A Buyer’s Challangea: Behind the Scene at a Retail Nursery

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By Steve Moore

I began my career as a nursery/landscape buyer in the early 1980’s. One of my first impressions after being promoted to this position was, to borrow a famous cliché, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!” I was suddenly responsible for stocking three thriving retail operations in the Houston, Texas area and a landscape division complete with multiple architects on staff.

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Calloway’s employees help their customers achieve success in their garden, no matter what size

I had worked for many years in our retail division, so I had a nodding acquaintance with many of our suppliers. But buying large-size trees and shrubs and thousands of ground covers was something that I had to learn, and quickly. Luckily, all of the suppliers had been long-established by my predecessor so I just had to follow through with the orders in place. This gave me an opportunity to get to know them and to learn how they might assist on future projects.

As time marched on, we closed our landscape division and concentrated on our retail stores. Then the owner sold the company to Calloway’s, a group of retail garden centers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Five years later I found myself moving to the North Texas area to carry on my work in our corporate office. Now I was responsible for buying products for 19 stores in two very different geographic areas. Luckily there was an established team of merchandisers that assisted me as I got my feet on the ground.

Probably the most harrowing experience that I had as a buyer was during the Christmas Holiday of 1983. I was on vacation visiting family in Northern Oklahoma when I learned that the temperature in Houston had dropped to 14°F on Christmas Eve. That freeze devastated the landscape in much of Texas. Lawns were killed. Historic live oaks were damaged or killed. And worse yet, most all of the plant products we had procured for the coming Spring, 1984 season had been killed or damaged.

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These bougainvillea’s were started in Georgia two years before they go on sale in Texas

In response to the crisis I returned home immediately and boarded a flight to the West Coast to procure replacement products for our stores. My immediate action paid off. The steps that I and a colleague from our wholesale division took in response to the catastrophic weather event provided one of the best years in our company’s history.

Throughout my retail experience I often found myself as the person who helped identify plants and problems for our stores and our customers and offered solutions. This was made more complex as internet communication became common. I rarely got to actually see the plant or problem firsthand. I found myself relying on photos or mere verbal descriptions passed over the phone or via email. When faced with an opportunity to catch the issue ahead of time, I always asked for photos of the “patient” and where possible a photo or description of its surroundings and sun exposure.

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Diagnosing customers’ plant problems can be a real challenge to retailers

Garden retailers are often faced with the assumption from our customers that new and interesting plants can be ordered and delivered right away, as if they existed in some magical warehouse. The reality is that with each introduction of a new variety it must be sourced from a supplier in a production form, such as a rooted liner, a cutting, or a seed. Then that plant must be planted and grown out by a grower who is confident that they can produce it successfully. All of this must be planned well in advance of the need to allow time for the plants to reach mature, retail-ready size and quality. Most annuals can be finished in 4-5 months depending on the variety, a fairly short time frame. In the case of shrubs, this often requires up to two years. For trees it takes at least 4-5 years depending on the sizes.

In the nursery business, there are no two days that are repetitious; no two weeks that are carbon copies of each other. The weather can be both friend and foe. Rising to these challenges keeps nursery buyers like me active and looking for the next opportunity.

Meet the Author

moore-headshotSteve Moore is an Assistant Buyer at Calloway’s Nursery in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where his experiences have been wide and varied. Over his 30 plus year career he has dealt with buying plants, working with landscapers and retailers, and serving as a liaison to the media and advertising staff. He has a BS and MS in Agriculture from Texas A&M University.

Author: Staff @ GWA

GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators, formerly known as the Garden Writers Association, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GWA members includes book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GWA members.

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