Raising The Bar

Raising The Bar

For growers serving the box stores, the stakes have become too high to leave the daily execution of a season to chance. Risks and rewards have never been greater for growers serving The Home Depot, who are responsible for the entire assortment of plants selling through vendor managed inventory or pay by scan.

Based in Baiting Hollow, N.Y., on Long Island, Ivy Acres is in the ultra competitive Northeastern market surrounded by larger players. The company serves 56 Home Depot stores and was the first grower in the Northeast to provide merchandising services that were common in California and Florida. Now, Ivy Acres has been improving its performance internally by getting 200 employees focused on customer service from start to finish.

“We’re not growers anymore, we’re retailers, too,” says Ivy Acres President Brian Sullivan. “In the pay by scan world, you’re only paid for what sells. The merchandising service is really more than fixing plants on the shelves. It’s having adequate inventory. We do everything but ring up the cash register. If you take short cuts and put in inferior stuff, you’re going to go broke. We need to pay attention to having the right stuff at the right time.”

Owner and founder Jack Van de Wetering says pay by scan has been a tough, expensive learning curve. “Growers across the country are dropping out,” he notes. “Before, one grower vendor would provide 10 SKU’s to a store. Now, you have to be the whole answer. Consolidation is not the answer. There’s a point where you get too big and lose control. The farther away you are from a store, the less your quality is. Within four hours, we can be anywhere in our service area.”

Ivy Acres is making the commitment for the long haul, with plans to build seven more acres of greenhouses. Perennials are a growth category.

Legacy Of Leadership

Van de Wetering has been a leader in the bedding plant industry since he switched from tomatoes to annuals in the 1960s. He and his brother, Peter, were our first Growers of the Year in December 1985. Soon after that, Peter started his own business focused on plugs, Van de Wetering Greenhouses. Ivy Acres continued to flourish serving large retailers.

In equipment and technology, Ivy Acres was one of the first to develop and market an automated transplanter in the United States. Long-time employee Debbie Harrison’s husband Richard, an engineer, invented it. Ivy Acres also was among the first to use Dutch-style roll-out benches, for double cropping in the greenhouse and acclimating plants to outdoor conditions.

One recent innovation in shipping is adapting large trailers pulled by pickup trucks that can hold 19 carts and load easily on a ramp instead of lift gates. No special driver’s license is required, which makes more people eligible to drive.

Carts are attractively signed as they roll into retail. With 60 percent of plants being purchased off the carts, Jack believes in investing in the best retail presentation. He has developed premium multipacks that are consumer friendly with handles and keep Ivy Acres out of the commodities trap.

“No customer buys just one plant,” he says. “Instead of one 4 ½-inch zonal geranium, we offer them in three-packs, six-packs and eight-packs. Innovation is what drives the consumer and people like myself. Otherwise, things become stale.”

Ushering In The Next Generation

While Jack continues to be an idea guy, his children are taking on more responsibility running the business. Son Kurt is general manager and most involved in running daily production operations. Daughter Peggy is in charge of marketing and a landscape pickup site, Ivy Acres Wholesale Nursery, which serves regional needs for trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials. Son Stephen works as a software developer in Los Angeles.

As president, Sullivan is a bridge from one generation to the next while bringing new strategies. His specialty is developing processes for continuous improvement, which he learned working for Florida Power & Light in Miami and became a consultant in this field. Clients ranged from Chase Manhattan Bank, the U.S. government and Proctor & Gamble. Two in our industry are Yoder Brothers in Florida and Fernlea in Canada and Florida.

Ivy Acres, Inc.

Owners: Jack and Alice Van de Wetering

Founded: 1960s

Locations: Baiting Hollow, N.Y. (Long Island) and Vineland, N.J.

Size: 30 acres of greenhouse production

Crops: Annuals, perennials, bulbs, garden mums, poinsettias

Markets: Home Depot, wholesale clubs, supermarkets, garden centers and landscapers

He came to know Jack and was recruited as Ivy Acres vice president of sales and marketing seven years ago. When he became president in September 2007, the Van de Weterings agreed it was time to implement quality control processes Sullivan had implemented elsewhere to make operations run more consistently.

“Having been the vice president of sales and marketing, I was seeing we had great stuff but kept stubbing our toe here and there,” Sullivan says. “I didn’t see consistency across the company meeting the customer’s needs. If you look at our business, it’s not a complex one at all. The six processes are linear. One starts while another ends.”

The six processes are:
• Sales – getting the right information back from the customer and market
• Production – transplanting the right varieties on schedule
• Growing – finishing the plants to the right quality specifications on time
• Fulfillment – picking the right products to specifications
• Shipping on time
• Merchandising at store level – the initiative began with training on continuous improvement and developing the company’s mission and vision. Sullivan brought in Leo Willenbacher of Ft. Myers, Fla. to facilitate. Three guiding principles Ivy Acres developed are:
• Focus on the customer.
• Manage with facts.
• Respect people.

“Discussions focused on what do customers want and what will they pay money for? The right product, right quality, on time, signed and a great mix,” Sullivan explains. “How do we make sure what we’re doing only impacts what the customer wants? Most of the processes are time or quality driven – getting the right product out.”

While keeping the ultimate customers in mind, employees learned they each had internal customers from one process to the next. Each employee now works in one of the six processes and each process has an owner.

“The next step is to document your process, get it down on paper with measures,” Sullivan says. “Is the process capable? Is it stable? Most were right but we just needed to tighten time frames and set a schedule. Once we got in a rhythm, we said, ‘Hey, it works. We’re getting done faster. The product is great and we’re getting great sell through.’”

Ivy Acres’ executive team meets each week to discuss the six core processes, what’s going right and needs attention. As general manager, Kurt owns four of the processes – transplanting, growing, fulfillment and shipping. Now the focus is making processes easier, cheaper and faster – essentially, Lean Flow.

The improvement in internal communications and focus on customer service has made a difference. “The big change was the movement of labor for completing larger tasks,” Kurt says. “People were compartmentalized and dedicated to departments. Now there is a greater transference of labor, which has reduced our costs. When I was in sales, not every department was focused on the retailer. They were doing their job but not focused on the end product. Now they realize if they do their job correctly, they will make things better for their next process customer and better for the retailer, which will result in better sell through.”

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Raising The Bar

  1. am searching for hedera helix lady frances. My mother’s name was frances Ivey and she passed recently. I would dearly love to obtain some Lady Frances to plant in her memory. Can you help me?

  2. am searching for hedera helix lady frances. My mother’s name was frances Ivey and she passed recently. I would dearly love to obtain some Lady Frances to plant in her memory. Can you help me?

More From ...
Sheridan Nurseries

September 3, 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Operation Of The Year Sheridan Nurseries Raises The Bar

Ontario-based Sheridan Nurseries has long been an innovator in the Canadian market, but during the economic downturn, CEO Karl Stensson says the company decided to take things a step further. “We have survived the Great Depression, two World Wars and many other downturns in the economy,” he says. “During this last recession, our staff set out at being the best at what we do.” The company’s efforts have paid off. Sheridan Nurseries was named Operation of the Year at Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence, held July 13, at Cultivate’15 in Columbus, Ohio. The company was also awarded for Excellence In Perennials Production, based on its reputation for plant quality and the activities the nursery has led and been a part of, both within its company and in the industry at large. “We are elated and proud of our staff accomplishments,” says CEO Karl Stensson. “Over the last five years, we […]

Read More

September 3, 2015

Legalization Of Marijuana In California A Strong Possibility

The push for the legalization of recreational marijuana intensifies in California as proponents promote the crop’s agricultural and economical benefits.

Read More
More and more people are employing a landscape service, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still garden

September 2, 2015

Under Siege? Not Really, Just Go For A Walk

I have no trouble with people buying chocolates or wine instead of flowers to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays or peoples’ lives. We should all have choices. However, the other night I felt like I was entering the Republican caucus. I was minding my own business by the television set and became more than a little upset. A website called insteadofflowers.com came on the screen. It provided serene music and wholesome images of busy women doing busy things. It turns out that such busy women enjoy a small token of appreciation, but apparently their enjoyment, according to the voice-over, does not include flowers. This website delivers meals to the house, anything from beef brisket to beef bourguignon. It is a fine website with a good idea. But why pick on us? Why not use “insteadofbaloneysandwiches.com” or “insteadofgrilledcheeseandsoup.com,” “insteadofburgerdoodle.com,” or a dozen other things. When did flowers get to be the whipping boy? […]

Read More
Latest Stories
Sheridan Nurseries

September 3, 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Operation Of The …

Ontario-based Sheridan Nurseries has long been an innovator in the Canadian market, but during the economic downturn, CEO Karl Stensson says the company decided to take things a step further. “We have survived the Great Depression, two World Wars and many other downturns in the economy,” he says. “During this last recession, our staff set out at being the best at what we do.” The company’s efforts have paid off. Sheridan Nurseries was named Operation of the Year at Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence, held July 13, at Cultivate’15 in Columbus, Ohio. The company was also awarded for Excellence In Perennials Production, based on its reputation for plant quality and the activities the nursery has led and been a part of, both within its company and in the industry at large. “We are elated and proud of our staff accomplishments,” says CEO Karl Stensson. “Over the last five years, we […]

Read More

September 3, 2015

Legalization Of Marijuana In California A Strong Possib…

The push for the legalization of recreational marijuana intensifies in California as proponents promote the crop’s agricultural and economical benefits.

Read More
More and more people are employing a landscape service, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still garden

September 2, 2015

Under Siege? Not Really, Just Go For A Walk

I have no trouble with people buying chocolates or wine instead of flowers to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays or peoples’ lives. We should all have choices. However, the other night I felt like I was entering the Republican caucus. I was minding my own business by the television set and became more than a little upset. A website called insteadofflowers.com came on the screen. It provided serene music and wholesome images of busy women doing busy things. It turns out that such busy women enjoy a small token of appreciation, but apparently their enjoyment, according to the voice-over, does not include flowers. This website delivers meals to the house, anything from beef brisket to beef bourguignon. It is a fine website with a good idea. But why pick on us? Why not use “insteadofbaloneysandwiches.com” or “insteadofgrilledcheeseandsoup.com,” “insteadofburgerdoodle.com,” or a dozen other things. When did flowers get to be the whipping boy? […]

Read More
Triathlon BA container shot

September 2, 2015

OHP Launches Triathlon BA, Offers Marengo SC In Smaller…

Triathlon BA biofungicide/bactericide is now available to authorized OHP distributors for shipment to states where product registration has been approved. State registration information is available here. A next generation preventive biological fungicide, bactercide Triathlon BA is labeled for use in both organic and conventional production on a wide variety of fungal and bacterial diseases on ornamentals, fruits, vegetables and herbs and spices. With the active ingredient Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, Triathlon BA provides preventive control of many foliar and soil-borne diseases such as botrytis, powdery mildew, downy mildew, rusts, leaf spots, alternaria, pythium, phytophthora, rhizoctonia, fusarium and bacterial spot. Triathlon BA, an aqueous suspension formulation, prevents establishment of disease-causing fungi and bacteria on the plant tissues. Depending on the target disease, users can foliar-apply or soil drench Triathlon BA. Repeat applications may be made at three- to 28-day intervals. Under environmental conditions that are conducive to disease development, users may apply at three- to […]

Read More

September 2, 2015

Delegation Is Key To A Successful Greenhouse Operation

In a packed room at Cultivate’15, speaker Bernie Erven presented key steps growers need to take to improve their delegation skills, the benefits of delegating and the dangers of not learning how to delegate. This is a skill, he says, that everyone needs to learn. “For all of you who are part of a family business, you are choosing not to do things the easy way,” Erven laughed, as he presented a list of ways to know whether or not you’re an effective delegator. The owner of Erven HR Services, LLC, Erven has been working with and observing family businesses for many years. In his presentation, he said, he didn’t share anything that he hasn’t seen first-hand. You might not be a good delegator if you: Tend to be a perfectionist Work more hours than anyone else Lack time to explain clearly and concisely Are often interrupted Enjoy what you used to […]

Read More
Feature image The 2015 Perennial Plant Of The Year, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’

September 1, 2015

Perennial Plant Association’s 33rd Annual Symposi…

The Perennial Plant Association's 33rd Annual Symposium, held July 27 to August 1 in Baltimore, Md., delved into the rich history of perennial suppliers and landscape architects in the Baltimore area and their influence on the perennial market today and its bright future.

Read More
Marc van Iersel

September 1, 2015

GROwing Floriculture Research And Extension

Research and outreach efforts help keep floriculture production profitable. With seemingly continuous budget cuts to university and federal budgets, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to sustain their programs and to keep making a positive impact on the industry. So what can be done to ensure that the industry will keep getting the research and outreach support it has come to rely on? There already is a variety of funding programs that support research and Extension programs in our industry. This funding is critical for many floriculture research and outreach programs. What can we do to leverage that funding and make sure it has the biggest possible impact? A program that I was part of in 2010 may serve as a model. LAUNCH was co-founded by NASA, NIKE, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State as a program to help make innovative ideas become a […]

Read More
Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler - Feature image

September 1, 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of Th…

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler is laying a strong groundwork for the industry by mentoring future growers and instilling a sense of pride in growing quality crops.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler - Feature image

September 1, 2015

Bell Nursery USA Cultivates New Growers Through Interns…

Bell Nursery USA started its internship program two years ago with the aim of identifying and training the growers of the future. Each season, the company’s internships give interns a broad overview of the company, exposing them to everything from growing and production to distribution, retail and finances.

Read More
Growing For Futures Logo

September 1, 2015

Growing Solutions Farm Gains New Native Plant Garden

Growing Solutions Farm, a Chicago-based vocational therapeutic garden for young adults with autism, is now the home of a pollinator-friendly native plant habitat. The raised-bed native plant display was added thanks to a donation from American Beauties Native Plants and Midwest Groundcovers, who partnered to donate 220 pollinator-friendly plants. It comes on the heels of a 2014 fundraiser hosted by the National Garden Bureau, which was able to donate more than $44,000 in cash, products and supplies to the farm by the end of 2014. “Last year, during the IGC Chicago Show, I took several guests over to Growing Solutions Farm,” says Diane Blazek of National Garden Bureau. “One of those guests, Peggy Anne Montgomery, was so inspired by this project that she and American Beauties Natives worked with Midwest Groundcovers to make this donation a reality. It’s so nice that the farm now has the plants they need to […]

Read More
Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation logo

September 1, 2015

Gloeckner Foundation Elects New Directors And Board Mem…

The Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation, Inc. held its annual meeting on May 30, 2015, electing a new president, vice president and one new board member. Newly elected officers, directors and board members are: Former vice president of the foundation, Dr. Richard Craig was elected president and chair of the research committee. Craig, a professor emeritus of plant breeding and the J. Franklin Styer Professor Emeritus of horticultural botany at Pennsylvania State University, is considered a pioneer breeder in the industry. In 1990, he was inducted into the Floriculture Hall of Fame, the industry’s highest honor. Craig has spent 45 years in genetics and breeding research, and has made countless contributions to horticultural science. Dr. Paul Allen Hammer, professor emeritus of floriculture at Purdue University, was elected vice president. Hammer has served on the Gloeckner Foundation board since 2001. His expertise in greenhouse production and management, experimental design and analysis and plant […]

Read More
Bill Lewis grower manager at Delray Plants

August 31, 2015

Delray Plants Takes Preventative Approach To Pest Contr…

Trying to control pests effectively on a wide variety of crops is a major undertaking. Delray Plants in Venus, Fla., has been using biological controls as a part of its pest control program for more than 10 years. It operates 300 acres, which includes covered structures and 7 acres of outdoor field production.

Read More
Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation logo

August 31, 2015

Gloeckner Foundation Awards 15 Research Grants

The Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation recently awarded 15 grants totaling $149,776. Fred C. Gloeckner had a keen interest and firm resolve to facilitate innovation and improve practices in floriculture. It was this vision that inspired him to start The Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation, Inc. 55 years ago. Since the foundation’s inception, more than 66 institutions have been awarded grants for this purpose, and the foundation’s support of floriculture research has totaled $6,525,642. The following grants were recently awarded: $14,000 – Kansas State University, to study the effect of the entomopathogenic fungus, Beauveria bassiana and the rove beetle, Dalotia coriaria, in suppressing populations of the western flower thrips, Frankliniella occidentalis $12,264 – North Carolina State University, for expanding leaf tissue nutritional standards in bedding plants $12,000 – University of Florida, to illuminate Lilium floral fragrance $11,842 – Stephen F. Austin State University, for its herbaceous perennial species trial garden $10,000 – Iowa […]

Read More
Feature image The 2015 Perennial Plant Of The Year, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’

August 27, 2015

The Perennial Plant Association’s Regional Sympos…

The Perennial Plant Association plans to hold its Regional Symposium October 5 in Dallas, Texas, in conjunction with the All-America Selections/Home Garden Seed Association's Summer/Fall Summit held October 5 to 8.

Read More
september_grow_rodale institute

August 25, 2015

Hospitals Are Getting Into The Organic Food Business

Growers investing in the organic food movement could serve a growing new area with vegetable transplants and starts, as well as produce, as hospitals begin to prescribe healthy diets and nutrition, and even go so far as to grow their own food. As part of a new phenomenon among progressive hospitals, health professionals are beginning to realize that without health and nutrition, programs and techniques may be done in vain or worse — obsolete. As more patients seeking a healthy diet turn to nutritionists, who recommend sugar-free, alkaline diets to prevent disease and aid in recovery, hospitals recognizing this trend are taking action. St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Pa., recently contracted with the nearby Rodale Institute to manage an organic farm, established in 2014. The hospital, part of a six-campus network, aims to provide excellent healthcare, part of which includes educating patients about the benefits of a plant-based, organic diet. […]

Read More

August 21, 2015

Proven Winners Announces Roadshow Events For 2015

Proven Winner's Roadshow Events, held across North America, provide growers and retailers with the opportunity to learn how to grow Proven Winner's newest varieties and receive information about industry trends.

Read More
Figure 1. Mustard microgreens grown under sole-source (SS) lighting using light-emitting diode (LED) arrays.

August 21, 2015

Sole-Source LED Lighting In Horticulture: Microgreens P…

In Part 2 of a four-part lighting series highlighting the multiple uses of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), researchers examine the effects of sole-source LED lighting on microgreen production to achieve the highest quality crop possible in an energy efficient manner.

Read More
Farwest2015

August 20, 2015

Farwest 2015 Offers Tours And Showcases Vegetables, Fru…

Three 2015 Farwest offsite tours, planned for Wednesday, August 26, offer a range of focus for the industry from nursery/greenhouse growing to landscape and garden retail.

Read More