COVER STORY — A Passion to Succeed
Florida grower Dewar Nurseries has figured out that two markets are better than one — and it makes the company better too.
Everybody likes to hear complimentary remarks about their products. But having complementary products in two different markets is something Bill Dewar also likes.
People are always saying nice things about the roses and the blooming potted plants that are grown at Dewar Nurseries in Apopka, Fla. But to Dewar, the two different product lines (one for landscape and one for floral) complement each other very well and provide the company with a well-rounded perspective of the market, a deeper understanding of their products and a distinct advantage for serving all of Dewar’s customers.
Dewar Nurseries grows and sells its floral and landscape products to supermarkets, mass merchants and home improvement chains east of the Mississippi River. The main product lines are blooming potted plants, roses and ornamental edibles.
By providing supermarkets with floral products and providing the home improvement chains with landscape products, “that makes us different from [a lot of other growers]. It makes us better.”
Serving the two different markets obviously requires a certain expertise for growing both indoors and out, but Bill, along with his father, Alex, have embraced the two different categories and continue to thrive in today’s ever-changing marketplace.
Alex Dewar founded Dewar Nurseries in 1963 when he purchased some existing foliage greenhouses in central Florida. After nearly 50 years, Alex has reduced his day-to-day responsibilities and Bill is now the president of the company — but Alex still has a very active role in the business.
Bill Dewar has grown up in the greenhouses at Dewar Nurseries. “This is the only place I have ever worked,” he says. He earned a business degree from Stetson University in Florida and has learned the plant business over the years from his father. Bill likes having Alex around. While he knows the ultimate decision on matters is his, he will still turn to Alex for input. “I just like to hear what he has to say,” Dewar says.
In the early years, Dewar Nurseries supplied mainly supermarkets in the region. But as the retail marketplace evolved more and more into a big box world, Dewar was able to eventually join in on the action and continue to expand. Today, the company is one of, if not, the largest rose growers in North America.
By growing and selling both floral and nursery products, “we hopefully have a better mentality to serve” all of Dewar’s retail outlets — big and small, indoor and outdoor.
Seeing how both markets operate and what each type of customer expects “has helped us on the quality input side of things. We have seen how both worlds work and that really helps us and gives us a very good overall perspective.”
Dewar says the complementary product lines also help provide balance for the business. The floral side has better margins while the landscape shrub business has higher volumes. “Financially, it is a very good model for us. They help each other and create synergies that you can bring from one side of the business and apply to the other.”
See and Be Seen
Growing up in the business and seeing how his father operates, Bill Dewar has always had a passion for the horticulture industry and the desire to succeed. “I want to do something that is better than everyone else. I want to create and grow a product that is above industry specs.”
He knows that takes a lot of work and that is just one of the reasons why Dewar is also a hands-on president. He likes to be where the action is and he likes to be visible and accessible to ALL of his employees. He is always talking to the workers and they are always approaching him in the offices or in the greenhouses or on the shipping docks with questions, comments and suggestions.
And he is also not afraid to roll up his sleeves and help them tackle a job. “That’s just how I was raised. It’s how I like to live my life.” He feels this kind of an approach can be infectious to the other employees and that kind of visibility and access can translate to a better, more informed and more productive workforce — and that translates into higher quality products for his customers.
Dewar says it is the excitement of the job that gets him up and to his office and greenhouses each morning. “It’s never boring around here. We see a lot of action around here every day.”
He also likes the continual challenge of trying to make the company and its products better. “I don’t care to be second fiddle to anyone in anything,” Dewar says. “I am always looking for ideas or methods that can make us number one! I don’t know if I will ever be able to solve every challenge we face, but I am never going to walk away from a problem or a challenge.”
One challenge the company faces is how to keep growing and stay fresh. “We are always looking for new ideas or new products,” he says. “We are always looking for some thing that others say can’t be done. That is what will separate us from the others.”
The company was Veriflora certified last fall. Dewar said going through the certification process was an eye-opening experience. He said it made them really examine how they were doing things. It also forced the company to change the way they were performing some tasks and find better ways to do other things.
But overall, the process was very worthwhile. He said they were able to find some operational efficiencies and the company is then able to invest “those efficiencies so we can fund other things and put it toward our products and services.”
Driving for Success
Another one of the challenges that Dewar deals with every single day is transportation — getting the product to the customer efficiently and as economically as possible.
Dewar Nurseries owns about 60 trucks and at peak season will have 100 drivers on the payroll. During peak they will also rent additional trucks to meet their customers’ demand for their products. Dewar says owning and managing his own fleet of trucks, trailers and drivers can be expensive and time consuming. “Transportation can be such a beast in our industry,” he adds.
“I don’t want to be a trucking company, but [owning our own trucks] has its advantages. We don’t have to be held hostage by the marketplace” when other industries are competing to hire the same types of drivers that Dewar does. He always knows what his transportation “situation” is.
But fluctuating fuel prices can be a bit painful. “The cost of fuel affects everybody [in the supply chain],” he says. In 2011, Dewar said the increase in diesel fuel prices cost his company nearly $1 million that had an impact on the bottom line. “We really don’t like to take a $1 million hit on something we can’t control.”
So Dewar Nurseries doesn’t. They help mitigate these types of costs by backhauling other products in the empty trailers once they have delivered their plants and are returning to Apopka. He said the company was able to recoup nearly half of the higher fuel costs through backhauling and they are continually looking for other operational efficiencies to cover the other half.
He said he also dislikes all of the liability that comes with owning his own trucks and employing his own drivers “because you don’t always have control over everything. But the only way to minimize that liability is to just do it right.”
Oftentimes, the truck drivers are the only face of the company to many of Dewar’s customers. So he wants to make sure they always do everything by the book.
The Next Dewar Generation
Bill Dewar is a modest man. Whenever anyone asks him what he does for a living, his response is “I’m a farmer.” And even though this farmer still has plenty of working years ahead of him, he is already starting to look to the future. Just like Alex prepared Bill to take over the corporate reins, Bill is getting ready for the day when the third generation of Dewars will eventually take over the company.
His oldest daughter will be graduating from the University of Florida at the end of 2012. When she is ready to join the company “brain trust,” he wants to be sure the best support team is in place to help achieve all company and customers goals.
“Our foundation is good. Our core beliefs are good.” So he knows that when the time is right, and his daughters are ready, the company will continue to flourish for future generations.
But the proud father is really looking forward to working with his two daughters and traveling around the world to find new ideas and to learn with them.
Dewar Nurseries at a glance
Headquarters: Apopka, Fla., with additional production facilities in Loxahatchee, Fla., and Mt. Dora, Fla.
Owners: Bill and Alex Dewar
Main Crops: Roses, blooming potted plants, ornamental edibles
Total Production Area: Approximately 915,000 square feet of greenhouse space; approximately 741,000 square feet under shade; 172 acres of outdoor production
Total Number of Employees: 200 (260 during peak season)
Customers: Supermarkets, mass merchants and home improvement chains
Cultivating Rose Research
Dewar Nurseries is currently participating in and helping fund a rose cultivar trial program at the University of Florida’s Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka.
The trial program is looking at cultivars from many of the major rose breeders and testing them for things like disease resistance and pest management.
“We are on a mission to get information. Since we are the largest rose grower in America, we want to be sure we take a leadership role when it comes to rose research,” says company president Bill Dewar.
“When a grower does his own trials, the results can sometimes be a bit skewed. This [trial program] will provide independent information that is good for all growers,” Dewar adds. “Trials like this are a good thing for the industry. Everyone benefits from the information.”
To learn more about the research center, go to http://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu.