Satisfying customer needs

Features - 2010 Breakthrough

Wholesale grower Dream With Colors in Phoenix has seen drastic changes in the landscape market, but is making adjustments in product offerings to meet its customers’ needs.

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April 23, 2010

The Dream With Colors team (from left to right) of Samantha Robinson, Monica Vega, (back) chief financial officer Pearl Crum, Jose Vega Jr. and president and chief executive officer Jose Vega Sr.Dream With Colors in Phoenix, Ariz., is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Chief financial officer Pearl Crum said the last few years have been particularly hard on the horticulture industry in the Phoenix area. The wholesale grower who operates 600,000 square feet of greenhouses and 345,000 square feet of outdoor production sells to landscapers and garden centers within a 200-mile radius.
 
“The beginning of last year wasn’t great, but fall sales picked up,” Crum said. “Based on fall season sales, we are very optimistic for a decent spring for everyone.”
 
Like many other parts of the country, Crum said that tree and shrub growers in the Phoenix area have been affected the most by the reduction in residential and commercial construction.
 
“Commercial construction is where the big numbers go for trees and shrubs,” she said.  “Homeowners may put in a couple of trees, but usually it’s just a tree or shrub. We do both shrubs and color so we saw the change in the market. We were able to make the adjustment to focus more on the color side.” Color accounts for about 80 percent of the company’s production.
 
In addition to being able to make the change in product inventory, Crum said her company prebooks 80-85 percent of the plants it produces.
 
“This is another reason why we are optimistic about the spring season, based on prebook orders to date,” she said.

Dream With Colors Inc.
Founded: July 2000 by Jose Luis Vega Sr., president and chief executive officer, and Pearl Crum, chief financial officer
Locations: Phoenix and Marana, Ariz.
Size: Three facilities in Phoenix and one facility in Marana with a total of 600,000 square feet of greenhouse production and 345,000 square feet of outdoor production
Crops: Annual bedding plants, perennials, shrubs, vegetables and herbs, including a USDA Certified Organic line of vegetables and herbs.
Customer base: Landscapers and independent garden centers within a 200-mile radius.
Employees: 25 full time and 25 seasonal.

She said her company could be considered a contract grower since she knows where most of the plants are going before they’re even planted.


Helping landscapers stretch their budgets
Crum said an increasing number of landscapers are seeing their customers reduce their landscape budgets, some significantly.
 
“Everybody is on a budget now,” Crum said. “We’ve seen a 15-20 percent decrease in budgets. Fortunately this year the resorts and our big landscape customers appear to be very close to last year’s numbers.”
 
One of the ways that landscapers are stretching their customers’ budgets is to install larger plants.
 
“They are using bigger product, maybe 1 gallon containers and spacing the plants further apart. This enables them to stretch their budgets,” she said. “We’ve had a 20 percent decrease in jumbo pack sales and about a 12 percent increase in 4-inch and 8 percent increase in gallon containers.”


Selecting the best plants
Crum and her partner Jose Vega Sr. have more than 20 years experience growing in Arizona weather conditions. She said they tell landscapers which plants will work best for their particular needs.
 
“We trial the plants before we offer them to our customers,” she said. “We’re not going to grow something that won’t perform under our conditions. Plants that aren’t acclimated to our conditions aren’t going to hold up as well as something grown locally.”
 
Crum said her company is constantly trying new varieties to see how they do under Arizona conditions.
 
“We do small amounts of new varieties and trial them to see if they are going to work,” she said. “We have some loyal customers who will try some of these new varieties and will then let us know how they worked. If we start to see an increase in demand for a particular variety or crop, then we will increase production. We’re going to continue to offer standard items like celosia, vinca and zinnias, but will add new plants in order to continue to move forward and differentiate ourselves.”
 
The company has been offering a line of mostly vegetative plants called Dream Select that have been trialed and can handle the weather extremes of the Phoenix area. Last year, the company added a Dreams Geraniums line of vegetative geraniums. Working with Ball Horticultural Co., Dream With Colors selected 11 geranium varieties that have shown their ability to perform in landscape plantings. The white variety is named Dreams Pearl.
 
Another change last year was the company went through the process of becoming USDA Certified Organic for vegetable and herb production. The company worked with California Certified Organic Farmers Certification Services to achieve organic certification.
 
“We saw an increasing demand for certified organic plants mainly from our garden center customers,” Crum said. “It took us a few months to go through the process and we offered organic plants for the first time last fall and sold out of everything we produced. Based on the demand, we’re expecting an even stronger spring for the organic line. We also have some landscapers asking for organic plants who plant herb and vegetable gardens for their customers.”


Increased competition
Crum said that she has seen increased competition between landscapers bidding for jobs.
 
“There is a bidding war out there,” she said. “A landscaper may have had a job for the last 10 years and then lost it because another landscaper outbids them. This has led to some of our landscape customers increasing their orders while other orders have gone down.”
 
Crum has also seen increased competition from California growers shipping into her company’s market.
 
“The market is depressed in California too, so we have seen that state’s growers trying to come into our market. There has been some cutthroat pricing.
 
“We sell our plants at a decent price so they are affordable for everyone. If we have someone come in and offer a six pack for $1, we can’t do that. If we sold at that price, we won’t be around next year.”  
 
For more: Dream With Colors Inc., (602) 266-1814; www.dreamwithcolors.com.