Where are they now?

January 28, 2003 - 12:12

The industry called them crazy, but Mike and Rachel Gooder made good on their "risky" Plantpeddler investment.

One year, three million dollars and 10 full runs later,
Plantpeddler in Cresco, Iowa, is growing as fast as you can say "more
acreage." Mike and Rachel Gooder opened the doors to their new facility,
Plantpeddler Young Plants, on January 10, 2002. So, how has the last year been?
"I can put it in simple terms: The investors are happy; and we are on
target with the business plan projections," says Mike. style="mso-spacerun: yes">  

Why the new facility?

Plantpeddler began a relationship with Dummen Germany about
four years ago, and formed a partnership two years ago. "Plantpeddler Young
Plants is the direct result of a need for a high-profile, state-of-the-art
rooting facility to enhance the success of our joint venture partnership in
Dummen USA," says Mike. "So the project was really driven by a need
for a world-class rooting facility."

As we all know, nothing turns out the way we want it to
without planning. Mike and Rachel began planning the project a little over two
years before actually breaking ground. Plantpeddler started assembling a team
and taking input from all facets of the industry -- investigating facilities,
visiting facilities, meeting with various vendors of hard materials, looking at
operations both in the United States and Europe. The first step was defining
the goals of the facility and making sure all of the team members had a good
understanding of how to achieve this level of performance.

Advanced automation and technology

The 2-acre facility hosts a huge headhouse with the best
automation possible -- advanced sticking lines, automated bench loading,
continuous flow bench washer, linear robot and irrigation control center. Mike
researched his options and came up with a pretty good mix.

While some of the components for the facility were old, the
team found that others would be best new. The team had developed very
sophisticated logarithms for the production of rooted liners using
environmental controls and stationary mist lines, and when they considered the
new facility, they knew they had to use booms to facilitate the watering. But
as they researched more, they decided to try something new. "We were
shocked to discover booms had no intelligence on board. Á Booms never
looked at environmental data to make decisions, only glorified time clock
control. To ensure plant quality production, you need an environmental computer
analyzing data inputs and making smart decisions," Mike says. "So, we
challenged the boom companies to link our environmental computer to the booms.
To our knowledge, Plantpeddler Young Plants was the first facility with this
level of integration accomplished in the world."

Plantpeddler invested one-third of its money up-front in the
automation material-handling side of the project because building a facility
that was inadequately automated would result in the staff learning bad habits.
Trying to re-train them at a later point would result in wasted time and
effort.

"We have a belief as a company about investing in
automation early, so that you immediately reap the rewards."

That kind of mentality is what makes Plantpeddler so
successful. That and Mike and Rachel's determination to see everything. Mike is
constantly traveling in and outside the United States to other growers and
trade shows. And sometimes Plantpeddler even looks outside the industry for
ideas. The company is testing a packaging system that will load all master
cartons, improving the efficiency of the packaging line. "I've been in
tons of greenhouses, and maybe one or two percent have any type of packing line
automated with taping machines, so why don't we use standard efficiencies that
are used by other industries?" Plantpeddler believes in applying concepts
and solutions used by other industries to solve horticultural problems.

The last year

"When we compare actual performance numbers at
Plantpeddler Young Plants to our partner, Dummen Germany -- we have very
similar products, of course the same genetics, similar propagation systems --
we do a fantastic job on all of our costs," says Mike. "Due to the
investment in intial infrastructure (including automation) our depreciation is
higher, but we can stick faster, yield a higher percentage at harvest and ship
more efficiently. Our challenge is to grow the facility, as the next step
brings costs into balance."

Things have been going so well for Plantpeddler- Dummen USA
that the team can't believe it's been only a year. "We look back a year
ago in January when we were hosting the industry open house; we ran our first
crop of geraniums through. Coming around full-circle, we're confident coming
into this spring," Mike says.

Plantpeddler's competition for liner production comes
internationally, from places such as Canada and potentially South America.
"It is time for American growers to take responsibility for our destiny.
We can build a facility that produces a high-quality crop, but it must compete
with international pricing. That is essential in the next 5-10 years. To do
that, you must decrease labor and material inputs while increasing product
quality. In the end, low-cost providers will win."

Future plans

Plantpeddler Young Plants is constantly looking toward the
future, and building relationships is key. "We select vendor relationships
based on common, long-term objectives and philosophies. Once partnering with a
supplier, we believe in building a bridge that strengthens both parties,"
says Mike.

 The 1-year-old
facility is step one of phase one. Each of the three phases is a 5-acre
production block with a headhouse. "As we prepare to build again, we will
re-evaluate everything involved and say, 'Did it work? Why or why not?' That
evaluation process is going on now. One year in operation, we are now analyzing
data collected to determine the level of performance and if it met the
projections within the facility design." So it is just about certain that
the next two phases will be as smooth as the first if not smoother.

About The Author

Carrie Burns is associate editor of GPN.

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