Spring 2003 in a Nutshell By Carrie Burns

Some of your peers' answers to that classic question: How was your spring?

Ah, spring — birds chirping, light breezes blowing, thesmell of fresh cut grass; actually it’s more like, tight orders, unpredictableweather, customer service, price increases. Spring brings out the best andworst of our industry, and GPN found out what those were for 2003.

On a positive side, everyone GPN talked to raised theirprices from last year, and most of them held that mark throughout the season.However, on a slightly sour side, some growers said the demand for commoditycrops was low. And of course, the weather is always an issue, but this year’sseemed a little better than last (for growers).

So let’s get down to business. Here is what your peers hadto say about the spring of 2003:

Which varieties performed better than you anticipated?

“Herbs in general performed very well. Growers SelectFestival Gerberas performed brilliantly this year. We just had absolutelyawesome gerberas, from week one right on through to the end of the season. Wehad an exceptionally good run on Bloomingdale ranunculus this year — beautifulranunculus all year long. They were just fabulous. We also had a very goodseason on component plants in general. But those are varieties that we’repropagating.”

— Lloyd Traven, Peace Tree Farm, Kintersville, Pa.

“Anthuriums seem to be getting hotter and hotter, sowe’re doing more Anthuriums. We’ve always got a few new things going — a fewvarieties of bromeliads especially — that looked good, so we made room forthem.”

— Tony Godfrey, Olive Hill Greenhouses, Fallbrook, Calif.

“I had a lot of new varieties that I haven’t grownbefore because we did the Miracle Grow program here for the Northwest. I wasimpressed with the performance of a lot of that product, specifically NewGuinea impatiens, the Diva fuschias and the new varieties of coleus fromEcke.”

— Don Spence, Smith Gardens,Aurora, Ore.

Which varieties performed worse than you anticipated?

“You know, I’m relating some of my surprises to eithercoming in too late or too early just on planting times. Actually, one thingthat really turned out bad was our bacopa. That was probably a little on ourside, keeping them too wet. Then I started drying them out more, and theystarted looking okay. But the bacopa is a tricky one for me.”

— Jason Cox, Busch Greenhouses Inc.,

Denver, Colo.

“The vegetative snapdragons were awful; they just nevergrew and didn’t react well at all. Calibrachoa did not perform well, across theboard. It didn’t matter whose they were, it just did not do well for us thisyear.”

— Lloyd Traven, Peace Tree Farm, Kintersville, Pa.

How did the weather in your area affect your production?

“It affected it daily. The season was very drawn-out;it had its very fast and furious points, and it had the points where you werestanding around looking at each other. So I guess to sum it up: the frequencyof stopping and starting was all basically directly related to the weather.When people had the opportunity — the window of opportunity — to plant, thenthe retailers were very aggressive.”

— Lee Steffensky, Meiring Greenhouse & Farms, Carleton,Mich.

“It affected production through sales. In thenorthwest, April and May are typically peak sales months, and in April, Ibelieve we set a record for consecutive days of rain. There were 29 straightdays of miserable rain. That took up one full month of the two peak months,which meant I was forced to hold on to quite a bit of product and, at the sametime, continue to plant for May and June sales. So, the issue was beingcreative with square footage, trying to find space for the new product weneeded to plant, as well as maintain the product we already had on the benchesthat wasn’t moving because of the April weather.”

— Don Spence, Smith Gardens, Aurora, Ore.

“It really helped us, because early in the spring a lotof moisture finally came our way. And we finally got our water above zerocapacity. It was above a certain number where people could start wateringagain. That really was a wonderful thing for us.”

— Jason Cox, Busch Greenhouses Inc., Denver, Colo.

How were your prices this year compared to last? Did they hold throughoutthe season?

“This year’s prices were on par or probably a littlehigher than last year. They held longer. We tried to maximize our dollars asfar into June as you possibly could. Then I think the retailers realize thatthey also have to maximize. But if you miss May or April, depending on whereyou are in the country, you still have certain dollars everyone has tomeet.”

— Lee Steffensky, Meiring Greenhouse & Farms, Carleton,Mich.

“We increased [prices] about 5 percent. They held righttowards the end. With Memorial Day being earlier this year, most people –garden centers — thought it was over sooner, when it really shouldn’t havebeen.”

— Dick Shreve, Shreve Greenhouse, Perry, Ohio

Do you have your own branding program or grow branded product? Howeffective was it this past season?

“We bring in Proven Winners, but we don’t have our ownbrand as of yet. I’m getting set up where we can start doing some of that.We’ve got a printer in now, and I’m trying to get the inventory system up andoperational, and once we get those pieces and parts in place, we’ll be able todeal with that.”

— Steve Mercer, Preston Greenhouse, Louisville, Ky.

“We do a little bit. I think it’s steady. It’s likeeverything else in this business, it has its good points and its bad points,and the public seems to still be sorting it out.”

— Lee Steffensky, Meiring Greenhouse & Farms, Carleton,Mich.

“We’re looking very carefully right now, trying to findthe right pot producer who can put our label, logo and name on a veryclassy-looking pot. We’re looking to create that as part of our selling point,because quite frankly, what we sell is us. I am not very negative, but I do notbelieve that the national brand is going to be long term successful — theremay be one that comes through. Miracle Gro is the perfect example — that’s theone brand that people come into a garden center and ask for by name.”

— Lloyd Traven, Peace Tree Farm, Kintersville, Pa.

How were your relationships with your customers?

“Great. As a matter of fact, we gained some customers.We have good customer service. It probably has a lot to do with being availablea little later, doing our best to make sure that the quality is good and makingsure that they receive orders on time, and if not, to get a call to tell themthat we’ll be late. Just that extra step.”

— Jason Cox, Busch Greenhouses Inc., Denver, Colo.

“I think because the market has been down, we’ve allhad to produce better plants. In the long run, the end consumer will be morelikely to come back and buy another plant. Garden centers — family-ownedgarden centers — are doing better because people are more quality oriented.Even the box stores are having a look at quality hopefully more so thanprice.”

— Kenny Stewart, Stewart’s Greenhouse Inc., Mount Dora,Fla.

What will you do differently next year?

“We’re trying to go after new business. We have triedto cement some relationships within our broken network to get us more business.We are actively doing a little more traveling to actually go see customers thanwe have in the past. We know there’s some business [next year] that’s going tohave to be made up, so rather than just rely on the brokers to bring us newbusiness, we have gone out and sought some new business on our own, which isnot our forte. We support our brokers very strongly, and we don’t do directbusiness. So, we are visiting them with the idea they will place their businesswith us through a broker.”

— Steve Mullen, Knox Nursery Inc., Orlando, Fla.

“More larger containers. There was [a demand thisyear], and the trend is going back to more and more unusual, not just astandard New Guinea or geranium. We won’t really change any of the varieties,just grow less of the basic stuff and more of the unusual.”

— Dick Shreve, Shreve Greenhouse, Perry, Ohio

“We’re learning we can sell our edgy varieties verywell. We don’t need calibrachoas, bacopa, argyranthemums and items like that tohave a successful spring. We have our varieties of coleus and varieties ofexotic begonias that nobody else has. We just do a great job on the quality ofherbs and crops, which nobody can beat. So, we’ve got a nice production scheme,we do what we do. We focus on what we do well and efficiently and profitably,and we don’t try to do the other stuff.”

— Lloyd Traven, Peace Tree Farm, Kintersville, Pa.

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Carrie Burns

Carrie Burns is associate editor of GPN. She may be reached by phone at (847) 391-1019 or E-mail at [email protected]

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