2002 Spring Season in Review By Elizabeth Pensgard and Brandi D. Thomas

Find out what growers from around the United States and Canada had to say about successful crops, pricing, weather and other topics during the 2002 spring season.

From droughts and fires to unusually cool temperatures onthe side of nature, to recession, corporate earnings fraud and the impendingthreat of terrorism on the side of man, circumstances this year may have beenenough to make you want to hide in a cave until things improve. And though somegrowers may have wanted to, no one did; despite bad weather, poor plant qualityor low consumer confidence, they went forward with the same resilience that hascontinued to make them successful year after year. GPN interviewed growersacross the United States and Canada to assess the spring season from variouspoints of view — here’s what we found out.

1. Which varieties or plant categories performed betterthan you anticipated?

“Proven Winners, definitely. I think people are sickof geraniums; they are not selling half as well as they used to. I think peopleare looking for something a little bit out of the ordinary, not stuffthat’s been around for years and years and years. [Proven Winners] isalso doing a tremendous amount of marketing. [Customers] are not asking for itby name, but everyone seems to be more familiar with them than they were a fewyears ago.” —Susan Cadogan, owner/grower, Cadogan’s CornerGreenhouses, Hopkinton, R.I.

“The big growth for us has been in perennials. Hangingbaskets and planters have always been big with us and then just the regular runof bedding plants.” —Charlie Sprout, owner, Sprout’s Greenhouse, Lander, Wyo.

“It’s hard to keep things like Bacopa in stock;we keep increasing our numbers, and they keep increasing their buying.”—Dorothy Bartlett, co-owner, Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm Inc.,Nantucket, Mass.

“Supernova from Proven Winners did a whole lot betterthan I thought it would, and the stuff we got from Simply Beautiful did betterthis year than last year.” —Dave Velde, head grower, BernsGreenhouse, Middletown, Ohio

“Grasses surprised us; there were a couple of grassesthat we couldn’t keep up with demand. We grow a lot of little things likelittle blue stem and prairie dropseed, which were huge sellers thisyear.” —Harlan Hamernik, owner, Bluebird Nursery Inc., Clarkson,Neb.

2. Which varieties or plant categories performed worsethan you anticipated?

“Roses. Growers think they’re hard togrow.” —Danny Takao, president, Takao Nursery, Fresno, Calif.

“Regal begonias were disappointing.”—Dennis Bengert, owner/operator, Bengert Greenhouses, W. Seneca, N.Y.

“Geraniums and tuberous begonias.”—Garnette Monnie, owner, Edwards Greenhouse, Boise, Idaho

3. How did the weather in your area affect yourproduction?

“Weather didn’t help matters a whole lot; wewere slowed down more towards the end of May but made up for it in June. Theheat messed us up a bit for extended sales, but it wasn’t a badspring.” —Richard Anton, owner/manager, Anton’s GreenhousesInc., Pleasant Prairie, Wis.

“It was busy up until all the fires and the drought,and then sales just died and killed us. Every place we sell to at the lateend-season was on fire or out of water. [The weather] put a clamp on the seasonpretty bad. We went from being ahead from the year before to probably beingbehind $100,000, or about 10 percent. We will not be able to recoup thoselosses.” —Jack Manning, owner, Manning’s Greenhouse,Kirtland, N.M.

“We had some rain for a bit of an extended period inApril or May, and I think the cool temperatures definitely affected things.They slowed down sales so that things didn’t move on a regular schedule;it seemed like things were moving along and then we got that cold weather, and everythingcame to a standstill.” —Susan Cadogan, owner/grower,Cadogan’s Corner Greenhouses, Hopkinton, R.I.

“It really had little impact. We had a bit tougherwinter than we’ve had in a couple years as far as cold and extremes. Nowwe’re running into a drought problem, as a lot of Colorado is in adisaster area. The fires have cut down on retail sales some. If the droughtcontinues the way it is right now, it’s going to be very difficult— water restrictions.” —John Pinder, general manager, LittleValley Nursery, Brighton, Colo.

“We cut back a little on our production. Wedidn’t get all of our second planting in because of cold weather. [Welost] probably $50,000, about 10 percent.” —Michael Rinzema,Rinzema Greenhouse Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.

“We had a slow start because of the cool weather.April is our biggest month, and we did have an incredible April, but we were abit behind in spite of that because of windy weather. It’s hard on theretailers more than the growers. We surpassed last year’s sales by theend of June and had a nice increase. Now we’re having drought conditions,and we’re spending a little more time trying to keep the plants cool andhappy. We do have water restrictions; we’re doing our best not toover-water anything.” —Harlan Hamernik, owner, Bluebird NurseryInc., Clarkson, Neb.

4. How were your prices in 2002 compared to 2001? Did theyhold throughout the season?

“Possibly up 3-5 percent.” —DonaldAnderson, owner, Anderson’s Greenhouse, Franklin, Pa.

“I didn’t change them at all because I hadraised them in 2001 due to gas and heat prices.” —Richard Anton,owner/manager, Anton’s Greenhouses Inc., Pleasant Prairie, Wis.

“For the most part, it stayed the same. It started outa different year mainly because of the economy and 9/11 — people were notgoing to be spending as much.” —Susan Cadogan, owner/grower,Cadogan’s Corner Greenhouses, Hopkinton, R.I.

“They’ve been more or less the same at least forthe first quarter of the year. You can’t do too much [price-raising]since the market determines it, and it’s what the salesmen can get. Wehave been getting a little more creative in the shipping; we have aneasy-shipping platform and have been asking more for the whole thing.”—David Pfohl, production planner, Aldershot Greenhouses Ltd., Burlington,ON, Canada

“We went up an average of about 5 percent across theboard. It hasn’t really restricted any sales as far as we cantell.” (John Pinder, general manager, Little Valley Nursery, Brighton,Colo.

“We raised certain prices in 2001, and we raised themagain in certain areas in 2002. We tried to pick out those things where ourcost production was rising. Other things we raised up to 10 percent.”—Harlan Hamernik, owner, Bluebird Nursery Inc., Clarkson, Neb.

“Our prices increased by 10 percent. Prices held welluntil the very end of the season when we had our closeout sale.”—Garnette Monnie, owner, Edwards Greenhouse, Boise, Idaho

5. Do you have your own branding program, or do you growother branded product? How effective was it this past season?

“We grow about everything that’s on the market.Flower Fields, Proven Selections…sales of the new brands are alwaysbetter than the old standards because customers expect more from theseselections.” —Donald Anderson, owner, Anderson’s Greenhouse,Franklin, Pa.

“We use all of them. Proven Winners would probably bethe biggest one, and The Flower Fields. [Sales] are really good. I don’tget people coming in asking for Proven Winners, but I get people coming inasking for Bacopa — blue Bacopa, pink Bacopa.” —RichardAnton, owner/manager, Anton’s Greenhouses Inc., Pleasant Prairie, Wis.

“We do have our own logo and tags and stuff, but wedon’t push the brand. Hines and Monrovia are two of our bigger suppliers,and of course, Monrovia sells like crazy.” —John Pinder, generalmanager, Little Valley Nursery, Brighton, Colo.

“People are much more interested in quality than theyare brands. We get a lot of Proven Winners and stuff like that in, but thestuff that performs sells. Some of [the brands] have been exceptionally good,like ‘Purple Wave’.” (Charlie Sprout, owner, Sprout’s Greenhouse, Lander, Wyo.

“We carry Proven Winners and some Flower Fields— a little bit of everything. We don’t tend to have peoplenecessarily coming in asking for Proven Winners or Flower Fields. They come inlooking for the plant they want.” (Dorothy Bartlett, co-owner, Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm Inc., Nantucket, Mass.)

“We take selections out of Proven Winners and SimplyBeautiful and Flower Fields; we pick the stuff we like and feel performs betterin this area, and then we put it under our title of ‘Berns Select.’We use those tags on the product so that the people know what it is, and also,we tell them this is what we feel performs better in this area.”—Dave Velde, head grower, Berns Greenhouse, Middletown, Ohio

“We use our own logo, though we aren’t reallyaggressive about it. Some retailers want the world to think they groweverything even though they don’t plant a seed. So we’re flexible.We try to get along with everyone, but we do put our logo on our labels.”—Harlan Hamernik, owner, Bluebird Nursery Inc., Clarkson, Neb.

6. How were your relationships with your retail customers?What is the key factor that made them successful?

“Excellent. I work with them and help them out, likewhen they’re not able to pay right away, and we work with them onprograms. We’re not a huge business, but we’ve been here andwe’ve had a rapport with the same people for a lot of years. We try to beas helpful as we can and work with the florists and the garden centers in ourarea. Customer service is definitely one of our pluses. You can always replacea bad plant, but I can’t help it if somebody’s been rude to [thecustomer].” —Karen Clesen, part owner, Bay West Nursery Inc.,Naples, Fla.

“Really good. My salesman gets along with all of thempretty well, and we try to make sure we deliver a higher-quality product thanwhat they can get from those that supply mass merchandisers becausethat’s the only way we can compete since we have to have a higher price.I’m selling pretty much everything I can raise when the weather’s right.” —Jack Manning, owner, Manning’s Greenhouse, Kirtland,N.M.

“Very good. I think it’s having a good-qualityplant and standing behind what you sell. If you have excellent plants, you hopethat people will come back for more and that you give them good information. Wedo have a lot of customers who keep on coming back.” —SusanCadogan, owner/grower, Cadogan’s Corner Greenhouses, Hopkinton, R.I.

“I think not too bad. The quality of our mums could bebetter; we’ve had to work a bit harder to move them. There are certainflare-ups over trucking, like with Wal-Mart. They can move a massive amount of product in a short periodof time. It’s been relatively smooth so far.” —David Pfohl,production planner, Aldershot Greenhouses Ltd., Burlington, ON, Canada

“We try to be customer-driven and verycustomer-friendly whether it be wholesale or retail.” —DennisBengert, owner/operator, Bengert Greenhouses, W. Seneca, N.Y.

“We have very good relationships because wedon’t use brokers. We put out a decent catalog with lots of color andlots of instructions, and everything is marked for how to use it. Then ourstaff develops a relationship with these [customers] over many years;we’re part of their family and vice versa. We try to make them understandthat they need to trust us as we trust them — that’s the way to dobusiness. You have to make the customer successful before you can be successfulin this industry.” —Harlan Hamernik, owner, Bluebird Nursery Inc.,Clarkson, Neb.

7. How will you use your experiences from the 2002 springseason to improve next year?

“First, remembering the bad times will keep us trimand efficient; second, remembering how important our customers and brokers are;third, remembering how very important our family and friends are; and fourth,being aggressive to help our customers with sell-through.” —DannyTakao, president, Takao Nursery, Fresno, Calif.

“Probably more signage. We have a little problem herebecause we’re moving things around so much that sometimes the signsdon’t get caught up to where the product is. I’m short on space, soI move things in the greenhouse, then outside. Hopefully when I get a chance inthe spring, when we start selling, I can get more outside and set up displayareas — that is sometimes rough because we’re starting up awholesale business, and we’re shipping out already. I may go back and trythat Proven Winners thing that they had on The Weather Channel.”—Richard Anton, owner/manager, Anton’s Greenhouses Inc., PleasantPrairie, Wis.

“I think we’ll excel in moving on with ourorchids. We’re downsizing some of the more generic items, like ficustrees and things that aren’t really special items — things that youcan get if you went to Home Depot.” —Karen Clesen, part owner, BayWest Nursery Inc., Naples, Fla.

“That’s the $99 question I’m working onright now. The biggest thing is the weather, and you can’t predict that.Durango, Colo., and Show Low, Ariz., are big June sales areas, and when bothplaces had those big fires, it just shut everything down. Right now,we’re worried about fall because all our fall crop goes to Phoenix; ifthey continue to not get enough rain and they slap water restrictions onPhoenix this fall, then I’m really up a creek because there’s nowhere else to go with the product. And we do probably 100,000 geraniums forthe fall season for Phoenix.” —Jack Manning, owner, Manning’s Greenhouse, Kirtland, N.M.

“I think I’m going to cut down on some of mynumbers for this coming year. It just seems like most of my customers did notbuy as much as they normally do, so I don’t want to end up being stuckwith anything.” —Susan Cadogan, owner/grower, Cadogan’s Corner Greenhouses, Hopkinton, R.I.

“I’m not so sure that the spring season taughtus a whole lot, but now we’re having to deal with some drought issuesthat Denver never anticipated. So I guess what I’ve learned there is totry to look a little further ahead on some of these longer-term issues likewater in our area. We’ll probably expand our marketing areas outside ofthe drought areas. If Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado are in the same throesof drought as this year, we’ll have to go east and try to compete withsome of the growers in East Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.” —JohnPinder, general manager, Little Valley Nursery, Brighton, Colo.

“There may be an increase in larger containers —4-and 8-inch — and a decrease in some flat material. It seems like thetrend is going toward a larger pot — instant gratification. We areprobably going to increase our larger pot program.” —Dave Velde,head grower, Berns Greenhouse, Middletown, Ohio

Elizabeth Pensgard and Brandi D. Thomas

Elizabeth Pensgard is editorial assistant and Brandi D. Thomas is associate editor for GPN.

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