Around the Table By Darhiana Mateo

Overall, how was business in 2008? What will your main focus be for 2009?

"Our service area covers primarily the western 11 states, and in 2008, sales have been less than expected and down from the previous year. The big question, of course, is was it the weather, economy, price of fuel, plummeting housing prices, mortgage crisis or presidential election? It seems to be the 'perfect storm' of challenges. In California this spring, we had a few weekends that were significantly warmer than normal followed by weekends cooler than average. In areas that had a normal or good weather pattern, we found that sales did reasonably well. However, summer and fall have continued to be off the mark, and this can really only be attributed to economic conditions and the lack of consumer confidence.

"For 2009, our focus will be executing the programs we have with our customers, working closer than ever…to project numbers and deliver high-quality product. Outside of specific programs, we will be very conservative in any speculative growing."

Ñ Robert P. Groot

"Our sales were up more than 20 percent in '08 from '07. Our main focus for '09 will be to promote gardening in general. With the economy in an unstable state, we feel that consumers can save money by producing their own vegetables and herbs. Our ad campaign will focus on the benefits of backyard gardening."

Ñ Stan Cope

"Since we're connected directly with building, construction parts of the industry, business has been down. We're obviously optimistic that this won't last forever. In the meantime, we're cutting costs wherever we can, refining our labor and minimizing production. We're putting the brakes on expansion until things get a little bit better.

"We're not contracting but not expanding. Our main focus is to keep our costs as low as possible without jeopardizing the quality of our plant material and customer service."

Ñ Steve Adams

What are the biggest issues affecting your operation going forward?

"The biggest issue is traffic at retail — are consumers coming in to shop? We need to work together as an industry of growers, retailers and input material suppliers to attract more customers and promote gardening. We also need to make sure that once the consumers are in, they see the quality and value equation that entices them to purchase more."

Ñ Robert P. Groot

"Input costs. The rising price of oil affects all of the inputs that we use to produce and deliver our products."

Ñ Stan Cope

"One of the biggest issues that is going to affect all agriculture is the availability and cost of water. Water costs have continued to rise."

Ñ Steve Adams

How is your business dealing with sustainability? Have you implemented any sustainable practices?

"Already for several years, we have worked at programs such as integrated pest management, best management practices and pulse irrigation. We have more recently trialed a program using sustainable packaging. And we are currently working on an overall sustainability plan."

Ñ Robert P. Groot

"Our biodegradable peat pot has been well received by gardeners nationwide. The 'plant pot and all' concept allows consumers to participate in greener gardening practices. We are moving to a tray that is made from recycled content and are encouraging our growers to put more emphasis on reusing trays in the growing process."

Ñ Stan Cope

"We've modernized all of our irrigation systems to conserve as much water as possible. We're moving toward more environmentally friendly pesticides and insecticides. For example, we're using different types of plant oils where we would have used a chemical and miticide before. We truck as we need to truck. California has some laws that go into effect [soon] that we have to purchase all-new diesel equipment for, so we will be doing that as well."

Ñ Steve Adams

Given the shaky state of the economy, will you be making any investments in expansion next year?

"No. The current environment lends itself more to tightly controlling expenses and being very careful and conservative with any growth initiatives."

Ñ Robert P. Groot

"We will increase our production in '09 and have purchased additional facilities in which to do this." — Stan Cope

What was the biggest lesson you learned in 2008?

"Keep fixed cost as low as possible and variable cost as large a percentage of overall cost as possible so that we can flex with challenging market conditions."

Ñ Robert P. Groot

"To listen to the customer."

Ñ Stan Cope

"To constantly keep a vigilant watch over costs and labor."

Ñ Steve Adams

Darhiana Mateo

Darhiana Mateo is associate editor of GPN's Big Grower. She can be reached at (847) 391-1013 or [email protected]

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GPN recognizes 40 industry professionals under the age of 40 who are helping to determine the future of the horticulture industry. These individuals are today’s movers and shakers who are already setting the pace for tomorrow.

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