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...
Kelly Norris - feature

June 28, 2016

Kelly Norris: Three Variety Trends That Caught My Eye This Spring

My reflections on promising new plants, the realities of market penetration, and adding value along the supply chain.

Read More
Dr Allan Armitage

June 25, 2016

Three Types Of Plant Consumers To Watch

There are three emerging groups of plant consumers that you should be targeting for plant sales in the future, according to Allan Armitage.

Read More
FleuroStar Award Ceremony

June 20, 2016

Begonia Hybrid ‘Miss Malibu’ Takes Home FleuroStar Award

The award from Fleuroselect was announced at the Green Inspiration Event in Amsterdam.

Read More
Latest Stories
Kelly Norris - feature

June 28, 2016

Kelly Norris: Three Variety Trends That Caught My Eye T…

My reflections on promising new plants, the realities of market penetration, and adding value along the supply chain.

Read More
Dr Allan Armitage

June 25, 2016

Three Types Of Plant Consumers To Watch

There are three emerging groups of plant consumers that you should be targeting for plant sales in the future, according to Allan Armitage.

Read More
FleuroStar Award Ceremony

June 20, 2016

Begonia Hybrid ‘Miss Malibu’ Takes Home FleuroStar Awar…

The award from Fleuroselect was announced at the Green Inspiration Event in Amsterdam.

Read More
Caryopteris 'Beyond Midnight Bluebeard'

June 20, 2016

Keep The Sales Coming With 16 New Blooming Varieties Fo…

Plants that put on a show from first frost long into fall and offer the color options consumers want for their gardens go a long way toward extending sales further into the season and can help maintain your sales momentum going strong. Check out these 16 new blooming varieties, both traditional favorites and new alternatives, for your fall crop selection.

Read More
'Osaka' Flowering Cabbage (Sakata Ornamentals)

June 18, 2016

Mark Your Calendar For Sakata Seed Trials In August

Sakata has set two dates for its California-based trials: Aug. 15-17 in Salinas, and Aug. 17-19 in Woodland.

Read More
Tomato Congress Logo

June 15, 2016

International Tomato Congress In Mexico Will Focus On G…

The event, which takes place in San Luis Potosi from July 20-22, will feature discussions on production strategies, cost management in protected structures, and optimizing your greenhouse environment.

Read More
Nir Nursery Wax Flower Pot Plant

June 14, 2016

Danziger Reaches Deal To Distribute Nir Nursery Varieti…

With the agreement, Danziger becomes the exclusive distributor of Nir’s product line, which includes cut flowers, foliage, pot, and garden plants.

Read More

June 14, 2016

Dümmen Orange Expands Its Succulent Offerings Through N…

According to Dümmen Operations Director Kate Santos, succulents are an attractive growth category because of their ease of use, shelf life in stores, drought tolerance, and versatility in application.

Read More
'Osaka' Flowering Cabbage (Sakata Ornamentals)

June 14, 2016

New Cool Season, Vegetable, And Foliage Crops For Fall …

Whether you’re providing pansies and violas to the garden center for fall color or decorative edibles to grace patio containers, consider these 16 varieties for fall crop sales, newly introduced for 2016 and hitting retail in 2017.

Read More
Calibrachoa Chameleon Sunshine Berry (Westflowers) - Feature

June 9, 2016

Fall Crop Alternatives That Can Increase Your Sales

There’s a lot of competition for grabbing your share of fall mum sales. Give your program a boost with new varieties that complement traditional fall crops.

Read More

June 7, 2016

It’s Time To Rethink The Value And Timing Of Cali…

Fourteen years ago, Greenhouse Grower saw an opportunity to bring next-day coverage of California Pack Trials (now California Spring Trials or CAST) to your inbox. The objective was to be your eyes and ears on location, to report the debut of the newest varieties and marketing programs, and report major breeder announcements, especially for those not attending. We continued to develop new story-telling tools with video capabilities, slideshows, and more. And once social media took hold, everyone attending CAST became reporters of their favorite varieties and displays at trials. So we’re left with the question — how should we continue to evolve our coverage, to bring the most value for you? It’s easy to fall into a certain pattern, to stick with what works — or seems to work. And just because you’re working really hard at something that you’ve had success with in the past, it doesn’t mean it’s […]

Read More
Carex 'Eversheen' (Hoffman Nursery)

June 7, 2016

Hoffman Nursery Has A New 30-Year Anniversary Look!

The new redesign of the Hoffman Nursery website packs in more content than ever with updated resources and 30 years of experience growing grasses.

Read More
GG June Cover image

June 6, 2016

The State Of Plant Breeding In 2016

Breeding companies look to strengthen their competitive advantage, easing the way for growers to procure new plant varieties and for consumers to grow with confidence.

Read More
Petunia Queen of Hearts

June 1, 2016

Danziger Introducing New Petunia Amore Series, And More…

Danziger “Dan” Flower Farm is planning to introduce 60 new varieties from its 2016-17 collection at the annual event, including petunias, bidens, and calibrachoa.

Read More
Nathan Lamkey Chuck Pavlich Allan Armitage talk about muckgenia

May 31, 2016

Allan Armitage: Three Trends (Good And Bad) That Caught…

We need to put the same energies we invest into California Spring Trials to get plants into consumers’ hands and encourage young people in the industry to attend.

Read More
National Garden Bureau California Vegetable Summer Trials

May 26, 2016

California Summer Vegetable Trials In August Will Cover…

The National Garden Bureau is once again organizing summer vegetables trials this August in California, giving attendees the opportunity to visit with several breeding companies.

Read More
Eason 2017 Perennials Guide

May 25, 2016

Eason Horticultural Resources Releases New Perennials G…

The two guides are available in digital and print versions and offer information from several breeders.

Read More
Echinacea ‘Butterfly Rainbow Marcella’

May 25, 2016

15 New Perennials For Bees, Butterflies, And Other Poll…

These 15 new perennials, available for retail in 2016 and 2017, will produce colorful flowers and foliage year after year, providing habitat and food for bees, butterflies, birds, moths, and other pollinators.

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