Earlier this month, Greenhouse Grower reported on TreeTown USA bringing on David Kirby as Executive Vice President of TreeTown USA/Village Nurseries/Hines Growers. Kirby will be based at the company’s Western Division headquarters in Orange, CA.
We recently caught up with Kirby and asked him about the rapid changes taking place in the horticulture industry, and how his past work at companies like Monrovia will help TreeTown tap into new consumer markets.
Greenhouse Grower (GG): How will your previous experience with Monrovia help you in this new role?
David Kirby: We have very similar businesses. Both companies are focused on quality plants, providing excellent customer service, and seeking continual improvement. Monrovia has nurseries with diverse growing climates and uses them to develop a mix of plants that are suitable across the country. With the recent acquisitions of Hines Growers and Village Nurseries on the West Coast, TreeTown USA is in the same position. I have experience developing this complex plant mix and that will translate well into what we’re doing at TreeTown USA. Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to work with many industry leaders with varying business philosophies and management styles. As we continue to build on the value-based culture that currently exists at TreeTown USA, the insight I’ve gained will be beneficial to our success.
GG: What is the biggest opportunity TreeTown has for growth moving forward?
Kirby: The biggest opportunity for TreeTown is expanding our current business strategies across the country, focusing primarily on the retail and landscape professional channels. We grow several sizes and categories of plants, from 1-gallon shrubs to 670-gallon trees, to cover a wide variety of customer needs.
Most of our nurseries on the West coast have been underutilized for the past few years, so we also have an opportunity to fill them up with a premium mix of plants, suitable for landscape and retail, while creating a standard in quality that our customers can rely on.
Finally, we have a great opportunity to blend three different cultures from TreeTown USA, Village Nurseries, and Hines Growers. We have so many experienced long-time industry leaders and a host of young up-and-comers at each farm. We have an opportunity to take the best practices from each of the three companies to create a strong family business with a value based culture.
GG: Conversely, what is the biggest challenge the company faces, and what role can you play in helping TreeTown USA deal with and overcome this challenge?
Kirby: The biggest challenge we currently face is the integration of systems, processes, and inventories due to our rapid expansion into the West. We now have 18 nurseries with more than 2000 employees, and many of them are working with computer systems and processes that are new. Although I have experience with our current computer system and understand many of the sales and production processes, the most important thing I can provide is leadership. We are enthusiastic and inspired about the future opportunities, but we are quickly approaching the busy spring season and need to eliminate any uncertainty that our employees may be feeling.
GG: On a broad scale, how do you see the horticulture industry evolving over the next few years?
Kirby: I believe we will continue to see attrition and consolidation in the wholesale and retail segments of our industry. We continue to hear the news of smaller garden centers closing their doors, while premium multi-store chains and destination garden centers are growing and expanding into new regions. Big box retailers are also closing their lower margin stores to concentrate efforts on the better performers as well.
There is an exciting resurgence in garden retailing going on as boutique stores with an emphasis on houseplants and urban farming are dotting the landscape. These stores are attracting younger, health-conscious consumers who are getting their first introduction to home gardening. Progressive retailers with e-commerce and online retailers are also doing well by catering to the purchasing habits of the millennial buyers who are evolving as our primary consumer group.
The acquisition of Hines Growers and Village Nurseries by TreeTown USA is a good example of the consolidation we will continue to see in the wholesale segment as well. A couple of trends that I see evolving in this segment are the move to automation and a younger work force. Due to concerns about our environment and the rapidly evolving cannabis industry, there are more students graduating with degrees in Environmental Sciences than ever before. Our industry provides these students with a great opportunity to learn the science of growing, while connecting them to the earth through plants. This is great news for our industry and a trend that I believe will last for a while. I am optimistic about the future of our industry, particularly to see where this next generation of smart, ambitious farmers will take us.