns across the country have banned the sale of neonicotinoids. All of this made me curious. How was all the publicity affecting consumer attitudes at local garden stores? Traditionally, customers have shown little interest in how flowering plants are grown, other than they like the idea that they are from a local source. They have been much more particular about food plants than they have ornamentals. So I sent questions out to a few retailers across the country, and […]

Read More
Pennisetum Fireworks

April 28, 2016

Why Ornamental Grasses Are Great For People In Condos A…

Allan Armitage says breeders need to do a better job of making growers, brokers, and garden centers aware of better ornamental grass cultivars for the increasingly shrinking garden space.

Read More

April 28, 2016

Holistic, Integrated Approach To Pest Control Rooted In…

Greenhouse growers have been practicing integrated pest management for decades, but it’s becoming increasingly more important with the continued scrutiny of conventional pest control by a number of “regulators” — government, retail, and consumers. I just returned from Meister Media Worldwide’s Biocontrols USA 2016 Conference, in Monterey, CA, at the beginning of March this year, which served 450 attendees and 50 exhibiting supplier companies. It’s clear from the presentations and the growing attendance at this specialized event — now only in its second year — that use of biocontrols in IPM will continue to be adopted widely, as more growers get past their personal hurdles of doubt and intimidation, and embrace a new way to approach pest and disease control. Many growers think of using biocontrols as an all-or-nothing approach, but ultimately, IPM is about balance. Growers will need to continue to focus on IPM, integrating chemistry with biology, because […]

Read More
Drip irrigated citrus liner

April 27, 2016

Unclog Drip Emitters In Your Greenhouse

This is the first article in a series of case studies designed to help growers reduce, remediate, and recycle irrigation water as part of a multi-state research grant (CleanWateR3.org).

Read More
Andropogon gerardii Blackhawks (Intrinsic Perennial Gardens)

April 27, 2016

Know Your Market When Choosing Ornamental Grasses

Growers have no shortage of choices in the ornamental grass market. Narrowing down the selection comes down to finding the right plant for the right purpose.

Read More
Fine Americas Website Feature Image

April 26, 2016

Fine Americas Offers A Digital Resource For Plant Growt…

The blog section of Fine America’s website is updated regularly, with input from both technical managers and independent researchers

Read More

April 26, 2016

“Bee-Friendly” Labels Matter To Plant Consumers, Accord…

Research at Michigan State University shows ornamental plant buyers understand and respond to bee-friendly production practices.

Read More
Cicada (Greg Hoover, Penn State)

April 26, 2016

Cicadas Set To Emerge In Several Eastern States This Sp…

While there’s no immediate cause for alarm, experts say the cicada’s egg-laying process can damage woody ornamentals and make them vulnerable to diseases.

Read More

April 26, 2016

How To Host A Spectacular Farm Dinner

Farm-to-table dinners are a great way to connect your customers with a love for nature and growing things. These three green industry companies have had a lot of success with their farm dinners. Find out what it takes to pull one of these dinners off successfully. Advice from Tangletown Garden’s Dean Englemann: You have to be certain you’re matching the ticket price to the experience, make sure you’re exceeding expectations. It can’t just be about the food. You have to deliver the experience. For us, we want to make sure there’s a lasting experience of connecting our food to families and dining. For lack of a better comparison, we want sitting in a field, eating food we grew and created, to be a religious experience. There’s almost a ceremonial aspect to these dinners. We’ve always thought that the shortest distance between the earth and people is the distance between the hand and the […]

Read More

April 26, 2016

Fun Display Ideas From California Spring Trials

In a year that was light on new introductions, plant breeders ramped up their display creativity. Garden retailers can find a lot of inspiration for their own stores here!  

Read More

April 26, 2016

12 Questions To Test If Your Store Is New-Customer Frie…

Consultant Ian Baldwin offers ways to help you look at your store with fresh eyes and how you can make it welcoming for new gardeners.

Read More
University of Florida Online Greenhouse Training Courses

April 25, 2016

University of Florida Offering Online Training Courses …

There will be five courses offered, with the first starting on May 30. Courses are available in both English and Spanish and range from beginner level to advanced education.

Read More
Bee on Bidens

April 25, 2016

Breeders Go The Distance To Bring New Plant Varieties T…

Breeders are meeting the demand for new varieties that perform and sell well by extending trialing to engage the grower community, using advanced technology, and encouraging international collaboration.

Read More
Parisitic Wasp Aphidius colemani

April 25, 2016

Plant Growth Regulator Use Can Affect Biological Pest C…

The use of plant growth regulators may negatively influence the outcome of biological control programs, according to researchers at North Carolina State University.

Read More
HGTV_2015CAST

April 24, 2016

9 Business Predictions Smart Brands Should Pay Attentio…

Andreas von der Heydt, Director of Kindle at Amazon, recently predicted what smart businesses will do in 2016 to strengthen their brands and promote their products.

Read More
North American greenhouse 1

April 23, 2016

Light Matters In Greenhouse Structures

The design of your greenhouse structure, in terms of light transmission, can have a powerful impact on your bottom-line profits.

Read More
Lin Schmale 1996

April 23, 2016

SAF’s Lin Schmale Offers Lessons From An Industry…

Schmale represented the floriculture industry on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years. The advocate has recently retired, and shares some valuable insights from her career.

Read More
Beneficial Insectary Orius insidiosus

April 22, 2016

Beneficial Insectary Increasing Production Of Three Bio…

The company is now producing Orius insidiosus, Dalotia coriaria, and Dicyphus hesperus at its California facility, reducing the transit time of perishable biocontrols between producer and grower.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]