Co-Op Brokerage Now Kalamazoo Flower Group

The brokerage arm of the Kalamazoo Valley Plant Growers Cooperative (KVPG) in Michigan will now be managed by a few key growers as the Kalamazoo Flower Group.

The four growers who are the member managers are Ron Sportel of Sportel Greenhouses, Dave Westrate of Westrate Greenhouses and Andy Ambrosio and Dennis Wenke of Wenke Greenhouses.

"This actually began two years ago when our general manager left," Wenke says. "Instead of bringing in an external person who didn’t know the plant business, the four of us were tapped to be the member managers. We took a day-to-day view and worked closer with key staff to help drive our business."

KVPG is divided into three groups: general, supply and brokerage. While there are 50 grower members on the general side, about half sell plants through the brokerage division. General members continue to have an equity position in the brokerage. Horticultural distributor BFG Supply purchased the supply side earlier this year.

Last month, the full membership voted overwhelmingly to transfer the management of the brokerage division to the four member managers and create a new entity, Kalamazoo Flower Group, which is a limited liability Corporation. The transfer will go into effect Dec. 31.

"This was not a purchase but a new entity that will be more nimble in the marketplace," Ambrosio says. "We will have continuity versus and elected committee that changed. The group gave us control with the vote."

KVPG also is building a central loading facility in Comstock Commerce Park that will be ready to crossdock shipments March 1. Previously, shipments were coordinated from each loading grower’s location. Although the existing KVPG has ample office space, the warehouse is too small.

"Before, every grower was the loading grower and had to grow more items," Ambrosio explains. "Now all the plants will be in one spot and we’ll have more effective quality control."

KVPG’s customer base and reach will be the same–big box stores and independent garden centers within a 500-mile radius, with Wenke’s Sunbelt location servicing the Southeast. "To outsiders, there won’t be a whole lot of difference," Sportel says.

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