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
Botany-Lane-Tropical

November 20, 2017

Botany Lane Greenhouses Announces Expansion Into Young …

Botany Lane, a producer of finished tropical plants, succulents, and specialty annuals in the Western U.S., recently announced it is expanding to provide young plants for growers and grower-retailers.

Read More
Millet-Copper-Prince

November 20, 2017

2017 Colorado State University Field Trial Results

Check out the 2017 field trial results for Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO.

Read More
Achillea-Ritzy-Ruby

November 19, 2017

2017 Green Leaf Plants Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trials results for Green Leaf Plants in Lancaster, PA.

Read More
Ball-Bed-with-Midnight-Snack-tomato_Cornell

November 18, 2017

2017 Cornell University Field Trials Results

Check out the 2017 field trials results for Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

Read More
Valtl-Raffeiner-with-Mayer-Potting-Machine

November 18, 2017

Mayer Celebrating 50th Anniversary of its Potting Machi…

Today, the company’s line of automatic potting machines and other technology is being used by growers around the world.

Read More
Berger-Equipment

November 17, 2017

How You Can Help Berger in Donating to Hurricane Harvey…

Between Nov. 23-27, Berger will donate $1 for every download of its free technical plant production guides to hurricane relief efforts.

Read More
Pepper Cayenne ‘Red Ember’ (Johnny’s Selected Seeds)

November 17, 2017

Presenting All-America Selections’ Latest Round of Awar…

All-America Selections has announced the latest round of its award-winning varieties, each of which was trialed throughout North America by professional, independent, volunteer judges.

Read More
Damarys-Mora-Crawford-Costa-Farms

November 16, 2017

Costa Farms’ New Marketing Director Eager to Tap Into C…

In her new position, Damarys Mora Crawford will lead Costa Farms’ marketing team and create and execute strategic marketing initiatives to support continued sales growth for the company’s retail customers.

Read More

November 15, 2017

Greenhouse Short Course in March 2018 Features Focus on…

The Greenhouse Crop Production & Engineering Design Short Course, which takes place at the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC), includes three full days of educational sessions, one day of hands-on training workshops at CEAC, and a commercial Arizona greenhouse tour.

Read More
Adding-Heat-to-a-Greenhouse-GrowSpan

November 15, 2017

Tips on Adding Heat to Your Greenhouse for the Winter

Heating your greenhouse for the winter is important, and choosing efficient equipment and designs can help you quickly get returns on your heating investments.

Read More
Eason-New-Calibrachoa-Hi-Graft

November 14, 2017

Eason Horticultural Resources Introduces New Decorative…

Created by Hishtil Nursery in Israel, the new decorative forms of calibrachoa feature an 8- to 12-inch stem and come in four colors of calibrachoa blooms on top.

Read More
Cordyline Candy Cane (Excelsa Gardens, Inc.)

November 14, 2017

Garden-Retailers Pick Their Favorite Products From The …

Grower-retailers have once again named their favorite new products, this time as part of the Cool Product Awards at The Landscape Show 2017 in Orlando, FL. Awards were presented to 12 companies, representing 14 products.

Read More
Smart-Magenta-Greenhouse

November 14, 2017

Smart Solar Greenhouses Designed to Generate Energy and…

Research at the University of California Santa Cruz has shown that the first crops of tomatoes and cucumbers grown inside electricity-generating solar greenhouses are as healthy as those raised in conventional greenhouses.

Read More
Pennisetum glaucum 'Copper Prince'

November 13, 2017

Top Performing Plant Varieties from 2017 Field Trials

See some of plant varieties that made top performer lists in 2017 field trials across the country.

Read More
lucas-greenhouses-plant-roots-growing-mix

November 13, 2017

Michigan State Offering Online Root Zone Management Cou…

Participants in the three-month, self-paced online course can learn about water quality, plant nutrition, and irrigation management.

Read More
Growing-Media-Symposium-Tour

November 13, 2017

International Growing Media Symposium Comes to the U.S.

This International Symposium, with representatives from 21 countries, covered new market opportunities, generated innovative ideas, and offered first-hand information to more than 150 attendees.

Read More
Roberto-Lopez-and-Kristin-Getter

November 12, 2017

Michigan State Partners With Philips Lighting to Modern…

Several new Philips LED modules were added to Michigan State’s research greenhouses to keep them updated for the newest wave of horticulture students.

Read More
Parasitized aphid mummies, ladybird beetle larvae

November 11, 2017

OHP Announces Two New Ornamental Pest Management Tools

OHP recently added two new crop protection tools to its profile of biosolutions: a biological insecticide, and an ornamental fungicide.

Read More