From Dream To Nightmare

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Up until the end, we still had hope. In fact, I still have hope Carolina Nurseries will secure new financing and resurrect itself within the next year. But this summer has been a sad one as the company based near Charleston, S.C., liquidates its inventory and lays off 335 employees. The company’s line of credit expired June 21 and the lender demanded to be paid in full and would not renegotiate new terms. Owners J and Linda Guy were not able to secure alternative financing in time to prevent this.

Banks received bailout money from the federal government but still have cold feet when it comes to lending and are hoarding cash. Many of you who posted comments to the news stories online asked, “Where’s the bailout for our industry?”

Most of the comments were compassionate and heartfelt. “Carolina Nurseries is a local treasure,” one reader said. “It is well run, a source of many jobs beyond the 335 employees and well respected in its field and it’s green. To lose it would be like watching the last whale die.” Another said, “J and Linda are great people and an asset to the nursery industry. They are always on the cutting edge. It would be a terrible thing if they would lose everything they have worked for all these years, not to mention their employees. We will keep them in our prayers.”

This truly was a case of bad things happening to good people and a bank that wouldn’t budge, although a few criticized the company for spending too much on marketing and nonessentials.
But I would like to praise J and Linda and their staff at Carolina Nurseries for inspiring the industry with their vision of what gardening and landscaping could be. They started by forming Novalis, a consortium of like-minded nursery growers in different regions of the country. Through the plant development  and marketing company, the partners were able to share the costs of creating advertising, marketing and merchandising support for independent garden centers and landing exclusive, cutting-edge genetics in perennials and shrubs. These included Double Knockout roses, Twice As Nice repeat blooming daylilies, Big Sky echinaceas and ‘Big Daddy’ and ‘Lemon Daddy’ hydrangeas.

The overarching brand and message is Plants That Work with spinoff subbrand extensions–In The Shade, In Color, Bring On The Heat, Nooks & Crannies and an edibles line. The partner growers focused on regionally appropriate plant selections.

Carolina Nurseries and Novalis definitely raised the level of lifestyle and ambiance with their booths at the various shows, creating beautiful courtyards that could have been plucked right out of Charleston and set on the trade show floor with masonry, iron gates and all. Jaws dropped at the 2007 OFA Short Course when the Novalis group built a huge, wooden vacation home outfitted with Viking kitchen appliances. It was top-of-the line, first class, aspirational.

Novalis and Carolina Nurseries were on top of the world when we presented them with our Marketer of the Year Award in 2007.  Since then, the prolonged recession has hurt the nursery sector more than bedding plant growers. Focusing solely on independent garden centers also limited the company’s ability to sell the large volumes that move through the box stores. When times are tough, companies with the least debt are in the best position to survive. While highly leveraged companies can expand aggressively during good times, it’s the worst situation to be in during a severe financial downturn.

J and Linda built their business on a passion for plants and people, and even once claimed to have chlorophyll flowing through their veins. Unfortunately, this same substance that brings life to plants also provides the green we see on dollar bills.

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at donofrey@gmail.com
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    2 comments on “From Dream To Nightmare

    1. Anonymous

      MASSIVE de-leveraging is taking place and the banks are being TOLD to reduce debt and risk by their shareholders and owners (no matter what the government says). It will only get worse. The banks want their money back and are cutting ANY account that does not fit the “perfect to lend to” mold – which are few and far between – and non existant in our industry.

    2. Anonymous

      MASSIVE de-leveraging is taking place and the banks are being TOLD to reduce debt and risk by their shareholders and owners (no matter what the government says). It will only get worse. The banks want their money back and are cutting ANY account that does not fit the “perfect to lend to” mold – which are few and far between – and non existant in our industry.