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...
PP&L CAST 2015 intros

April 22, 2015

6 Breeding Companies Serve Up New Varieties At Pacific Plug & Liner

Pacific Plug & Liner’s theme this year, Labyrinth, a conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants, was perfectly topped off (pun intended) with fascinators for the women and newsboy caps for the men. The PP&L team dressed their part to act out the gothic “conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants.” Truly, the displays looked like they practically popped out of a catalog, and the costumes were a nice touch. Retailers take heed, the fully merchandised displays at Pacific Plug & Liner are worthy of emulating. We’ll let the pictures tell the story of all the fabulous variety introductions presented at  Pacific Plug & Liner’s 2015 California Spring Trials, where Cultivaris, Cohen Nurseries, Histil Nurseries, Jaldety Nurseries, Southern Living/Sunset Collection and Pacific Plug & Liner all highlighted their 2016 introductions.  

Read More
Speedling 2015 CAST intros

April 22, 2015

Speedling Inc. Presents New Varieties From ABZ Seeds, Hem Genetics, Thompson & Morgan, Vista Farms & PSI

You name it, we saw it at Speedling's California Spring Trials location in San Juan Bautista, where five companies showed off their new introductions for 2016.

Read More
PittMoss on Shark Tank

April 22, 2015

PittMoss Wins On Shark Tank

Mont Handley, president and CEO of PittMoss, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on April 17 to try to get the “sharks” to invest in his peat moss alternative. Three investors from the TV show contributed $600,000 to PittMoss for a 35 percent stake in the company. Check out this clip from ABC’s website in which Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec discuss getting on board with the product. PittMoss is an alternative to sphagnum peat moss, made up of a mix of proprietary additives and recycled paper rescued from landfill space. Handley founded the Pittsburgh-based company in 1994. What started as a small experiment grew into a full-fledged business with the help of funding provided by an EPA SBIR grant and Pittsburgh’s Idea Foundry. Today, PittMoss is available to commercial greenhouses and nurseries from Michigan to Maine to North Carolina, with plans to grow. To learn more, visit PittMoss’ website, or check it […]

Read More
Latest Stories
PP&L CAST 2015 intros

April 22, 2015

6 Breeding Companies Serve Up New Varieties At Pacific …

Pacific Plug & Liner’s theme this year, Labyrinth, a conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants, was perfectly topped off (pun intended) with fascinators for the women and newsboy caps for the men. The PP&L team dressed their part to act out the gothic “conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants.” Truly, the displays looked like they practically popped out of a catalog, and the costumes were a nice touch. Retailers take heed, the fully merchandised displays at Pacific Plug & Liner are worthy of emulating. We’ll let the pictures tell the story of all the fabulous variety introductions presented at  Pacific Plug & Liner’s 2015 California Spring Trials, where Cultivaris, Cohen Nurseries, Histil Nurseries, Jaldety Nurseries, Southern Living/Sunset Collection and Pacific Plug & Liner all highlighted their 2016 introductions.  

Read More
Speedling 2015 CAST intros

April 22, 2015

Speedling Inc. Presents New Varieties From ABZ Seeds, H…

You name it, we saw it at Speedling's California Spring Trials location in San Juan Bautista, where five companies showed off their new introductions for 2016.

Read More
Danziger_Coreopsis_Solanna Glow1

April 22, 2015

Industry Perspective: McHutchison’s Vaughn Fletch…

Vaughn Fletcher with McHutchison Horticultural Distributors is part of Greenhouse Grower‘s Medal Of Excellence For Industry’s Choice Panel. Fletcher recounts some of the standout varieties he saw while visiting Danziger "Dan" Flower Farms and Beekenkamp during California Spring Trials.

Read More
Lomandra-Platinum-Beauty-Ball

April 22, 2015

Allan Armitage Finds A Lot To Love On His Last Day At T…

On the last day of the 2015 California Spring Trials, Allan Armitage and the Greenhouse Grower team visited three stops that accounted for 12 breeding companies. From annuals and perennials to herbs and strawberries, Armitage found plenty to get excited about.

Read More
Viola 'Yellow Purple Wing'

April 21, 2015

Benary Combines Fun Marketing Ideas With Strong New Pla…

It's no surprise that Benary, which built its company on begonia breeding more than 100 years ago, still has a magical touch when it comes to the genus. Two standouts among a field of great introductions were begonias.

Read More
Syngenta CAST 2015

April 21, 2015

Syngenta’s Getting Crafty With Containers

Containers seem to be the name of the game for Syngenta, perhaps because the company knows that the consumer garden of today and of the future is on the deck. From Kwik Kombos to veggies, Syngenta’s California Spring Trials display provided a variety of options and information that growers and retailers can use to drive consumer success. Bengal is a new series of F1 seed gerberas in six classic colors. The big brother to the popular Jaguar gerbera series, Bengal gerberas have a larger flower but remain compact in containers, and they’re ideal for six-inch and larger pots. The grandiflora F1 hybrid Tritunia series is a compilation of genetics from three different petunia lines, to allow Syngenta Flowers to declutter the market and growers to simplify their orders. Tritunia is available in 20 colors and three mixes. Kwik Kombos, Syngenta’s line of mixed containers, is a big deal for the breeder and […]

Read More
Danziger CAST 2015

April 21, 2015

Danziger Highlights The Best Of Its 2016 New Variety In…

After a long day during California Spring Trials (CAST), Vice President of Marketing Chanochi Zaks highlighted the cream of the crop among Danziger “Dan” Flower Farm’s new varieties. Check out the slideshow to see the 10 varieties that CAST attendees were most excited about.

Read More

April 20, 2015

Three Michigan State University On-Demand Webinars Offe…

The first rule of effective insect and disease control for vegetables is to take action to prevent problems before they occur. But in order to do that, you need to have an effective pest and disease management strategy in place that incorporates best practices to ensure a successful outcome. Michigan State University offers three pest and disease management on-demand webinars that will get you started and keep you on the right track.

Read More
PW_Sakata_CAST15-4

April 20, 2015

Sakata’s Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ Steals The Show In S…

Since January, when I first saw celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ in the landscape at Costa Farms’ Season Premier, I knew it looked like a great plant that would garner some serious attention. And sure enough, up and down the trials road, people were talking about Sakata’s hot new introduction. Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ is a seed-propagated, plume-type celosia that is said to actually perform better with less fertilizer and water. If it’s fed too much, its dark leaves lose their reddish-purple coloring and turn green, and by restricting water, it tends to bloom more. It tends to be a more vigorous plant than other plume-type celosias, and its large blooms are quite attractive. Sakata also introduced a new series of African Marigolds. Proud Mari comes in Orange, Yellow and Gold, and has huge, fist-sized flowers that bloom vigorously. New colors in SuperCal petunias are L.A. Yellow and Pink, and they are fabulous additions […]

Read More

April 17, 2015

Sakata Seed Uses California Spring Trials Display Plant…

Sakata Seed America is putting its post-CAST (California Spring Trials) plants and flowers to good use to support events in local California communities of Salinas and Morgan Hill. The plants, along with donations through Sakata's Charitable Giving Program, will support three fun-filled community events that promote healthy lifestyles and support the agricultural industry.

Read More
PW_CAST15

April 17, 2015

Allan Armitage’s Favorite Plants From Proven Winn…

Between visiting California Spring Trial giants like Proven Winners, Syngenta and Danziger, Allan Armitage saw a lot of great plants in one day. Despite the size of the challenge, Dr. Armitage finds a few favorites he thinks you should try.

Read More
Gazania hybrid 'Amber Ice' (Cultivaris)

April 17, 2015

The 80/20 Theory Approach To Inventory Selection Is Put…

Tim Runte of Calloway Gardens is a member of Greenhouse Grower's Medal Of Excellence For Industry's Choice Panel. Here, he shares how he determines which plants shown at this year's California Spring Trials will make the cut at his retail stores.

Read More

April 17, 2015

Trends At California Spring Trials: AmericanHort’…

Michael Geary, CEO and president of AmericanHort, hit the road during California Spring Trials, and noted trends he saw at many of the stops. Here's one that he says we'll need to consider carefully.

Read More

April 17, 2015

Golden State Bulb At Spring Trials Has Great Appeal For…

While Golden State Bulb is a smaller stop at California Spring Trials, it’s always a treat. You not only get to see less common plants like calla lilies and eucomis, you also get to meet the passionate breeders who developed the plants you’re seeing. For plant geeks, this is a fun stop. First up, the Aloha Lily series of pineapple lily or eucomis was introduced last year, and a new variety, the dark red Kona, joined the lineup. The team at Golden State would like to see this sweet-scented series treated much like orchids by consumers. Like orchids, Aloha Lily does well in low light and has blooms that last two to three months. Now that homeowners have grown accustomed to having orchids, it just may be time to test which other long-flowering plant they would be willing to embrace. Golden State would like to see consumers approach callas in a […]

Read More
PW_calibrachoa_holy moly1

April 17, 2015

Proven Winners Shows Off Its Newest Plant Rock Stars At…

With its wide assortment of plants, great presenters and an amazing location atop a hill at a spa/resort, Proven Winners is a can’t-miss stop during California Spring Trials. The Greenhouse Grower team first visited with Proven Winners’ nursery partner, Spring Meadow, where we got to see the new shrub introductions. Shrubs Proven Winners has two new hydrangea series. The Let’s Dance series is third generation breeding and boasts strong reblooming and a compact habit. The new mountain hydrangea, ‘Tiny Tuff Stuff,’ is another rebloomer and grows to 1.5- to 2-feet tall. Its leaves take on a purple hue when they encounter cool night temperatures. The attractive new Gem Box ilex, an ink berry holly, is suggested as a boxwood replacement for those areas being hit with boxwood blight. It grows to 2- to 4-feet tall and takes full to part sun, but cannot take full shade the way boxwoods can. Spring Meado Nursery  is […]

Read More
Asian-Vegetables-Lettue-Trio-American-Takii

April 16, 2015

American Takii’s Asian Vegetable Line Is Designed…

Unlike many of the other breeders displaying at Spring Trials, American Takii didn’t have many new introductions. But it did have a new program that has prompted many visitors to post to social media — its Asian vegetables. Takii, which is well known for its vegetable breeding, is in the process of vetting the eight to 12 vegetables it will include in the program, and it should have its list fully complete by fall 2015. It is selecting plants that will be easy to use in Asian cooking and will help it stand out from the many vegetable programs in the ornamental market. The Takii marketing team designed bright-red Chinese food takeout containers to act as plant sleeves and a small booklet with five recipes. Honey Chicken With Pak Choy looked especially tasty. Take a look at how the program looks and let us know what you think.       HilverdaKooij is a […]

Read More
HGTV HOME Plant Collection_pre-made succulent container

April 16, 2015

HGTV Incorporates Plants Into Lifestyles And Helps Cons…

When we visited Dummen’s site at Edna Valley Vineyard, the HGTV HOME Plant Collection display was teeming with excited visitors checking out the new varieties, designer mixes and concepts.

Read More
Westhoff_Crazytunia_Swiss Dancer

April 16, 2015

Allan Armitage Finds Some Surprising Intros At Floricul…

Allan Armitage visited three breeders at Spring Trials’ newest location, Floricultura. He found several plants that made Floricultura’s debut a must-stop site in 2015. Westhoff At Westhoff, plant breeding is alive and well, with many things to embrace. The petunia program is vibrant and creative, and I am particularly confident that the Crazytunia program will continue to grow. Crazytunias should fly off the shelves because of their unique colors. Westhoff also brings more standard fare to the table. The Epic series of bacopas have large flowers and should be of particular interest. ‘Epic White’ is particularly nice. And the lobelia in the Hot series has been excellent. ‘Snow White’ adds a good white to the mix. The Hot series does tolerate heat better than most lobelias and now it has a reasonable number of colors. The plant that caught my interest the most this year was ‘Lilac Cascade.’ According to Westhoff, this […]

Read More