Grower Direct Farms in Somers brings spring to Walmart, Sam’s Club, Home Deopot and others
SOMERS – Nearly half a million pansies atGrower Direct Farms are ready for spring.
But is spring ready for half a million pansies, or any of the other flowers Grower Direct raises?
A sprawling 150-acre farm, Grower Direct raises flowering plants for Walmart, Sam’s Club and The Home Depot along with other chain big-box retailers, said general manager Sam Smith, who runs who runs Grower Direct with his brothers-in law.
The company is even expanding its 30 acres of greenhouses to meet demand. All those greenhouses are heated by burning wood chips and forest waste, Smith said.
Founded in 1981 by by Leonard Van Wingerden, Smith’s father in law, Grower Direct was approached about 20 years ago by buyers for chain stores, Smith said. Today, Grower Direct supplies all 144 Walmart stores in New England.
The business has 200 employees at peak times of the year with an additional 125 employees merchandising and servicing retailers, Smith said.
While it is always springtime in those greenhouses, it’s not spring in the outside world where few big-box retailers have been able to set up garden centers in parking lots still sporting snowbanks, Smith said.
“We want to get product into the stores in late March or early April,” Smith said. “We are hoping that things warm up and we can get things off to a start. We always plan for a perfect spring.
“It’s a mixed bag. Sometimes stores put plants on sidewalk racks, sometimes in a garden center and sometimes inside,” he said. “Some of those paces have heat, some do not.”
Smith also knows it will only take a few warm days for green thumbs to start itching.
“The weather affects mostly the customers’ propensity to buy, not our readiness,” he said. “We are trying to have things ready, regardless of what the weather has been.”
“Pansies are what lands in force in the last weeks of March and early April,” he said. “Petunias are weather-hardy, too, if they are grown properly.”
Growing properly means hardening plants off, something Grower Direct’s staff is doing a lot of these days. It means moving plants gradually from the warm greenhouses to cooler, less protected areas. That way plants are not shocked.
“It also slows their growth and helps create a stronger, denser plant,” Smith said. “We want stuff that is appealing in its shape and its size and it’s got flowers on it. So what happens is, those holding spaces need to get cooler and cooler.”
As the season progresses, Grower Direct starts planting flowers able to handle warmer and warmer temperatures until, sometime in mid summer, it’s time to start with fall mums.
Buyers for the big-box stores approached Grower Direct about 20 years ago looking for suppliers of flowers and plants, Smith said.
It’s not just the scale that makes it a challenging distribution model. The chain stores essentially depend on Grower Direct to run their plants business for them – that’s 50 or more different types of flowers in more than 200 retail locations in six states.
“They are driven by results at retail every single day,” Smith said. “That gets down to what product, what type of pot, the care tag and in what quantity and at what cost.”
Grower Direct has a team of people in Somers monitoring what is going on at the Walmarts, Home Depots and other stores, gathering data, analyzing it and pivoting that knowledge into a prediction of what each store is going to need next. The orders get packed on the floor at Grower Direct and arrive in 24 to 48 hours. At peak gardening season, Grower Direct might deliver to each Walmart as often as four times a week.
“And if they advertised an item, they very much expect that it will be there,” Smith said. “It all adds up to happy customers and big sales.”
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