Around the Table

November 13, 2007 - 14:35

Overall, how was business in 2007? What will be your main focus for 2008?

“We do finished production, both wholesale and retail. We are also a regional plug supplier, and we do rooted liners for Dümmen. And overall, up until about a month or so ago, 2007 has been good to us. And for next year, we know that we have some increases in our plug business.”

— Bobby Barnitz

“Our business was OK this year; we’ve had better years, and we’ve had worse. Our main focus this year will be fine tuning all of our procedures and focusing on efficiency. Dwight Skinner from Northwest Horticulture has joined us as our new general manager, and we are thrilled to have him become part of our team. We are building stronger relationships with our vendors and taking advantage of all the resources we have.”

— Tammy Burdzinski

“Business in 2007 overall was flat. However, summer shipments were surprisingly strong. Spring 2008 will be our first spring season shipping our full line of 50- and 65-mm Elle plugs, which replace the 2- and 3-inch potted plants we previously offered.”

— Evan Elenbaas

“There have been strong sales from independent garden centers and ever-increasing sales from professional landscapers. Overall, our sales were up 15 percent for 2007. Our annuals were up at that same percentage increase. Perennial sales were flat. Grasses and ground covers were up 10 percent. Hanging baskets were up 34 percent, especially mixed premium combinations. Hardy Starts Young Plant division, sold to other growers, was up 58 percent. We always program for 8- to 15-percent growth. Our focus for 2008 is to grow more young plants. We expect sales grown to exceed 2007. We expect more sales from hanging baskets but not at the same rate of increase, and more vegetable sales in larger pots. Ecology and high cost of fuel are driving vegetable sales once again. Consumers like pretty packaging of these old favorites.”

— Alex Gerace

What is the biggest issue affecting your operation going forward?

“Continuing to find a good source of available labor is one. Another one would be reduced margins and price restraints. We, as an industry, struggle trying to get as much out of the product, as our input costs go up year to year.”

— Bobby Barnitz

“The biggest issue we have is improving profitability and making sure we have all the processes in place to operate smoothly.”

— Tammy Burdzinski

“Maintaining profitability in the face of a maturing perennial market and increased costs.”

— Evan Elenbaas

“The biggest issue going forward will continue to be high cost of fuel for heating and transport and other inflationary pressure in plastic and other associated items, plus impact from higher-cost imports. And lack of adequate financing for the industry from traditional bankers is forcing brokers to carry more and more of the financial burden.”

— Alex Gerace

Will you be growing any new crops in 2008?

“We will be increasing the number of varieties in our Vigoro, Blue Ribbon and Passionate lines. There will be no substantial changes, but we will continue to focus on perennials and giving the customer a great value.”

— Tammy Burdzinski

“Yes, we’ll have more than 100 new varieties available, as well as fresh-dug bare-root echinaceas.”

— Evan Elenbaas

“We are planning for new genetics and more brokers online. The breeder lines now include GoldFisch, Bodger Botanicals, Ecke Geraniums, Selecta First Class, Cohen and Dümmen varieties.”

— Alex Gerace

How did the 2007 drought affect your business?

“It has affected us quite a bit in the fall, primarily because a lot of our wholesale business is, and has been for 25 years, south of us. That whole territory — it doesn’t matter if you’re in Richmond, Va., or Virginia Beach, or down into the North and South Carolina region, or over into Georgia or Tennessee — everyone has been in the same situation. Independent garden centers are our customers. And they’re not going to buy if they’re not selling, so the drought has affected them as much as us. I just did some figuring on our fall pansy crop; we are off 23.8 percent in sales. I feel pretty fortunate, though. We’ve had a couple of customers that are above last year’s sales. That is in the area that hasn’t had water restrictions. They have had a lack of rainfall, but people are still allowed to water.”

— Bobby Barnitz

“We did not have a drought in the Midwest, but the April deep freeze set us back, and the 17 days of rain in August affected sell-through.”

— Tammy Burdzinski

“Some customers have ordered less and even canceled entire orders because of drought conditions.”

— Evan Elenbaas

“We have some sort of drought every year in Colorado, but we did not have any real extraordinary restrictions. During 2002 and 2003, we had draconian restrictions and lost about 30 percent of our landscape sales from our local region. We propped up our local retailers with a special program that encouraged folks to plant xeric plants and to use less water by using an XXX rating on annuals that needed as little as one-eighth as much water as turf.”

— Alex Gerace

Will you be making any investments in expansion next year?

“We’re taking a couple of years off. We’ve had a tremendous amount of growth in the past 10 years. The only expansion we’re doing is we’ve contracted a local grower to do some growing for us to help ease the strain on our space.”

— Bobby Barnitz

“The only investments we are making are in robotics for planting and labeling. Short-term payouts make these investments a guaranteed success.”

— Tammy Burdzinski

“Yes, continued investment in IT for accurate inventory management.”

— Evan Elenbaas

“We have no expansions anticipated for 2008. We hope to maximize our current facility, operating leaner.”

— Alex Gerace

Do you plan to implement any new sustainable practices in 2008?

“We recycle plastic plug trays and have been for several years. There is a recycling center in Canada, Canadian Polystyrene Recycling Association (CPRA), that we’ve used for years to recycle used plug trays. There is nothing drastic for 2008, other than some things that are still in the works.”

— Bobby Barnitz

“We have worked hard for the last four years on integrated pest management, and it is paying off: It helps us use fewer chemicals. It’s good for Hampshire Farms and the environment. We will continue to expand these practices as well as teaming up with other partners in waste management, soils, fertilizers and pot manufacturers to be as efficient as possible and reduce waste while providing the best products for our consumers.”

— Tammy Burdzinski

“We are looking at the use of organic fertilizers and more ways to ship less plastic to our customers.”

— Evan Elenbaas

“We still have a big dilemma with our past packaging and trademarking to find suitable colors and quality of material to maintain our Hardy Boy look. We are going to add in some larger eco-friendly containers for patio use and tie it to our popular ‘Red Hot Pot’ program.”

— Alex Gerace

About The Author

Jasmina Radjevic is associate editor of GPN’s Big Grower. She can be reached at jradjevic@sgcmail.com or (847) 391-1004.

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