Five Questions With … Fran Hopkins
How would you describe the state of the greenhouse floriculture industry today?
In complete disarray and total pandemonium. I must say this is the most disturbing place I have ever been in as a grower, as an owner and as a marketer. Instead of a unified front, forging forward in this horrible economy, we are regressing into civil war–box store versus independent, generic versus brand, paper versus plastic. You name it, our industry has pushed itself into every corner it can with a fight or flight mentality.
I used to love this industry, but going to meetings now is a dreadful undertaking. It’s vigilante time for many I think. Instead of pulling together and finding a common cause to whip this bad economy, my friends and colleagues are yelling at each other and pulling the industry I love so much apart.
Has our industry entered a new era or paradigm shift? Please explain why or why not.
I believe it has. We have seen these shifts before over the last 20 some years, but never this dramatic. We are all working for pennies now instead of dimes. What used to be an easy sale is getting harder and harder. Many, many people are sitting on the sidelines and complaining about how hard it is, complaining about the “other” side making their life harder, instead of rolling up their sleeves and accepting that things have changed.
I hope (for the independent retailer’s sake) we have seen the last of the double plus 10 pricing structure. Shoppers are smarter than that now–they have to be. Every dollar counts now. Pricing products to grab all the money from one customer instead of a little bit from many is a mentality that has sent many retailers to the big dark retailer in the sky.
Has there been a changing of the guard in industry leadership? Please explain your answer.
What industry leadership? We have factions around the country that are more intent on getting “their” viewpoint heard rather than a communal message. Until this industry steps away from the Dark Ages and comes into the light of the new millennium, I am afraid our industry will continue to deteriorate.
If there are “leaders” of this industry, lead! Bring this industry together rather than pull it apart for your own sector’s interest. We are “the” green industry, all of us: trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials, annuals, independents, boxes, landscapers and growers. Everyone is in this industry and our products help the world breathe. No one else in the world can state that equivocally.
Why is this such a hard message to unify around. The consumer gets it. Why can’t we?
What are the greatest challenges growers are facing today?
Shrinking margins and nervous retailers. Retailers are too afraid to take inventory, thus pushing growers to grow on spec, which they won’t anymore. No orders, no product grown. No one is taking any chances right now. This is the same cycle we saw last year, except much more viral.
It’s not the economy, silly; it’s the weather that makes sales in our industry. Spring came last year, just like it does every year and was fantastic. Every retailer was caught with way too low of inventory, and every grower was sent scrambling to grow more product in a shorter amount of time. And by the time everyone was ready, the rush was over and everyone got stuck with product. Timing is everything and in a bad economy, the timid lose.
What are the greatest opportunities for growers to build their business?
What I can tell you is this: I have an ever-increasing consumer base that wants our product more than ever before. When in doubt, go with a national brand. They have the power and the clout to move consumers to buy a product. We are reaching consumers on a level never seen in this industry before.
Instead of brands being the whipping post for the industry right now, we all ought to be getting a hero’s reception for keeping the 21st century consumer interested in digging in the dirt–because it sure ain’t happening from the “generics” out there.
Realistically, this industry has found itself in the middle of a “lane change” and it doesn’t like it. Most have their feet firmly planted in the ground and are refusing to accept that the road has completely shifted into a new highway, leading in a whole new direction. They do not understand there is no road leading back to the good old days. This is it–and those who have merged with traffic and changed lanes with the times will reap the benefits. Those who don’t won’t.