COVER STORY — Busy In Business

March 19, 2014 - 13:48

Not many growers can claim to have a truly year-round business. By diversifying product offerings, keeping up with consumer trends and remaining committed to customer satisfaction, Dan Schantz Farm & Greenhouses is one of the few growers who can.

What started in 1957 as a produce farm has now become an established greenhouse operation with multiple locations — Dan Schantz Farm & Greenhouses, based in Zionsville, Pa. While the product offering has changed quite a bit, Dan Schantz’s vision for his business never did. 

“He is the only person that I have ever worked for that wants you to always use the best varieties based on garden performance even if it costs more,” shares Denny Heilman, vice president of Dan Schantz Farm & Greenhouses. “He wants the best possible varieties for the consumer.” 

It’s that dedication to the consumer and that pride in product quality that has brought Dan Schantz tremendous success over the past five decades. Today, Dan Schantz Farm & Greenhouses operates four greenhouse locations and one retail garden center. While Dan Schantz, founder, has recently handed down the reigns to long-time employee Patrick Flanley, Schantz is still very involved in the business and continues to instill his fundamental values into the business and its employees. 

Early Transitions

When Dan and Mildred Schantz first established their business in 1957, they primarily grew fruits and vegetables, which were retailed at local farmers markets and a road stand. Once the road stand business expanded, the farm operation branched out into greenhouse production of bedding plants. In 1961, their first greenhouse — a 22x100-foot structure — was built. 

Flanley, who acquired the business in 2012 and is now majority owner, has been working at Dan Schantz Farm for nearly 40 years! He says when he started working for the company they had about 3 acres of growing space. Flanley started out, at 15 years old, as a produce clerk in one of the farm markets and eventually moved up to a store manager.  

In 1987, when Schantz decided to sell all the farm markets and turn the business to strictly wholesale, Flanley transitioned to general manager and later vice president. Schantz quickly started expanding the greenhouse business and increased to 7 acres of growing space. More employees were added to the production staff, and expansion has steadily continued over the years. The business now operates 43 acres of greenhouse space.

Focus on Quality & Customer Satisfaction

Throughout the business’ constant expansion, one thing has never changed — commitment to quality. “We know customers are looking for consistency in the products we deliver to them,” Flanley says. “We are in constant contact with our customers to be sure they are ordering the correct product for their customer base. If one item doesn’t sell as well in their area, we will send them something that will.” 

So, how do they know what will grow well? Their successful trial program deserves a lot of the credit.

“We trial more plants and varieties than many other greenhouses,” says Heilman. “This gives us the advantage of knowing through hands-on experience what will work and how best to meet the current and future customer needs.” 

After spring and Easter crops, poinsettias are a popular seller at Dan Schantz Farm. And each year, the greenhouse conducts its very own poinsettia trials in November. “We get a chance to see exactly what works best in this part of the country,” shares Heilman. “It helps us to plan the next year’s crop of poinsettias by what we learned during the trials of the previous year.”

Their trials also benefit other local greenhouse operators as they are open to other growers for a small registration fee. Attendees gain insight into what might work well in their greenhouses without going through the trouble and expense of holding their own trials, Heilman explains. 

“With so many new varieties introduced each year, it would be impossible to know which ones would or would not work without the trials,” he adds. “It takes the guesswork out of the process.”

Another great source for consumer feedback has been the company’s retail garden center, Dan Schantz Greenhouse & Cut Flower Outlet, in Allentown, Pa. While the retail outlet accounts for only 5 percent of the total business, it has provided tremendous insight into consumer trends and crops’ overall garden performance. They are able to essentially test products before they decide to sell them on a larger scale.

“We see color trends and get really good feedback,” says Flanley. “And with vegetables we get a good idea what people are growing. If they love it, we’ll put it in our mix next year for the masses.” 

And on the other side, there may be crops that aren’t as successful. “We might throw in a new color and customers won’t like it,” Flanley explains. “So then we won’t grow it the following year for other people. 

“We try to make sure we have the best mix we can and really watch what people are doing. And we talk to people.”

The garden center has also become a primary focus for founder Dan Schantz. While he is no longer owner of the business, he remains heavily involved in the business and operates as senior advisor and retail coordinator.

At nearly 80 years old, “Dan is very active and comes in everyday,” says Flanley. “And he also is an advisor to me and everyone else here.”

True Diversification

Aside from maintaining high-quality products, Dan Schantz Farm attributes much of its success to its ability to truly diversify the business. Because of the many products offered, the business is busy year-round. According to Flanley, their fall is almost as busy as their spring!

Dan Schantz Farm grows just about anything and everything. Easter crops, spring crops, garden mums and poinsettias are their big sellers. In the field, they produce pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn shocks and straw bales. 

While many greenhouse businesses either shut down or slow down drastically in the fall and winter months, Dan Schantz Farm is still in full swing.

“We farm 600 acres of fall ornamentals,” Flanley shares. “We grow a lot of pumpkins. September and October here are extremely busy. And even right now [early February] we’re shipping primrose, cyclamen and other small potted crops. We ship year-round.”

What’s Trending?

Because of their ability to diversify while also keeping a pulse on consumer feedback at retail, the Dan Schantz team is able to quickly adapt their product line to serve consumer trends. One trend they’ve noticed is the growing popularity of vegetable gardening. 

Both Dan Schantz and Flanley are members of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association. According to Flanley, they have expanded their vegetable line every year.

Just like with their ornamental crops, Flanley says they are always looking for top-quality vegetables regardless of cost. “We look for the best bell pepper,” he shares. “We want what the commercial guys are growing. They’re going to have a great pepper with a good yield. And we do pay a little more for that.”

In order to find those top-quality vegetables, Dan Schantz Farm trials hundreds of varieties — mostly peppers and tomatoes, which are their top sellers. Once they narrow down their selection, they’ll add to their already diverse product line.

Dan Schantz Farm’s vegetable line consists of products for the container gardener as well as the consumer with a huge 200-plant garden.

“We do four-packs, pints, quarts, gallons, all the way up to 10-inch,” says Flanley. “We have so many different sizes that could fit everybody’s needs. Someone might want a tomato for their patio, so we have special tomatoes in 10-inch pots. And we sell it with a cage right in.” 

Community Involvement

Dan Schantz Farm & Greenhouses remains dedicated to the community that has supported their business over the past 50 years, and they have come up with various opportunities for local organizations to raise funds.

“From flower sales to our ‘Bloomin Bucks’, we have the easiest fundraisers in the Lehigh Valley,” says Flanley. 

Their goal is to be as flexible as possible and be able to choose the right fundraiser for each group. For some organizations, they’ll simply hold a flower sale. For others, they’ll sell coupons to their retail outlet.

“For instance, we might sell a $10 coupon,” shares Flanley. “They could then come to our store and purchase $10 worth of product, and [the organization] gets $2 for every coupon that is turned in.”

It is a very unique and interesting part of the business, according to Flanley, and it is gratifying to know customers are buying direct from the growers and therefore receiving florist-quality flowers grown right in Pennsylvania. 

SIDEBAR

Dan Schantz Farm & Greenhouses at a Glance:

Established: 1957
Founders: Dan and Mildred Schantz
Location: Headquartered in Zionsville, Pa. Three additional greenhouse locations are in Pipersville, Pa., Quakertown, Pa., and Rising Sun, Md., and one retail garden center location is in Allentown, Pa.
Management (eight shareholders): Patrick Flanley, president; Denny Heilman, vice president; Lisa Myers, secretary; Steve Thomas, production/greenhouse coordinator; Cindy Eckenrode, production/new product development; John Carl, sales; Paul Hardiman, head grower; and Nevin Davis, shipping.
Number of employees: 120 year-round
Customers: Big box stores, supermarkets, retail garden centers and smaller retailers
Product offering: Spring annuals, Easter flowers, mums, fall ornamentals, poinsettias and edibles

SIDEBAR

In the Frame

You may look at your greenhouse as a typical workplace. You see dirt and fertilizer and greenhouse equipment. But to others, your greenhouse is the perfect setting for a photo shoot! 

So when Patrick Flanley’s daughter had her fairytale winter wedding, she decided to use Dan Schantz Farm & Greenhouses as the backdrop for her wedding party photos. 

Who knows? Maybe in the future Dan Schantz Farm and other greenhouse operations can promote their businesses as unique places to rent out for photo shoots and other similar events. Take a look around … there are few places that are as beautiful and colorful as a greenhouse in full bloom!

 

 

About The Author

Jasmina Dolce is managing editor of GPN’s Big Grower. She can be reached at jdolce@sgcmail.com.

  • Painted pumpkins are a top-selling fall item.
  • The growers at Dan Schantz Farm trial hundreds of tomatoes and peppers each year and only select the best performers.
  • Dan Schantz Farm’s poinsettia trials are open to other growers.
  • Dan Schantz Farm’s retail outlet has provided an excellent source for consumer feedback.

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