Finding A Niche

Finding A Niche

Slideshow
 

In a crowded market where many people do many things well, sometimes the best strategy is simply to be different. Find the one thing you can do better than anyone else. Paul Berlind subscribes to that philosophy.

Berlind, owner and president of Grateful Growers in Leander, Texas, has experience as a landscaper and an M.S. from the Department of Floriculture and Ornamental Horticulture at Cornell University. Almost a decade ago he recognized a profitable niche–producing annual color for 200 local landscapers–and built a business around it. He’s doing one thing, and doing it very well.

Targeting The Right Market

When Berlind decided to leave his job as a grower in another local

greenhouse back in 2000 and start his own business, he knew exactly the market he wanted to serve. But with all the other outlets for plants–from the big boxes to independent retailers–why choose a market as relatively small and specialized as bedding plants for landscapers?

“For one, it was the business where I learned my growing practices. That was our focus, so that was a market I knew in this area,” he says. “Also, I owned a landscape company in California for about a decade and I knew how hard it was to find a good source of bedding plants.”

And since the new business was located just a half hour from the rapidly growing state capital of Austin, opportunities for landscapers seemed almost unlimited.

Berlind also wanted to focus on the higher end of the market in terms of quality, and for him, that meant looking at the landscape market.

“I didn’t want to deal with the box stores. Quality was going to be my focus and the landscapers really appreciate the higher quality plants and are willing to pay the extra nickel for good quality,” he says.

Another benefit to focusing solely on landscapers, Berlind says, is predictability. By building an operation that serves as the major local source of annual color, he knew he could build a sustainable growing operation. The nature of the landscape business, he points out, dictates that his customers would come back on a regular basis.

Online Only: The Story Behind The Name

GG: OK, we have to ask. Where did you get the name Grateful Growers?

Berlind: Though I’ve been to 100 Grateful Dead concerts, I like to tell customers that the name is also an expression of my gratitude for their patronage and the opportunity to work with them.

The flip side, of course, is that while Berlind can usually count on repeat business from his customers multiple times a season, in the end, his customer is often at the whim of a property manager. “They’re working for a lot of people who are either apartment managers or housing development managers who have their favorite colors or their own ideas about what would be pretty.”
That can take some of the decision making out of the landscaper’s hands, and it means a lot of “educated guessing” for Berlind on what to grow for the following season.

“I’m guessing six months in advance about how many red petunias I’m going to be selling in the first week of May. That’s the tricky part.

Low-Tech Market, High-Tech Production

Berlind’s operation isn’t big: 25,000 square feet under two Rough Brothers structures and another 18,000 square feet of outdoor production. One thing that’s striking about an operation this size, however, is the amount of automation he has in his greenhouses. While it was a big initial investment, he knew it would allow him to produce the higher quality plant he says is critical for his market.
“We have a completely computer-controlled environment that will open the vents and run the heaters and Horizontal Air Flow fans. We have a Hamilton TEA Transplanter that can plant up to 300 flats per hour. We have a Bouldin Lawson flat filler and a water tunnel. We have a monorail cart system for moving all the plants through the greenhouse. We have two boom irrigators. And we have rolling benches that save a ton of space and provide good aeration for our plants,” he says. “It all makes a huge difference in the plants we’re able to produce.”

In addition, all this automation also helps keep labor costs in check. Berlind is able to run his operation with only four to five full time employees, and never more than seven, even during the busy season. That helps keeps production costs down, which means although his prices are in line with those of his competitors (who aren’t as automated), he’s able to pull a better margin to the bottom line.

And while it might seem like a small thing, there’s something to be said about the impression all that high-tech equipment can make. “My customers appreciate coming to see all the equipment. When they see the boom irrigators running and the rolling benches, it’s definite word of mouth marketing for us. They haven’t seen much like it.

Growing Relationships

Despite all the automation, Grateful Growers isn’t really a big operation by most standards. And Berlind has actually used that to his advantage. He is able to get to know most of his customers well, and with his landscaper’s background and extensive plant knowledge, he has developed strong one-to-one relationships with many of his best customers, some of whom he’s worked with for the full 10 years he’s been in business.

“They’re pretty loyal,” he says. “And that’s what we thrive on because we do the seasonal color change, so I really want to sell the same flats to the same flower beds three or four times a year. Repeat customers are critical to keeping our sales flowing.”

Berlind knows his customers’ planting beds nearly as well as they do themselves–maybe better. He can often be found out visiting a site with a landscaper, diagnosing problems and making suggestions for improvements. That extra step can be a big help when planning his production for the coming season.

“When I call and talk to them about their plans for next year, I can say, ‘You know, I was thinking about for your property over here, and I think this new plant would work really well there. Would you be interested if I grow some of these?'”

That customer service extends beyond help with plant selection. Grateful Growers provides an educational sheet with training tips on its website. Landscapers can download the tips and have something to hand out to employees, who often need help with some of the basics.

It’s service like that which has Berlind as confident about his future and the future of the industry, even as things look a bit uncertain with the economy as we head into the spring of 2009.

“Austin is continuing to expand, and most of my stuff is local. With the relationships I’ve been able to build over the years, as there are new housing developments and apartment complexes, we should still get new business,” he says. “I think we’ll be able to weather any downturn we see in the economy this year and come back just fine. These are unique times I hope.”

Leave a Reply

More From Varieties...
Youngs Plant Farm Trial Garden feature

January 21, 2017

Don’t Miss the Southern Garden Tour This June

Growers, retailers, and all industry professionals are invited to the 2017 Southern Garden Tour, which is hosted by Young’s Plant Farms, Sakata, and Metrolina Greenhouses, and will be held June 6-8.

Read More
Gaillardia 'Mesa Red'

January 21, 2017

2016 Pike Creek Horticulture Center Field Trials Results

Check out the 2016 field trials results for The Pike Creek Horticulture Center in Kenosha, WI.

Read More
Anna Chernyavsky

January 20, 2017

New Director of Sales for Bedding Plants and Perennials at Danziger

Anna Chernyavsky, who joined Danziger in August 2016, will be in charge of the U.S. and United Kingdom markets.

Read More
Latest Stories
Youngs Plant Farm Trial Garden feature

January 21, 2017

Don’t Miss the Southern Garden Tour This June

Growers, retailers, and all industry professionals are invited to the 2017 Southern Garden Tour, which is hosted by Young’s Plant Farms, Sakata, and Metrolina Greenhouses, and will be held June 6-8.

Read More
Gaillardia 'Mesa Red'

January 21, 2017

2016 Pike Creek Horticulture Center Field Trials Result…

Check out the 2016 field trials results for The Pike Creek Horticulture Center in Kenosha, WI.

Read More
Anna Chernyavsky

January 20, 2017

New Director of Sales for Bedding Plants and Perennials…

Anna Chernyavsky, who joined Danziger in August 2016, will be in charge of the U.S. and United Kingdom markets.

Read More
Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer BloomStruck’ (Bailey Nurseries)

January 19, 2017

Bailey Nurseries Hosting Spring Previews in February

The previews, which provide education, new variety information, and retail support programs, will take place in Illinois, Minnesota, and Boston.

Read More
Selecta Sponsor bed at Raker trial gardens

January 18, 2017

2016 C. Raker & Sons Field Trials Results

Check out the 2016 field trials results for C. Raker & Sons in Litchfield, MI.

Read More
Joe Cimino, Sakata Seed America

January 17, 2017

Sakata Seed Names New Senior Sales Manager for Ornament…

Joe Cimino comes to Sakata with past experience at Sun Gro and Florexpo.

Read More
JinPin Flower Seedling Company partners

January 17, 2017

Ernst Benary Partners With Chinese Young Plant Grower o…

The partnership creates a new company called Jinpin Flower Seedling Company, which will focus on providing young plants to the rapidly growing Chinese bedding plant market.

Read More
Dipladenia Sundenia

January 11, 2017

New Tropical and Foliage Plants That Offer Hidden Benef…

Tropical and foliage plants can offer extra paybacks to your customers in terms of health-promoting benefits such as filtering the air, reducing stress, and absorbing noise. Consider these new varieties, hitting the retail market in 2017, for your product mix.

Read More
craspedia-golf-beauty-danziger-feature

January 9, 2017

Growing Tips for Craspedia ‘Golf Beauty’

Laura Robles of Mast Young Plants offers advice on ‘Golf Beauty,’ a novelty plant with can’t-miss yellow flower heads and silver foliage that blooms throughout the summer.

Read More
Bride with wedding orchids.

January 7, 2017

How to Stand Out in the Orchid Market

With the popularity of the Phalaenopsis orchid growing and its saturation in the market, orchid growers are hunting for new ways to stand out from their competitors.

Read More
California Coast

January 3, 2017

Expect Big Changes for California Spring Trials 2017

California Spring Trials 2017 will be here before you know it. Find out what you can look forward to and get a head start on planning and registering for your trip.

Read More
westerlay-orchids-feature

January 1, 2017

How Westerlay Orchids Solved Its Bacteria Problem

Water-borne bacteria was causing havoc with Westerlay Orchids’ production, so the company took preventative action to ensure the health of its plants.

Read More
nepeta-purple-wave-with-roses

December 30, 2016

Allan Armitage: Plants That Can Bring Success in the Ne…

Are you wondering which plants to grow? Here are some perennials, annuals, and herbs that are gaining popularity.

Read More
Honeybelle combo

December 27, 2016

19 New Combos for Containers Big and Small

Check out 19 combos and mixes new for the retail marketplace in 2017 that offer something for every container type.

Read More
sun-parasol-original-crimson-web

December 20, 2016

Suntory Launches Unrooted Cuttings Program for Sun Para…

While the domestically produced rooting program for the Sun Parasol will continue, growers who would like to purchase unrooted cuttings will have the opportunity for the Sun Parasol Original varieties and Garden Crimson.

Read More
santos flare

December 20, 2016

Ball Horticultural Expands Potted Plant Offerings With …

Ex-Plant, which specializes in potted plants, will become a part of Ball’s PanAmerican Seed division.

Read More

December 16, 2016

Please Take Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Poinsettia S…

Are plant sales up or down compared to last year? How did Black Friday set the tone for this season? What varieties and sizes were your best sellers? Did you try anything new this year to appeal to younger consumer demographics? We tackle all of these questions and more to help you understand the trends in Greenhouse Grower's 2016 Poinsettia Survey.

Read More

December 13, 2016

Dümmen Orange Shares Trends And Season-Extending Tips A…

As a purveyor of a wide collection of poinsettia and potted plant genetics, Dümmen Orange offered attendees a look at current trends – and a glimpse into the future – at its annual event in Columbus, OH.

Read More