Spring 2003 in a Nutshell

August 8, 2003 - 07:03

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

Ah, spring -- birds chirping, light breezes blowing, the
smell of fresh cut grass; actually it's more like, tight orders, unpredictable
weather, customer service, price increases. Spring brings out the best and
worst of our industry, and GPN found out what those were for 2003.

On a positive side, everyone GPN talked to raised their
prices 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 commodity
crops was low. And of course, the weather is always an issue, but this year's
seemed a little better than last (for growers).

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

Which varieties performed better than you anticipated?

"Herbs in general performed very well. Growers Select
Festival Gerberas performed brilliantly this year. We just had absolutely
awesome gerberas, from week one right on through to the end of the season. We
had an exceptionally good run on Bloomingdale ranunculus this year -- beautiful
ranunculus all year long. They were just fabulous. We also had a very good
season on component plants in general. But those are varieties that we're
propagating."

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

"Anthuriums seem to be getting hotter and hotter, so
we're doing more Anthuriums. We've always got a few new things going -- a few
varieties of bromeliads especially -- that looked good, so we made room for
them."

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

"I had a lot of new varieties that I haven't grown
before because we did the Miracle Grow program here for the Northwest. I was
impressed with the performance of a lot of that product, specifically New
Guinea impatiens, the Diva fuschias and the new varieties of coleus from
Ecke."

-- Don Spence, Smith Gardens,Aurora, Ore.

Which varieties performed worse than you anticipated?

"You know, I'm relating some of my surprises to either
coming in too late or too early just on planting times. Actually, one thing
that really turned out bad was our bacopa. That was probably a little on our
side, keeping them too wet. Then I started drying them out more, and they
started 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 never
grew and didn't react well at all. Calibrachoa did not perform well, across the
board. It didn't matter whose they were, it just did not do well for us this
year."

-- 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 were
standing around looking at each other. So I guess to sum it up: the frequency
of stopping and starting was all basically directly related to the weather.
When people had the opportunity -- the window of opportunity -- to plant, then
the retailers were very aggressive."

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

"It affected production through sales. In the
northwest, April and May are typically peak sales months, and in April, I
believe we set a record for consecutive days of rain. There were 29 straight
days 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 same
time, continue to plant for May and June sales. So, the issue was being
creative with square footage, trying to find space for the new product we
needed to plant, as well as maintain the product we already had on the benches
that wasn't moving because of the April weather."

-- Don Spence, Smith Gardens, Aurora, Ore.

"It really helped us, because early in the spring a lot
of moisture finally came our way. And we finally got our water above zero
capacity. It was above a certain number where people could start watering
again. 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 throughout
the season?

"This year's prices were on par or probably a little
higher than last year. They held longer. We tried to maximize our dollars as
far into June as you possibly could. Then I think the retailers realize that
they also have to maximize. But if you miss May or April, depending on where
you are in the country, you still have certain dollars everyone has to
meet."

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

"We increased [prices] about 5 percent. They held right
towards the end. With Memorial Day being earlier this year, most people --
garden centers -- thought it was over sooner, when it really shouldn't have
been."

-- Dick Shreve, Shreve Greenhouse, Perry, Ohio

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

"We bring in Proven Winners, but we don't have our own
brand 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 and
operational, and once we get those pieces and parts in place, we'll be able to
deal with that."

-- Steve Mercer, Preston Greenhouse, Louisville, Ky.

"We do a little bit. I think it's steady. It's like
everything 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 find
the right pot producer who can put our label, logo and name on a very
classy-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 not
believe that the national brand is going to be long term successful -- there
may be one that comes through. Miracle Gro is the perfect example -- that's the
one 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 available
a little later, doing our best to make sure that the quality is good and making
sure that they receive orders on time, and if not, to get a call to tell them
that 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 all
had to produce better plants. In the long run, the end consumer will be more
likely to come back and buy another plant. Garden centers -- family-owned
garden centers -- are doing better because people are more quality oriented.
Even the box stores are having a look at quality hopefully more so than
price."

-- 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 tried
to 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 than
we have in the past. We know there's some business [next year] that's going to
have to be made up, so rather than just rely on the brokers to bring us new
business, we have gone out and sought some new business on our own, which is
not our forte. We support our brokers very strongly, and we don't do direct
business. So, we are visiting them with the idea they will place their business
with us through a broker."

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

"More larger containers. There was [a demand this
year], and the trend is going back to more and more unusual, not just a
standard 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 very
well. We don't need calibrachoas, bacopa, argyranthemums and items like that to
have a successful spring. We have our varieties of coleus and varieties of
exotic begonias that nobody else has. We just do a great job on the quality of
herbs 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. style="mso-spacerun: yes">

About The Author

Carrie Burns is associate editor of GPN. She may be reached by phone at (847) 391-1019 or E-mail at cburns@sgcmail.com.

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