Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Small Grower Talks Contract Growing

The contract growing session I attended this afternoon was well designed, with two big growers (Tom Smith, Four Star Greenhouses and George Lucas, Lucas Greenhouses) paired with two smaller growers (Joseph Boarini, Boarini Horticulture Services LLC and John Whalen, Whalen's Greenhouses) to discuss the matter of building relationships.

Whalen, a 31-year-old grower whose operation is located in Toughkenamon, Pa., had some of the most interesting insights. His sentiment about big box retailers, to me, was the most interesting of the session: "The realization is you're not supplying Home Depot. You're supplying the grower. Home Depot is not paying you. Another grower is."

Whalen had a hard time adjusting to the notion his plants were ultimately being shipped to a home improvement chain like Home Depot. He admits he had to get over the fact he was supporting big box stores, though, because contracting growing for growers who serve home improvement chains and other large retailers is a big opportunity. Plus, he says small grower opportunities are fading.

Like all grower-customer relationships, contract growing has its pros and cons.

"The big growers we supply pay well and pay quickly," he says. "Drivers get a check when they leave. The big growers also leave the growing to us.

But, on the down side ...

"Big growers want to get rid of their material first," Whalen says. "You might have great [material], but the grower you're working with may already have what you have. Then there's no need."

Whalen says three growers in his area not contract growing went out of business over the last couple years. One of those growers was in business for 40 years.

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