Greenhouse growers hear how to add value


Maryland Greenhouse Growers Association held its summer conference, co-sponsored by University of Maryland Extension, at The Perennial Farm in Glen Arm, Md. The Perennial Farm is celebrating its 30th year in 2010. Originally a landscape design and installation company, growing plants for their own use, the owners preferred larger 1- and 2-gallon containerized plants which "took" better. Evolving into a grower as well as landscaping company, The Perennial Farm discontinued landscaping in 1990 to concentrate on its current wholesale growing operation. The farm has expanded to 60 acres with approximately 60 greenhouses and an additional 40 outside growing areas, with a new gutter connect greenhouse coming soon.
Ed Kiley explained how The Perennial Farm operation works, producing plants that meet the needs of garden centers and landscape companies.
"Twenty years ago (owner) Rick Watson spent two weeks in Holland. He visited dozens of nurseries, where he saw turnover was paramount. Here (in the United States) we have the luxury of a lot of land." Still, "we make use of every cranny," Kiley said. The nursery's size has doubled from two years ago. It has 14 trucks and a racking system for the convenience of its customers.
"We have tools to help business grow. We invest in your business," he said. The company has picture tags, plant pricing and an assortment of 20 brochures which it gives away, depending on a guilt complex for later sales. "Big Barn Tags" differentiate Perennial Farm plants. Production has tripled of recently introduced "Treadwell" groundcovers, and that's still not enough, he said.
Speaking on how to add value to your product in an ever-changing competitive environment, Kiley asked, "How are you differentiated in the marketplace?" If your company is the same as the next, then price is the determining factor for consumers.
"Why would a customer want to buy from you? Put yourself in the customer's shoes," he suggested. "What is your business strategy? Is it a consistent message? How do you get that message out?" he asked. "Is your message backed up with actions?"
Regarding personnel, he asked, "Does your business have a lot of 'huffers and puffers'? What do you do about it? A business with a lot of huffers and puffers will never achieve excellence."
Kiley remarked that the green industry is the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture. It's on the rise, increasing by $500 million a year while traditional agriculture is decreasing. "The United States is the world's largest producer and marketer of nursery and greenhouse products," he added.
Kiley, a former aerospace en-gineer, suggested a SWOT analysis to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your business. "It shows where you are in the marketplace," he said. He urged businesses to always think of the three C's: the customer, who is king; the competition, whose products you should see as a customer would and ask yourself "Why buy from them?"; and the company, which should always do the right thing to ensure success.
Analyze your company, your customer, your competition and the industry, he suggested. "What does your competition do better than you, and vice versa? If you think it's quality, you're kidding yourself," he said.
When a "Big Box" store moves into town, most reactive/resulting strategies boil down to "snooze and lose" or "change and prosper." Producers who modified their long-established marketing techniques not only remained solvent but increased their sales in the shadow of Big Box stores. Those who do not positively differentiate themselves will fail.
Successful producers, Kiley said, are competing by knowing their costs, developing a niche, making lemonade from lemons, listening carefully to what the customer wants, adding value/service, making buying an experience and by branding themselves. Don't just satisfy the customer, "delight" him. Exceed his expectations, and you'll have a customer for life.
John Murphy of Murphy John Greenhouse in Sudlersville, Md., offered suggestions of how to find a niche market that will make you money in the greenhouse business. Sometimes niches disappear, he warned. At one time he grew 60,000 primroses and wished he had more, but that niche is gone now.
Make money with a niche by starting small. Explain to your customer how you can make money for him. Sell with charisma!
Taking a few minutes first to discuss mycorrhizal applications which help plants absorb nutrients from the soil, Peter Heckman discussed Positive Pressure Greenhouses such as the Airstream greenhouse used by Bell Nursery in Lewes, Del. Four fans per bay create enough pressure to keep the tunnel inflated, he said. At $2.50 per square foot, the frame-less structure can be put up at 60 percent of the cost of a conventional greenhouse. It is more durable, and there's no film replacement, he said. Inside, the breeze is optimized for plant growth. For more information, visit
The day wrapped up with a discussion of diseases and insections on herbaceous pereinnals, competitive games just for fun, a catered dinner, and — after a downpour — a tour of the nursery.