New England’s Complete Grower By Beth Meneghini

Peter Konjoian thinks his story is pretty typical: Young boy grows up on a truck farm. Mom and dad convert farm into a greenhouse operation. Boy grows up to enjoy success with his parents and two brothers in a thriving production and retail greenhouse business.

But several things about Konjoian's story are anything but typical. That is, unless your concept of a “typical” grower is a successful greenhouse production manager and business owner, who also flourishes as an author, speaker, researcher, consultant, teacher, and as a driving force in one of the industry's most influential associations.

Humble beginnings

Konjoian was brought up in the business. He did grow up on a farm and his parents still live and work out of the house where he and his brothers were raised.

“I was immersed in the industry from the very beginning,” says Peter. “I knew I'd always come back to the family business, no matter what else I was doing.”

In 1984 Konjoian did come back, after a detour to grad school and a stint teaching horticulture at the University of Maryland.

“We're a family business, so we have all the good and the bad that comes along with that,” says Peter. “But we've divided the operation very logically, which allows us to have defined roles and responsibilities.”

With his background in horticulture from his graduate days at The Ohio State University, Konjoian was enlisted by the family into managing production, scheduling and crop quality. Older brother David keeps tabs on the financial end of the business, younger brother Michael, described as being able to “sell ice to the eskimos,” manages sales and marketing, and Konjoian's parents, Vera and Michael, still work full-time at the greenhouses and manage the retail operation.

Nestled on five acres off a winding road in Andover, Mass., Konjoian's greenhouses aren't easy to find. But there are always cars in the parking lot, and customers leave happy, ready to spread the word about the hidden “gem” they've found.

“Our greatest concern is helping people,” says Vera Konjoian. “I'd rather not make a sale than have customers leave with something I know won't survive in their own backyards. It's a real challenge, but our customers trust us and that goes farther than any sales technique.”

Konjoian's sells everything it grows. Several of its front structures are used for retail and display. Bedding plants, perennials and a few herbs are all big sellers. But the operation's showcase items are definitely hanging baskets. “Mom and Dad chose that as our specialty 40 years ago,” says Peter. “Today we grow mixed baskets bigger than any from the chains, and that's helped us ride the crest of their popularity.”

Production of these mega-mixers is a team effort. “My mom really does the dynamic work,” says Peter. “She chooses colors, varieties and arrangement and I just grow them.”

Vera is equally effusive in crediting her son. “No matter what I ask for, he learns to grow it,” she says. “It's been fun to work together on it. It's really given me a second wind.”

Separate but equal

Working his way through the dynamics of one family business wasn't quite enough for Peter, so he decided to start a second business Ð Konjoian's Floriculture Education Services Inc., a research and consulting firm he runs in partnership with his wife Tama.

“It's a completely separate entity from the greenhouse business,” says Peter, “and that's the best way to run it.” His research business rents greenhouse space from his other family business. “I get a good deal,” he jokes, “since I know one of the owners.”

Nonetheless, Konjoian is quick to point out that he strives to keep the two businesses separate. He incorporates into his research work many of the production techniques honed from his experience with his growing and retail operations. He may also apply results from his research toward refining production techniques in his greenhouse operation. But in all other ways, the businesses are separate but equal.

The bulk of Konjoian's private research is an offshoot of an experiment he conducted with the growth regulator Florel while still in graduate school. In fact, he is in the process of rewriting the Florel label for greenhouse production and has worked to get Florel labeled in Canada.

In addition to the research and consulting, Konjoian's Floriculture Education Services also publishes a quarterly newsletter written and produced by Peter and Tama.

“It's my way of getting research results to those supporting the work.”

Three Ring Circus

Playing an integral role in two major businesses would probably be enough for most people, but as you've probably figured out, Konjoian is an overachiever's overachiever.

“When I left academia I needed something to satisfy that desire to teach,”says Konjoian. “And I felt I needed to give something back.”

So, Konjoian has become a leader in the Ohio Florists' Association. He chairs three committees and acts as associate editor for the OFA Bulletin and the Tips on Growing series. “OFA sponsored my research assistantship in graduate school,” says Konjoian. “It was just a natural reaction to want to stay involved.”

Konjoian does not downplay the challenge of his long-distance participation in committee work and member services with Columbus, Ohio-based OFA, but he has no second thoughts. “I just admire that OFA stands for education,” he explains, while also noting that “things have gotten easier with electronic communication.”

Currently, Konjoian chairs the Publications, Research, and Short Course Planning Committees, but he is quick to point out that he only “helps” the truly dedicated staff at OFA Ð namely, Michelle Gaston and Steve Carver, with whom he works on the three committees.

Balancing Act

For as much as he takes on, Konjoian shows no signs of slowing down. “I am trying to manage my travel time a bit,” he says. “With two teenagers in the house, it is a concern that I'll be on the road too much. But I've been able to balance it so far.”

And for Konjoian, balance is the key. So far, he is finding a way to be a passionate grower, teacher, scientist and father Ð and give equally to each. “It's quite a few hats to wear,” he says. “But you know, I'm loving every minute of it.”

Beth Meneghini

Beth Meneghini is managing editor of GPN.

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